- Standing in the snowy paddock at Ft. Myers, on a December day in 2006, Deenie McKeever was deeply moved at the sight of Caisson horses, long revered as the unit that carries soldiers to their final rest at Arlington Cemetery, being used as equine therapy horses to carry injured soldiers into a new chapter of life as survivors. Deenie learned about Retired Naval Commander Mary Jo Beckman's "Horses for Heroes" therapy program for soldiers recuperating at Walter Reed Medical Center, through a news story on "Good Morning America," and went to Washington D.C. to observe it.
Impressed with the program, and determined to see it expand, she partnered with Dr. Laurie Johnson and the two spent several months collaborating with Beckman and other military officials to strategize ways to nationalize the "Horses for Heroes" program. When hopes for this vision dimmed, Deenie regrouped, and rekindled the legacy of her father, Dan McKeever, of assisting those with limb differences to rebuild their lives. Dan was a pioneer in the orthotics and prosthetics field, who taught Deenie to empower people, live life with passion, and never be daunted by roadblocks.
She turned her attention to helping with the launch of Horses for Heroes at Chastain Horse Park, while allying with OPAF to launch a First Clinic that would introduce adaptive riding and horse companionship to youth and adults. From 2006-2008, Deenie, Laurie, and OPAF Executive Director, Robin Burton teamed up to develop McKeever's First Ride, where participants could discover the amazing benefits horses offer humans, for the body and soul! Amy Lance, Mandy Branton, and Leslie Olsen of Chastain Horse Park offered key support for the inaugural McKeever's First Ride.
This event was arranged to coordinate with the national Amputee Coalition of America's national conference in 2009. Almost 50 ACA adults were able to register for the first McKeever's First Ride, held at Chastain Horse Park.
The first McKeever's First Ride was launched in Atlanta, GA, at Chastain Horse Park in June, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Deenie McKeever. The event was planned to coincide with the conference of the Amputee Coalition. This allowed 30 guests of the convention to be bussed over to Chastain Horse Park for a day of adaptive riding, grooming, groundwork, fellowship, and live music by Templeton Thompson.
Demo riders, Tammy Higginbotham and Tony Ceriminaro, both amputees, wowed the audience with their joy and confidence in the saddle. Mandy Branton, Leslie Olsen, and Chastain Horse Park volunteers offered immeasurable help in making the day a success!
In 2009, McKeever's First Rides also launched in Waterloo, Iowa ASPIRE Therapeutic Riding Center, where it was written up in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. It was also launched in Warwick, NY at Winslow Therapeutic Riding Center. These events helped spread the message of McKeever's First Ride--being in the company of horses has lasting emotional and physical benefits! These events were very enthusiastically attended, and made possible by the wonderful assistance of OPAF's Robin Burton.
Having celebrated the success of McKeever's First Ride in 2009, Deenie McKeever continued her commitment to this OPAF First Clinic, and provided funds to provide a 2nd annual McKeever's First Ride at Chastain Horse Park, with participants of all ages.
In April 2010, the 2nd annual McKeever's First Ride was presented at Chastain Horse Park, with participants of all ages. Activities included adaptive riding, grooming, ground work, Gentle Horsemanship demonstrations, arts & crafts. WXIA interviewed Ed Dabney and Deenie McKeever.
Carolyn Woodward (double amputee) served as a demo rider, who inspired audience members to experience adaptive riding. This event was attended by "Molly the Pony", who had been left for dead after Hurricane Katrina, and afterwards, sustained severe injuries from a dog attack, which led to Molly being fitted with a prosthetic leg. Molly made many friends at McKeever's First Ride.
In 2010, the wonderful folks at Winslow Therapeutic Riding Center hosted a 2nd annual McKeever's First Ride in Warwick, New York. MIX 96 FM was proud to broadcast news about this event.
In 2011, McKeever's Ride went International in November. The first International McKeever's First Ride was held in Verona, Italy with the assistance of Ed Dabney (Dabney Gentle Horsemanship) at the world famous Fieracavalli Horse Fair. This extraordinary event is attended by horse enthusiasts from over 80 countries.
McKeever's First Ride at Fieracavalli showcased riding demonstrations by world class horseman and amputee, Pierandrea Rebella and new rider, Lungi Fedpeli. Additionally, Ed and Deenie were were able to share the mission of McKeever's First Ride, through an interview by an Italian broadcaster for an international news program. They also appeared on the international Class Horse Channel.
On site, McKeever's First Ride values and "Carpe diem" philosophy were shared in Verona, Italy, thanks to interpreter and friend, Franco Barbagallo, who translated Ed Dabney and Deenie McKeever's program for the Fieracavalli audience. Over 150,000 people attended Fieracavalli in 2011!
On April 23, 2011, the site of the 3rd Atlanta area McKeever's First Ride, was Chastain Horse Park. Demo riders Robin Cavender and Samantha Fraiser showed the audience what joy could be found on the back of a horse, after minimal instruction by Ed Dabney. They inspired the audience of youth and adults, with their enthusiasm and confidence in the saddle.
Activities of the 2011 McKeever's First Ride included adaptive riding, ground work, horse play, grooming, and arts and crafts. In addition, roping, massage therapy, and TEEN McKeever's activities were added for enjoyment and enrichment.Motivated to raise funds to help sponsor another McKeever's First Ride, teens in the W.I.T.H. group of volunteers at Winslow Therapeutic Riding Center in Warwick, NY hosted a third McKeever's First Ride in New York 2011! It was a great success. This story was shared on MIX 96 FM!
On April 21, 2012, McKeever's First Ride was extremely proud to welcome celebrity guest, Scott Rigsby as a motivational speaker, to our 4th annual Atlanta event, which was held at Gwinnett Memorial Fairground. Among his admirable accomplishments, Scott participated as a double amputee in the Iron Man competition, and shared words of encouragement to amputees of all ages.
Since the 2012 event, Scott Rigsby has continued to amaze people with his physical achievements, while being an inspiration to folks experiencing loss. Scott has been a point person in helping those who suffered amputation, as a result of the Boston Marathon bombing. Scott brought a message of hope and healing to the 2012 audience of youth and adults. This event offered adaptive riding, roping, groundwork, grooming, horse play, mini horse activities, carriage driving and therapeutic carriage riding. Also provided were self-care stations like massage therapy, caregiver's corner, TEEN McKeever's activities, and separate arts & crafts stations for youth and adults. Live music was performed by Templeton Thompson. A patriotic display of the American flag, and the flags of the 5 branches of military service was provided by the mounted drill team, the Rusty Spurs. The 2012 Atlanta based McKeever's First Ride was held at Chastain Horse Park and was sponsored by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
In 2012, McKeever's First Ride continued to expand its mission of spreading hope to amputees about the dynamic physical and emotional benefits of adaptive riding and horse-centered activities, around the world! The 2nd International McKeever's First Ride was held at Rome, Italy in April at the Roma Cavalli Horse Fair. The Roma Cavalli is an annual event which draws hundreds of visitors to multiple pavillions to enjoy horse parades, programs, and trials. Deenie McKeever and Ed Dabney presented the OPAF First Clinic, with the help of interpreter, Franco Barbagallo. During it, McKeever's First Ride was very pleased to have champion reining horsewoman, Brunella Rosetti demonstrate to the audience that amputees can find confidence to thoroughly enjoy riding and competing on horseback. Brunella is an Olympic hopeful, who excels in reining and dressage. The enthusiasm and mission of McKeever's First Ride was also broadcasted to the international audience through Class Horse TV.
April 20, 2013 was the date of the 5th Atlanta area McKeever's First Ride, and it was held at Gwinnett Fairgrounds. It was an exciting move for McKeever's to have access to the 75,000 square foot covered arena, making McKeever's First Ride a true "Rain or shine" event! We welcomed Barry Landry, from Lafayette, LA, as Guest Speaker.
Larry spent his life as a true cowboy and left-handed roper on his Louisiana ranch, so it appeared to be a catastrophe when an accident cost him the amputation of his left hand. Showing the ultimate of rugged determination, Larry endured multiple surgeries and procedures, in order to once again, command the rope, his horses, and his cattle. He is fitted with a myoelectric hand, and his grace and generosity in sharing his story, particularly the trials of coping with an amputation, was a treasured element of McKeever's First Ride 2013.
Activities of the day included demo riding, demo roping, adaptive riding, carriage driving and therapeutic carriage riding, mini horse activities, TEEN McKeever's, and a petting zoo. Self-Care stations were also popular, and they included massage therapy, arts & crafts, and the caregivers corner. Live music was performed by Templeton Thompson. The Rusty Spurs Mounted Drill Team provided inspirational entertainment during the opening ceremonies, with their display of the American flag and the 5 branches of the military service. They also performed a patriotic mounted drill routine. The 2013 McKeever's First Ride was hosted by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, and sponsored by a very generous donation from Dan and Kelly Ingevaldson.
2014 was an exciting year for McKeever's First Ride! Enjoying its third "Rain or Shine" year at Gwinnett Fairgrounds near Atlanta, McKeever's welcomed Celebrity Guest, Reggie Showers for the April 5, 2014 McKeever's First Ride. Reggie lost both legs at the age of 14, but that did not hinder him from one day setting World Champion records as a NHRA drag motorcycle rider!
Reggie Shower's courage, tenacity, and drive to achieve, has opened new vistas for amputees, as the man heralded as "The World's Fastest Amputee!" Reggie brought a powerful testimony of faith and fortitude, and shared his message with compassion, humor, and profound exhortation! He circulated throughout the arena, participating in adaptive riding, roping, and even swordsmanship!
The second reason for excitement at the 2014 event, was the thrilling demonstration of adaptive fencing by the Shepherd Swords Fencing Team, which included Benji Williams, a Paralympic Athlete, and Paralympics hopeful, Dennis Espy. Dennis served as Fencing Director, and delighted the audience in his description and explanation of fencing moves, as well as the weaponry--foils, sabre, and epee.
The third reason for excitement at the 2014 McKeever's First Ride, was its inauguration of a formal tribute to our military! All service personnel were given an honorary hat, embroidered with "We Support our Vets" and were recognized for their service by the audience and by the Rusty Spurs Mounted Drill Team, during the presentation of Old Glory and the flags of the 5 branches of Military Service. They were also provided a table with snacks, where they could fellowship and discover new resources for support and enrichment. This event was sponsored in part by ABC and Ottobock. Over 200 youth and adults participated in the 2014 McKeever's First Ride, and among them, were several military guests who served as volunteers, and several TEEN McKeever participants who returned to serve as volunteers!
McKeever's First Ride engaged individuals from toddlers to seniors, in a day of fun and fellowship. Ed Dabney, Gentle Horsemanship expert, served as Equine Director, teaching participants about the spirit of the horse, and overseeing the safety and welfare of all the horses used for riding, demonstrations, carriage driving, therapy, and performances. For the 5th year in a row, Ed empowered participants to have positive encounters with horses, in a masterfully designed venue, through engaging activities. His daughter, Gentle Horsemanship trainer, Elizabeth Dabney also brought her warmth and expertise for the benefit of all attendees.
Listen To Deenie McKeever Share An Oral History On The Prissy Tomboy Podcast
Show Summary: Join Tracey to hear the amazing and inspiring story of Deenie Mckeever’s. Deenie did not start riding horses until she was 60. Now 78, not only does she ride, she ropes cattle, has learned to speak the secret language of horses, and her next goal is to learn to dance with her horse.