We had the good fortune of connecting with Mary Hadsall and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mary, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I believe taking risks is essential to life. Everyone is born with the inherent right to risk. What I see over and over again in my work is that my students are denied the opportunity to fully participate in life. My job is to allow our students to explore risk while keeping them safe. Horseback riding is in and of itself a dangerous sport. Combine that with a rider in saddle that has a physical disability, well you are adding elements of risk to that equation. It is through careful instruction and weekly lessons that our riders develop a thorough foundation in horsemanship and mastery of skill sets. This includes learning how to safely lead a horse, groom, tack up, and ride. For each student the level of independence mastered varies, however the education does not. That means if a student needs help lifting a saddle onto a horses back, he or she is going to know which saddle they need as well as the correct placement of said saddle. That process involves taking risks. When participating in sports, or anything really, you have to struggle to succeed. Learning isn’t easy. It might take you twice as long to get from here to there, managing the fine motor skills required to hold grooming tools, or buckle your own riding helmet, could be very difficult; but if someone else is always taking over and doing those tasks for you, protecting you from that struggle, then you will never learn and grow. It takes courage to leave your wheelchair or walker behind and get on the back of a 1000 lb animal. It takes courage to risk. And the immeasurable joy when you have mastered moving your horse independently through the arena or riding trails, now that is living!
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Camelot Therapeutic Horsemanship is a curriculum based therapeutic horseback riding program that offers private and semi private horsemanship lessons to children and adults with physical disabilities. We are the longest standing therapeutic riding and driving program in the state of Arizona, and since incorporation in 1983 we have provided all services at no cost to the families we serve. It is the curriculum aspect of our program truly sets us apart from other therapeutic riding programs. At Camelot our emphasis is on education. Our students all have three things in common, a love of horses, a desire to learn horsemanship, and a physical disability. What this means is that we are working with our students teaching them how to ride, not doing something to them. Our students might have found us through physician referrals or government agencies, but if they are just looking for physical therapy, we are not the right fit. Students will not come out to the ranch and find horses tacked up and ready for riding. Instead they are going to be working alongside their instructor and a team of volunteers as they learn horsemanship and develop a deep understanding of the human – horse relationship. Our curriculum covers topics such as: horses through the ages, breeds, colors and confirmation, safe horse handling, principals of riding, and more. Camelot’s wheelchair accessible facility sits on 14.25 acres of pristine desert in North Scottsdale. The entire facility was built with students independence in mind. Our accessible barn was custom built out of steel mesh to allow excellent ventilation for the horses. The eight stall barn features stall gates with overhead tracking to allow students that use mobility equipment easy access in and out of the stalls. There is a wheelchair accessible feed window that allows horses to be fed grain and hay by someone using a wheelchair. The hallway and breezeway where students groom and tack their horses is of concrete that was raked to ensure the horses have better traction and to give visually impaired students using canes better spacial awareness. The hallway down between the stalls features a rake pattern that runs north and south, while the concrete in the large grooming and tacking area has concrete that runs east and west, this alerts the individual that they have moved from the breezeway into the hallway where they can and will encounter horses who may have their heads sticking out of their stalls. The tack room and feed room have small concrete ramps which allows easy entry over the threshold for wheelchair and walker users. Students with visual impairments will find signs in braille where tack and equipment is stored the tack room, features which combined all encourage independence and full inclusion. In addition to the eight stall barn, Camelot has a 100′ x 200′ covered arena, a 40 meter x 60 meter outdoor dressage arena, a shade covered round pen, raised bed gardens that are wheelchair accessible and a spectacular 85′ wheelchair accessible labyrinth. Students also enjoy trail rides on site. We have a beautiful property trail that runs the perimeter of the property that includes two washes that meander through the beautiful palo verde, saguaros, creosote bushes, stag horn cholla. This year with the challenges we are faced due to the Covid pandemic we are taking all necessary steps to ensure our students, volunteers, and their families are safe. We are practicing health screening upon arrival, wearing masks, washing our hands frequently, disinfecting riding equipment, avoiding person-to-person contact, and observing safe social distancing. Now more than ever I am grateful for the curriculum component of our program. We have great plans in place for all students to enjoy their time at Camelot. Our more independent students will be in saddle while riders requiring person-to-person contact will be enjoying other activities. These will focus on socialization and horsemanship education all while reconnecting as a Camelot family and healing through horses in a whole new way!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Being an avid outdoorsman and bird watcher I would take my friends down to the Salt River for a stand up paddle board adventure. We would put our boards in the water at sunrise and enjoy a leisurely paddle down river. While on the water we would likely see: great blue herons, gila woodpeckers, mallards, great egrets, snowy egrets, ed-winged blackbirds, bank swallows, grackles, turkey vultures, red tailed hawks, starlings, the occasional Great Horned Owl, and Bald Eagle. In addition to seeing birds we might spot river otter, beaver, skunks and the beautiful salt river wild horses as they come to the water to cool off and for grazing on river grasses.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Camelot’s founder, Eileen Szychowski has been and is my greatest mentor. Timing is everything, I found Camelot when she was planning her succession. As a new Scottsdale resident I wanted to start my own therapeutic horseback riding program. I had been working as a therapeutic riding instructor in Park City, Utah at the National Ability Center. I knew the population I wanted to serve and the scope of services I wanted to offer, what I didn’t know was how to start a non-profit. I went to Camelot to meet with Eileen to get direction for my next step. I came through the gates of Camelot and I never left. I had the great fortune to become an intern and study beside Eileen where I learned the intricacies in running a non-profit. She passed the reins to me in 2004 when she retired. I continue to call on her for advice and mentorship today.