Brad was born in the one-stoplight town of Milington, Michigan. As a young man, he moved with his family to the Southwest where cattle was big business and where he learned to rope and ride. He was a cowboy; a rough riding rodeo type who “was always up to something.” On the Papago Reservation in Arizona, he worked the ranches with his father, training horses and rounding up cattle for the Pacific Livestock Auction. He was a wrestler in high school and a boxer in the Army. Slowing down was not in his vocabulary so when he moved back to Michigan, he got a job in construction and continued to ride as a hobby.
On Veteran’s Day three years ago, Brad was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest, down. Unable to walk and with limited use of his hands, he left his job as project manager in a heating and cooling company and went looking for a place to live that was wheelchair accessible. He moved to Evergreen Grove in Otter Lake. There he could live independently in a setting that was far from a nursing home, yet get the help he needed.
Brad wanted more than independence, though; he wanted his life back. He did not want those important parts of his identity to be lost. He missed the outdoors, he missed boxing, and most importantly, he missed horses. An online search revealed a number of programs out there for individuals with physical challenges. O.A.T.S., Offering Alternative Therapy with Smiles, was a therapeutic horseback-riding program based in Clarkston, not too far away. He signed up and within weeks his feet were back in the stirrups.
In 3 sessions, he was walking a horse in a round pen with volunteers and specialists. “It took a couple tries for me to find my balance,” says Brad. “I used a standard western saddle with no back and just a saddle horn so I had to learn different ways to keep upright.” He found that Velcro straps around his wrists help him pull himself back into position, when the gait of the horse shifted him to the side. This allowed him to ride 15-20 yards at a time with no assistance.
On the fifth session, his caregiver, Patty Gring of AdvisaCare got to come along. “I was beyond excited I cried. It was so amazing for me to see one of our clients up on a horse after all he has been through and see him work towards his dream. Just brings me so much joy.”
His success in the program opened up other doors for Brad. Just recently, he acquired a heavy bag and has begun his journey back into boxing. “Any plans for a career from here?” I asked. “Yeah, but not in construction.” He plans to train his own horse and to open an adapted gym so that others with disabilities can learn to box. “It’s great core exercise,” he says. “At first, I couldn’t hit a flea but not I have a pretty good swing!”
Brad is also in the process of writing a book about his life. With a pilot and fire bomber for a father and a childhood working with the Papago Indians in Arizona, as well as his adventures in the Army, his life has taken many interesting paths. For Brad, each new element becomes just another chapter. He is a proud father and a driven cowboy, hanging his hat on great hopes for the future.
To learn more about O.A.T.S. or any of the other programs mentioned in this article, please visit the links below.