They help us every day in many ways—and it’s time to tell their stories!
A Whole Herd of Heroes at TRAK
There’s a ranch in Tucson that got its start by introducing kids with challenges to some very special horses.
TRAK (Therapeutic Ranch for Animals and Kids) started 13 years ago. “Jill Prickett-Tilley and Scott Tilley—they founded TRAK. Jill’s background is in special education. So she’s worked with kids who have had traumatic backgrounds who have traditionally received services for whatever reason,” explains Jordyn Carter, development officer for TRAK.
Prickett-Tilley wanted to find a more meaningful therapy than what was traditionally being offered. “If you would teach them how to care for animals and teach them to become a service provider themselves, their self-confidence goes through the roof. And that process transfers to their entire life,” Carter explains. Inclusivity is an important part of the culture at TRAK, which has just under 20 workers and dozens and dozens of volunteers, who can be as young as 12.
And while TRAK has a variety of animals at the ranch, it’s a whole herd of hero horses that shine, not only helping kids, but people of all ages! Currently, TRAK has 33 horses for its wide range of programs. The youngest, Tinka, was born two years ago on the ranch. And the oldest is 32.
But what makes for a hero horse when it comes to therapy? Some TRAK participants have physical or mental disabilities. Some have been mistreated or abused or have lost a parent. Some veterans at TRAK suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). And some kids and adults are there just to learn how to relate to, care for and ride a horse better!
“Horses are the best therapeutic tool. They’re non-judgmental,” Carter explains. “Each horse has to go through a process to make sure they are fit and qualified to be here. Our horses have to be calm; they have to have a certain TEMPERMENT. So most of our horses, I would say, are on the older side. Our average age is 15.”
The therapy horses have a willingness to be still and calm and to be in the moment with a person! They have to be very trusting. Surprisingly, many of these hero horses are donated to TRAK and are a variety of breeds.
“We have an Appaloosa, most are Quarter Horse; we have one that’s part Clydesdale; we have some Paints; we have an Arabian—so we have lots of different breeds out here. We also have five miniature horses,” Carter points out.
Being so young, Tinka is still in training to be a therapy horse.
One of the most popular horses with participants is Norman the Clydesdale. He’s also the biggest horse on the ranch—a gentle giant that loves munching on Nature Valley granola bars. Norman seems to like being the center of attention and his calmness makes him perfect for many of the dozens of therapeutic programs TRAK offers, including Tiny Trailblazers, which is for those just 18 months to 4 years old.
Ginger is also a favorite. A Quarter Horse fairly new to the ranch, she is a small mare, almost pony-sized. She is described as being very calm and willing to teach.
Izzy is a smaller horse as well and does well for beginners who are learning to ride and for older kids, too. Dude and Ditto are known for their gentleness and calmness and are retired from riding.
And then there are Dusty, Baby Ray and Romeo—horses in adjacent stalls at TRAK that love tossing those orange traffic cones back and forth!
“When it’s a one-on-one situation with the horse, they just have this ability to teach you so much about yourself, about emotions that you’re carrying,” Carter explains. “In that moment of stillness, of calmness, they want that connection with a human being.”
For more about TRAK and its many programs, visit traktucson.org.
Horse Hero Promoted to Staff Sergeant
Would you believe that a horse made Life magazine’s list of America’s 100 all-time heroes?
During the Korean War, a Marine lieutenant bought a small, 5-year-old mare for $250 from a Korean racetrack. It trained to be a pack animal to HAUL heavy ammunition for the platoon that operated the large recoilless rifles (known as reckless rifles) for the 5th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division.
The gentle horse soon bonded with the Marines and was allowed to roam about the camp freely, occasionally ducking into tents on cold nights. In the mornings, she enjoyed chowing on scrambled eggs and pancakes to go with her coffee. She would train to haul heavy loads through the worst battlefield conditions. After being led by a trainer just a couple times along a route, she could be trusted to follow it on her own! Fittingly, they named her Reckless.
During a battle, the horse made 51 solo trips in one day, going up and down steep hills. Reckless ended up delivering nearly 5 tons of much needed ammunition. She also shielded four Marines who needed to reach the front lines. She was wounded twice during the battle.
In the field, Reckless was promoted to corporal in 1953 and then to sergeant the following year shortly after the war had ended. This amazing horse was decorated nine times and earned two Purple Hearts for being wounded during the battle.
A few years after her arrival to the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Randolph Pate, promoted Reckless to staff sergeant. This hero horse spent her final years being pampered at Camp Pendleton, California.
Animals Helping with Scientific Research
Pinnipeds are providing important data to help climate change researchers. Scientists in the Antarctic did not have a good way to take measurements in the waters in the Southern Sea as portions of the sea are under ice, some that melts and reforms seasonally. Getting data from the frozen waters, especially water under the ice, was tricky.
So the researcher turned to elephant seals. These marine mammals routinely swim under the ice, spending as much as 90 percent of their time underwater. So researchers put the seals’ deep diving skills to use to monitor currents and flows in these icy waters. Sensors on the seals’ bodies and heads measure the temperature and salinity of the water.
Ocean waters are a major storage place for carbon and heat, and flows can affect how much is absorbed. According to an August New York Times article, Swedish researchers were surprised to find that eddies under the ice are almost as active as those in the open ocean, even in the middle of winter when the ice is thick. One downside to using seals is that they don’t follow directions! They go where they want to go, usually swimming after squid and other tasty treats.
Dolly Pawton Is a Hero!
The American Humane Hero Dog Awards named Dolly Pawton as the 2020 Service Hero Dog. Dolly, a 4-year-old Labrador retriever, is a cardiac dog for her owner, Amy. Amy uses a wheelchair and suffers from anxiety and several medical conditions. Dolly Pawton alerts Amy if her blood pressure drops or if her heart rate accelerates too much.
Besides keeping Amy safe, Dolly Pawton has offered her handler companionship, comfort and confidence. Amy, who rarely left her home before she met Dolly, wrote and illustrated a children’s book called “Pawsibly the Best Medicine” which shares their story. She and Dolly Pawton also traveled to schools to teach kids about the importance of service animals.