Great-grandson of John Muir runs outdoor program for disabled

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

FAIRFIELD - Years ago, before William Stewart knew much about horses, some believed he wouldnt accomplish much in life.

But he thought otherwise.

Squinting his eyes against the sun, occasionally kicking the dirt road, Stewart today declares that 'they were completely wrong.'

Stewart wakes up with cystic fibrosis every morning. He knows he has a life-threatening disease and has been told he would not live past the age of 12. He is now 18 and on the cusp of graduating from Armijo High School.

'Just because someone has a disability doesnt mean you cant still do stuff and deserve that opportunity to experience things,' Steward said.

His strivings for happiness are attributed to Fanny, a 2-year-old foal in training that has become a part of Access Adventure on Rush Ranch. The program offers horse-driven carriage rides throughout the Solano Land Trust and Muir Heritage Land Trust properties for people with disabilities, although it is open to anyone.

It is the brain child of Michael Muir, great-grandson of famed conservationist John Muir. Michael Muir wanted a program that challenged the limitations of disabilities. It opened two years ago.

'Being at this ranch teaches us to open our senses, where you can close your eyes and feel the breeze on your cheeks and to experience nature,' said Muir, 54, who has had multiple sclerosis since the age of 15. 'You can hear the birds song and hear their wings move.'

But for Stewart, who has been visiting the ranch for one year, the program is a step beyond the scenic tours of vast land. It is an opportunity for him to experience life outside the realm of his disability.

'Fanny and I have a bond and thats because I helped to raise her,' said Stewart, who admitted to feeling like a different person at the Ranch. 'I feel Im like someone from the western days. I just need to get new cowboy boots.'

Muir walks with the help of a wooden cane that he holds firmly with his left hand. And at times, his right foot drags with each step, causing small clouds of dust to follow his moves across the ranch road.

He has always admired horses and holds a deep respect for nature and its surrounding. No doubt, an trait inherited from his great-grandfather.

'He has been a powerful influence on me, since I was a little boy and I feel an affinity,' Muir said of John Muir. 'Ive always been inspired by his spirit of adventure.'

According to Muir, his great-grandfather also had a disability. While working in a machine shop, John Muir, then 29, lost his sight for some time. He was bedridden, Michael said. Within time, John gained his vision back.

'He got up, walked out the door and swore he would never turn his eyes from the glory of nature. Thats when he walked 1,000 miles to the Gulf of Mexico,' Michael said.

Although Michaels multiple sclerosis will not go away, he did beat the odds of paralysis at age 15. Michael described being paralyzed from his neck down soon after his diagnosis, but it was the desire to 'get back to the stable and on the horses' that pushed him to walk again.

'Im a pretty robust fellow, and Im a tough guy. Part of that is my active life with horses,' he said. 'Its hard to live with a disability and to summon energy. You have to harness your passion and its what I do today. I cant ride horses but I can drive them and that gives me the strength to keep functioning.'

At one time, when Hiram Rush purchased the land in 1855, Rush Ranch occupied a total of 5,100 acres. Today, the public access open space encompasses 2,070 acres. It is owned by the Solano Land Trust.

A rustic corral keeps two Belgium Draft horses on one side with a smaller corral is home to Fanny, a Leopard Appaloosa with five black spots.

A 100-plus-year-old barn sits directly across while a kit home, selected from a Sears Roebuck catalog, is nestled to the side.

Except for an occasional jet flying by, the property is quiet and seems to be a relic from another time.

And this is what Muir and a staff of volunteers are offering to the public, especially those with disabilities.

Innovative equipment, such as a carriage with lift, allows up to five persons in wheelchairs to ride at one time. The two Belgium horses pull them through the land.

So far, Access has had hundreds of children with disabilities visit the ranch.

'There are barriers that dont have to be there. People get restrictions and we try to make that a little easier,' Muir said. 'I think people of disabilities are capable of enjoying life thoroughly and I think we demonstrate that here.

'They get sun in their face, ride a wagon thats fun and get a chance to explore the scenery. Beyond that, it gives them hope.'