New program to connect special needs children, horses
OWATONNA — Monte Mowry loves horses.
“It’s just something about being around animals … If I get wound up or something, I’ll get saddled up and ride,” Mowry said. “It’s just a calming thing.”
That’s why he keeps several horses on his property off of Highway 14, where he’s lived with his wife, Nancy, for 13 years, and it’s why he’s offering a new program this summer to share that love of horses with others.
Mowry is the lead organizer of Ride for the Brand, which is accepting registration for children with disabilities and wounded veterans and their families to come meet his horses and others owned by his friends and supporters. The event will take place over four Thursdays in July and will accept about 35 registrants. So far, 10 have already signed up.
Mowry said the idea came from Special Horses for Special People, a similar program in Waseca that has been running for more than a decade. The name, which refers not to a corporate identity but the brand that marked the cattle and identity of a ranch, came from a poem of the same name by Paul Harwitz.
This will be the first time Mowry has done a program like this, and the details are still being worked out.
“We started in December talking about this, three or four of us who have horses,” he said.
Since that time, Ride for the Brand has gotten sponsorships from groups such as Advocates for Developmental Disabilities; purchased a special saddle with supports to help physically disabled children remain in their seats (Mowry said donations from Deitz Construction and an anonymous benefactor helped with that purchase); and lined up the Medford Future Farmers of America to provide more animals for the attendees to pet and play with.
“We’re planning on an hour event, but if it takes one and a half, we’ll do it. If it takes two hours, we’ll do it,” Mowry said.
Other steps they’ve taken include arranging liability insurance and connecting with the school district and Owatonna Parks and Recreation, which included information about the program in its March/April Therapeutic Recreation Newsletter. And they’re not just looking for registrants. Mowry said he’s hoping to have a horse handler and two assistants volunteer for each riding horse or wagon team to man the registration desk, monitor activities and more.
Although the full program doesn’t kick off until July, children already are coming to Mowry’s ranch to spend time with the horses. One is Megan Copeland, blind from birth, whose parents say her time riding horses has helped the Owatonna 12yearold with balance and coordination. And on April 17, two more local youths were out at the ranch to meet Mowry’s horses.
Sam Mullenback, 15, and Sam Chavez, 9, both have Down Syndrome. They were accompanied to the ranch by Lori Osmundson and Shelly Thom, both paraprofessionals with Owatonna Public Schools. Osmundson says she also works with Teen Club through Owatonna Therapeutic Recreation, which is how she heard about Mowry’s ranch.
Osmundson said many of the children with special needs who the schools work with respond well to time with animals.
“The kids love it,” she said. “The understanding between the animals and kids is phenomenal.”
Time spent with animals isn’t just fun. Osmundson said it can be a way for the children to learn valuable skills.
“Sam [Mullenbach] shows animals at the fair,” she said. “This will be his third year now.” She went on to describe one particularly ornery pig that even the owner struggles with but with whom Mullenbach never has trouble.
That same touch for animals were on display as the boys got to know the barn and, eventually, the horses. Mowry showed them how to brush and groom Tank, one of his horses, and how they are saddled, and then each in turn had a chance to mount up and be led around Mowry’s corral. The boys also got to preview some of the other activities Mowry has planned for Ride for the Brand — Horseshoe stations using actual shoes from Mowry’s horses, lasso training, and more.
Mowry is hoping to see many more children enjoying the same activities in July, just as he enjoys them himself. And while this year’s program is still far from completely organized, Mowry is hopeful it will be back even bigger and better next year.
“If we get a good turnout, everything positive with no issues … we’ll continue it,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of good response, super response on it.”
Originally published in the Owatonna People’s Press on April 25, 2015.