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Copyright 2012 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


True Freedom

— Maryetta and Rye

By Natalie Riehl, Editor


September 2012 issue

     [This is a reprint of an article I wrote in 1992. I was so impressed with Maryetta Bauer when I first met her at a Back Country Horsemen convention in 1991 — her courage, vitality and stamina. Her love of her animals! Her determination not to let her accident stop her from riding.

     I recently learned that she had to put her horse, Rye , down at the age of 31. I chose to reprint this article in memory of that very special horse, Rye .]


      “This horse knows I am special,” says Maryetta Bauer of her twelve-year-old, Paso Fino gelding, Rye .

      Why is she special? Because she is paralyzed from her chest down and is confined to a wheelchair — confined, that is, until she rides Rye .

      And what makes Rye special? “He knows I have disabilities. They say dolphins can sense a disabled child. This horse is the same way. He lets me do anything to him. He trusts me.”

      Maryetta not only rides, but this fall she has been campaigning for a seat in the Montana state senate from the back of her bay gelding. In her home town of Polson , she rode Rye in several parades this year. With an amazing amount of courage and energy, she balances atop her modified saddle and, taking reins in hand, rides the horse herself.


      Needing help with only saddling, mounting and dismounting, she cares for her horse herself. She drives her Chevy Blazer to the pasture near her house where she keeps Rye , unhooks the electric fence and drives over the rough ground looking for the horse. He will come to her truck and put his head through the window into a bucket of oats in her lap while she puts on his halter. She then leads him the several blocks back to her house.

      She sets the bucket on her driveway and leaves Rye there to eat while she drives into her garage, pulls out the wheelchair from inside the Blazer, attaches the wheels and slides into the chair. She then wheels to the horse and ties him to a cross-tie on the edge of the driveway, where she can brush him, clean his hooves and doctor any wounds. And, if someone puts the saddle on his back, she can even cinch him.

      In the winter, she keeps hay stacked on the edge of the driveway. She puts his portion in a garbage sack, sets it inside the Blazer, locks the four-wheel-drive hubs and drives to the pasture where she can feed him.

      She has a system now, but it’s taken her a number of years to figure it out.

      Maryetta was very active in the Missoula Back Country Horsemen club when her accident happened in 1983. On an annual camp-out, she and two other riders took an evening ride and stopped to water their horses at the creek.

      She doesn’t remember what happened, but those with her say the horse reared up for no apparent reason, and she fell on her back onto a rock. Her vertebrae broke and her spinal cord was severed. 


      Initially, in the hospital in Missoula she had no realistic conception of what had happened to her. “My accident was in May, and I figured I’d be back in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in August or September. I had read the novel, ‘Palomino,’ by Danielle Steele, about a woman who is injured, becomes a paraplegic and who rides horses again almost right away. I thought, if she could do it, so could I. I had a lack of knowledge about the severeness of my disability. It isn’t the fact that you just can’t walk, it’s more than that.”

      She had to overcome severe depression, excruciating back pain and she had to learn to cope with the spasms in her legs. They can literally “buck her off” her horse or jackknife her. She has spasms because her nerves are confused. Her normal reflexes send messages up the spinal cord toward the brain, but when they reach the point of breakage and can’t get through, they go back to the legs. They do that repeatedly because they get no message from the brain not to. The spasms are partially controlled by medication.

      She went horseback riding for first time three years after her accident at Craig Hospital in Denver , where she did a lot of initial problem solving. She learned how the spasms affected her, and she learned if she wore tight jeans, her posture was better. She learned her balance was ten inches above the seat of the saddle. “I couldn’t ride well there,” she recalls, “because I had nothing to hang on to. I was only able to make adaptations to my saddle when I got Rye .”

      She uses a lightweight Balanced Ride saddle, which she has covered with thick sheepskin padding on the seat to prevent sores. She has a leather seatbelt designed to hold her in place, but to break if she gets into a jam.

      And she has a 24-inch “rollbar,” made of feather-light electrical conduit and covered in leather, which is bolted to the swells. It corresponds to her higher center of gravity.

      “Hanging on, I can go uphill, downhill and we can lope along. But there’s no way I could do it if I didn’t have the rollbar.”

      Maryetta chose the fourteen-hand Paso Fino gelding for his smooth gait. Although he was broke to ride when she purchased him in 1989, she asked Polson-trainer, Lee Litton, to start Rye from scratch, like he was breaking the horse, to make sure all bases had been covered in his training.



      As part of Rye ’s training, Maryetta recalls, “Lee used him herding cattle in Marlboro commercials. Sometimes they had to run the horses and cows back and forth a dozen times to get the shot they wanted. Lee learned this horse had stamina and a big heart — and that he didn’t wear you out when you ride for hours and hours.”

      Osteoporosis is a serious problem for people in wheelchairs. Putting stress on the bones on a regular basis helps prevent them from getting brittle. Even though Maryetta can’t feel the muscles in her legs, riding is excellent physical therapy.

       “In Rye ’s extended walk, I don’t need to hang onto the rollbar — and it’s pure pleasure. I can hear the rhythm of his hooves and my body starts absorbing his motion. My body reacts in a relaxed response to his actions. When I get off the horse, my legs are like noodles. The spasticity is gone. It’s like getting a giant massage.”

      Maryetta is accompanied everywhere by Caviar, her black Belgian Shepherd, whom she bought as a puppy. She has specially trained him to help her. He can retrieve things she cannot bend over to pick up, he is a great companion and a wonderful “ice breaker.”

      She says, “People, who would not normally know how to talk to a handicapped person, will come up and say, ‘What a beautiful dog,’ and that gets the conversation rolling.”

      Maryetta offers the following advice about minimizing one’s chances of a serious horseback-riding accident. “If you’ve got a horse that’s too much to handle, get a different one.


      “There are a lot of horses in the country that won’t hurt you. If you’ve bought a horse that’s beautiful and that you’ve fallen in love with, but who is constantly giving you problems, go get another horse. It’s not worth it to try and ride him.”

      Maryetta enjoys riding as often as possible. She can hook up her own horse trailer, she can drive her specially-adapted pickup, and she can load her horse into the trailer. However, she can’t mount alone, so she designed a wheelchair ramp to assist her.

      Her horse is her joy. “Horseback is my only true freedom. It is the only time I can go anywhere that anyone else can go on horseback. Rye can take me into the woods. To the creek. To all the places I can’t get in my wheelchair ... to the places where I would rather be.”


Although Maryetta does not ride any longer, she is still very interested in handicapped access for horseback riders. If you would like to contact her about the steel ramp she has for sale, email her at



Copyright 2012 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


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