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Disabled riders hope to spread awareness, inspiration in horsedrawn trek across U.S.

February 08, 2001|By ANTHONY LONGORIA, Staff Writer

BRAWLEY — Call it a labor of love.

Michael Muir, 48, Bernhard Kahny, 44, and Jose Hernandez de Legorreta, 21, have made it through the desert between San Diego and Imperial Valley, resting in Cattle Call park here Tuesday.

All three are disabled.

Muir is afflicted with multiple sclerosis. Kahny is a paraplegic. De Legorreta is legally blind.

Tired — exhausted, really — you can see in their faces that they've earned a few days off.

"We've had a hard first week through the desert," said Muir, a horse breeder from Woodland.

For the next 10 months, these three and their crew will call America's wide open spaces their home.

Their journey will take them on a laborious 3,000 mile trek across the nation to spread awareness and inspiration for disabled Americans.

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Sound difficult? Not yet.

Pulled by Muir's four Stonewall Sport horses, these men are traveling across the country on horse-drawn carriages, averaging 10 miles a day.

"It's about challenging your limits," Muir said. "We're here to challenge our limits."

The Horsedrawn Journey Across America commenced Jan. 28 at Mission San Diego del Alcala. From California to New Mexico, Oklahoma to Virginia, the men will visit 11 states along a mostly southerly route across the United States.

They will attempt to meet the governors of the 11 states they'll visit, promoting the U.S. Driving for the Disabled, a national organization that aims at introducing the sport of horse driving to the disabled and is also the group's sponsor.

The group hopes to reach Washington, D.C., by October and plans to meet with President Bush.

"We're doing this, driving from coast to coast, to bring the idea of horse sports to people with disabilities," said Muir. "To bring our message that people with disabilities can accomplish amazing things."

All three men are well-accomplished in the horse sport of driving, a sort of modern-day cousin to chariot racing.

De Legoretta, a native of Jocotitlan, Mexico, said he loves the time with horses the journey affords him.

All three men share that love for horses. Self-proclaimed "horsemen," Muir met Kahny at a driving competition in Germany. De Legoretta was named to the Mexican equestrian team last year.

With a $140,000 budget, the group is self-contained, traveling with a trailer, truck, horse supplies, and a three-person crew.

"We're roughing it all the way," said Muir.

The men plan to sleep on the waysides along their route and rely on the kindness of strangers to get by.

So far, they they've been met with open arms by the communities they've visited.

Local businesses Del Norte Chevrolet, Debbie's Western Wear, and U.S. Fitness helped the group with truck repairs, arranged for its campsite in Cattle Call Park and provided showering facilities.

Roughing it aside, the three resoundingly agree this journey is the fulfillment of a dream.

"It's great, it's like living in paradise every day, doing what you love," said de Legorreta.

The journey by horse was two years in the making. Training, funding, planning and more training culminated in a trip Muir hopes will inspire both the disabled and the non-disabled, hoping to dispel misconceptions about the disabled.

"People think that disabled means that you can't do anything," Muir said. "We're here to prove that that's not true at all."

The group's most dynamic link is Bernhard Kahny, a native of Germany who has been in a wheelchair since a traffic accident left him a paraplegic in 1987.

A happy, constantly smiling man, Kahny seems unfazed by his disability.

Hardly a stranger to the feelings of despair of being newly disabled, his hope and concern is with the newly disabled, to teach them life doesn't end when one becomes disabled.

A custom carriage allows Kahny to drive while seated in his wheelchair. The rest of the group uses lightweight carriages that reduce strain on the horses.

The crew drives the group's truck, cares for the horses and helps trip planning.

Crew member Ann Hamilton left her job as a high school English teacher to join the journey.

"It's such a selfless act on everyone's part," said Hamilton.

Said crew member Gerry Teasley: "I've wanted to do something for people my whole life, so this is an opportunity to help somebody."

The group planned to leave this morning for Yuma.

Muir insists that he doesn't entertain fears the group won't complete the trip.

"I've never been afraid of it," said Muir. "We have a message to show. … I assure you we will make it to the White House."

Staff Writer Anthony Longoria can be reached at 337-3452.

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On the Web:

www.horsejourney.com

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