Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mojácar's Greed Cost Them a Gold Mine

Because of any lack of vision for the future of Mojácar and greediness to put money in their pockets at the moment, instead of thinking of the future gold-mine that lay ahead, Mojácar lost its chance to be one of the leading centers for Animal Assisted Therapy in Europe. Over twenty-five years ago I started, on my own, a farm school and petting zoo which I let the school use for free. Then I started the first AAT program in Spain providing Therapeutic Riding, farm school and native wildlife park. Four times we were donated land, ten hectares each time, only to have it taken away again after all the plans were drawn up and the projects financing granted. It was then used for something else, in two cases totally fictitious, only to get the grant money. I put on five international conferences, with speakers from various countries, and several courses including two for the University of Almería. When the head of the ONCE was at an international meeting for the disabled in Australia, he was speaking to the head of the local organization, who was explaining to him about AAT and all of the benefits and programs around the world, most of whom were at this conference; the head of the ONCE said it was a shame that Spain had no such program, only to be told that one of the best programs in Europe at the time was right here in Mojácar. I had actually met with the head of the ONCE several times to talk about my program but he obviously thought it wasn’t worth the bother. It was actually he who told me after he returned from the conference how embarrassed he was! The disabled organization in Almería (I won’t say ‘who’) actually helped me to get my paperwork and non-profit licence only to steal the grant when it finally arrived for the first training center in Europe for training dogs for the disabled, therapeutic riding and farm school.
It was not just a functioning center and educational place for the school-children but also a place for people to come from all over the world to learn how to work in these fields. The architectural plans actually included a covered riding ring with bleachers and a restaurant overlooking the ring plus stables where people could board their horses, petting zoo, a small veterinary clinic and emergency room, school with accredited teachers and a full course with degree in any of the branches of AAT. It would have been a place for the whole community and tourists to visit. The ring was designed so that it could be used for concerts or football games and may other events. All of the training of the animals and the classes for the disabled had its own separate area within the grounds.
We ran for almost fifteen year starting small until we had over forty students, all Spanish, severely physically disabled, and more than forty volunteers, almost all foreign, including a vet, doctor, physiotherapist and riding instructor and me as the coordinator, all on my own property with my own animals at no cost to the students and no help from the Town Hall. Now that it has become fashionable there are a lot of EU grants available and people without the slightest knowledge of what they are doing are starting up centers all over Spain. If Mojácar had only thought ahead a little we could have been the front-runners in this field for all of Europe and held International conferences to fill the hotels and students to come and study. I travelled all over Europe giving lectures and going to conferences representing Spain and was on the board of directors of the FRDI for four years, still Mojácar never helped. We trained five dogs to start with, to help people in wheelchairs and for the deaf, but had to drop the program due to lack of funds.
Money is available for grants, and there are even agents out there who will help organisations find this funding – for a flat 20%. It is no secret that a lot of ‘charity money’ ends up stolen, and even large and well-known organisations in Spain have been caught. It is almost considered ‘normal’ – so who on earth is going to help fund a group run by foreign residents?
Funding for a charity is key; but it’s also pretty hard to keep afloat if the national and local authorities won’t help.
We held quite a few fundraising events; with the only benefit to ANIMO was the money from the sale of drinks during the day. One such event was Burro Baseball. It was a huge success and the only place in Europe to hold such a game plus we did something to help honour the disappearing Spanish donkey. It was filmed on TV and it did not cost Mojácar one penny and could have put them on the map. We did it for seven years with the help of the American Naval Base at Rota, who provided all of the equipment every year and even one year they sent a bus of twenty-three marines to play against Mojácar. When we started to have a shortage of donkeys to play, Mojácar refused to help and the game was dropped. We also held the first pop concert with Spain’s most famous rock star, Miguel Rios, and a chorus accompanying in sign language which was also televised and Mojácar never paid any attention. Our politicians couldn’t see beyond the ends of their noses. Now it is too late: I had to stop due to lack of personal funding and bad health. I am now back in the game but helping others start their programs.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Riding Out My Illness

I know I have talked a lot about Loli and the wonders that have happened since I met her after giving my speech at the university. I don’t want to drone on unnecessarily but between us we have been working on a program to help me get stronger and to improve my health and it is working. I am writing a book about it called ‘Health Through Horses: a personal journey to recuperation, health and happiness’: The book will include a lot of personal things about my illness and some funny experiences but mostly it is about how Loli and I started to come up with a program that can help so many people recovering from cancer and other illnesses. So I will put here an excerpt from the book on some of my exercises.


I decided that I couldn’t cure the virus (Note from Editor. Barbara’s virus remains unidentified after ten years) but I could make myself as strong and healthy as possible and knowing the power of the horse and what it can do, I decided to set up a program for myself using all of the knowledge I had learned over the years. With chronic kidney dysfunction and chronic anaemia, I was told they would just get worse and that my body didn’t absorb the iron I was taking in so I would have to inject myself every day. I was also told I would need to eat from a feeding tube for the rest of my life. None of these things were acceptable to me so I wanted to change things and make a difference in my own health.
I started riding at Loli’s once a week on the lunge-line, and in the ring, it soon became clear, I don’t know why, that riding on the lunge-line provided much more benefit. I think the reason being that I didn’t have to think about my reins or steering so all the concentration went into me, Loli was in charge of the horse and watching that my posture was correct. The benefit of riding bareback on the lunge-line is that you don’t need to have any previous experience. You have the sursingle to hold on to; someone in charge of the horse and you can go at your own speed. Start at the walk and when you feel comfortable then you can progress to the trot and so on. I have improved so much both mentally and physically and hope to continue through experimenting with more useful ideas.
I am still slightly anaemic but I don’t have to take iron and I don’t have to inject myself. My kidneys have improved by one point, which doesn’t seem much but really is a huge advancement because they were supposed to be getting worse not better. The side-effects of the steroids are almost non existent except for the continual hunger. My insomnia is finally easing up and letting me sleep a few nights a week. The most impressive result was that of my triglycerides - which turn fat into energy for your muscles. The highest you can go is 200 but mine was over 400 and after three weeks, of riding once a week, I now have my levels down just below 200 and it is still going down. I knew I had to keep a good flow of oxygenated blood running to all of my extremities, because at one point they were going to amputate my toes and the tips of my ears. All of this was avoided by getting a good blood-flow to my extremities; also through my heart and lungs so that was one of the first exercises I started to work on. It was important to help keep the new skin and implants from dying. I use a yoga breathing technique and stretching and opening my chest cavity. I also breathe from the abdomen instead of the chest. I do all of my exercises at the walk, trot and canter in both directions. I still can’t do some of them at the canter but each time I get closer. There are still some places I can’t reach in the stretches but I will get there. That is one of the wonders of this program, you don’t need previous experience and you go at your own pace, meanwhile, just sitting on the horse while it is walking is giving you benefits. After a long time in bed, especially hospital beds, which are known for being uncomfortable, I had a lot of muscle-pain and a bad and weak posture. That was one of the next things I worked on, by stretching above my head with a pole and doing push-ups on the horse’s withers. It will all become clearer when you see the pictures and get a full description of the exercises, now I am trying to tell you what and how I decided to work on different parts of my body. My kidneys bothered me so I had to find a way to strengthen my lower back and stretch my torso so there wouldn’t be so much pressure on them. I needed energy, most of that came from the canter with my arms spread out and my eyes shut. I had to be in a good frame of mind so as not to go into depressions every time I had to change my bandages or see myself in the mirror; I helped achieve this by getting back out into the world and helping other disabled people and the decision to stop dwelling on my own problems. I also had to work on my balance, since I am almost completely deaf, that included a lot of trot, stop, trot, stop plus a series of other things like around-the-world and riding backwards. I needed to build strength in my legs and build muscle-tone, so I put my hands on the rump of the horse and ‘did the bicycle’, foot circles and bringing my knees together and lowering them again. Between each set of exercises I would relax by putting my hands just behind my hips, resting on the horse and sit up straight at a good working walk. To relax my back muscles I lie down with my head on the rump and just go a few times around the ring. It is amazing what a great massage you get from that but you can’t do it at the trot or canter, at least I can’t. I do a lot of stretching, reaching from tail to ear and back again stretching way over my head. I spend about five minutes on each exercise in each direction at each pace. I found that I could isolate muscles that were bothering me by finding the right muscle on the horse and the right pace to make it work and it is incredible how when you get it just right everything just slips into place. Then I do some basic aerobics for fitness and energy. It is very important that your instructor makes sure your arms are at shoulder level when stretched out and that your hands are a shoulder’s-width apart when you work with a pole or other instrument. Always look between the horses ears with your head up even when you are doing twisting exercises to the sides. When I finish my workout, my muscles feel tired but good and relaxed and I have boundless energy and a fantastic positive feeling of well- being. I know I will always have moments of depression and wonder why this should have happened to me. There are times when I just want to give up but then I see all of the things I have to live for and it gives me a renewed strength to carry on. I know I am very lucky to have such a wonderful family and friends as a support group; I probably would have given up if not for them.
It has all been trial-and-error but now it is working well enough with me to get a few doctors interested and that is what we want in this field. I have seen over the last thirty years the benefits horses provide for the disabled but I never put much thought into illness and recovery. Since my illness I neither have the money or the strength to reopen my center ANIMO, but I am helping a few small centers around the area and giving a few speeches. Now, my main concern is to get better myself and if I can help other people in the process, so much the better.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Little Boy Kitty Lost His Meow

Something fell out of the tree straight into my husband’s arms. When I asked him what it was, he took a look and said “a little boy kitty” and that is how he got his name. Little Boy Kitty was no normal kitten, he was completely black and tiny with the softest fur you have ever felt and he knew from that very second that he fell from the tree that Lenox and this house were his. He wandered around with all of the big dogs and other animals without a care in the world. He knew this was going to be home. As Little Boy Kitty began to grow he also began to speak, or meow, about and to everything and everyone he could find. He became particularly verbal at meal times especially if you were late, according to him. He would weave in and out between your feet, tripping you up and meow to the point that you felt like throwing him out of the door. When I say that he was no normal kitty, I meant it, he never just curled up in a ball and went to sleep or did any of the other things cats normally do, no, he had to stretch out on your chest with his arms wrapped around you like a big hug and he always put his chin right under yours and looked at you with these adorable eyes so you didn’t dare move him. There he would stay until you had to go to sleep, and that is when we finally started to put him out of the bedroom at night, so we could roll over and get some sleep ourselves. As he grew he became more and more verbal. When you would come home he would have to tell you all about his day and who had been mean to him and what bird he had tried to catch, all before you could get the groceries into the house. If we would go away for a few days, when we came home, it was hours of telling us everything that had happened. After a few years it really became quite annoying, his insisting on breakfast while you were in the middle of fixing it. He just never shut-up. Then one day he just lost his meow. He would open his mouth but no noise came out. He was waiting for me at the door as usual and was weaving in and out of my feet waiting for breakfast but there was no noise. I checked his throat and him but there was no meow. It was gone. We looked everywhere but it was nowhere to be found. It had been about a week and still no meow. One day when I went upstairs I saw, sitting next to me on the bed a huge, and I mean huge, bull gecko, one of our house-lizards that usually live behind the paintings. I didn’t want him to sit with me so I told him to shoo, very politely. He was so fat that he couldn’t hold on to the walls or ceiling anymore, without falling, splat onto the floor again, so he had to stay on the floor or bed. He had no intention of moving from his comfortable position on my bed so I became a little more insistent, when all of the sudden he just looked up at me in a deliberate way and said MEOW. WHAT A SHOCK! I came running down stairs to tell Lenox. So we finally found where Little Boy Kitty’s meow went to and to this day Little Boy Kitty still gives us hugs and is still trying to tell us about his day, but he is completely silent and fortunately I haven’t seen that big bull gecko again and I hope I never do.