Paralyzed Equestrian Takes Reigns After 12 Years

Paralyzed Equestrian Takes Reigns After 12 Years
By: Carly O'Keefe

AVA, Ill. - Twelve years ago, Jeff Farmer was an equestrian extraordinaire.  He trained race horses.
"The best part was getting up on those big thoroughbreds and running around the track," said Farmer.
But Farmer's life changed after he was shot in the back during an attempted robbery 12 years ago.  A bullet shattered four of his vertebrae, paralyzing him from the waist down.  Jeff thought he'd never ride again, but Sunday he was back in the saddle.           
"I'm going to ride ‘Whisper' over here.  He's a good horse, he kind of leads the way and I just sit on him and ride," said Farmer.
Members of the Ava Outlaws Saddle Club recently built a handicapped accessible ramp at the Johnson Creek Campgrounds to share their hobby with folks like Farmer.
"It lets them know there's more out there for them beyond their disability.  Horses, I don't know what it is about them, but they're therapeutic," said Ava Outlaws Saddle Club member Steve Reames.
"I get on a horse and nobody sees the chair anymore.  I'm riding what I've always loved to do, and it's freedom for me," said Farmer. "I love what these people are doing for us; they're giving us our freedom back, and the feeling of being able to do something again."
Now that Farmer's dream of holding the reigns again is a reality, he hopes to eventually be able share that dream with his best friend, Janet.
"Because of her disability, Janet can't ride.  She can't straddle a horse.  So we have to find a side saddle with a back, because I know once she gets on a horse, she'll just love it," Farmer said.
Members of the Ava Outlaws Saddle Club has a similar hope: to provide the joy of riding to anyone with the desire to try.
"We're trying to get bigger and better, and give hope to people who wouldn't otherwise be able to do this," said Ava Outlaws Saddle Club member Janet Layne.
The club plans to build more handicapped accessible ramps at other trail riding areas in the Shawnee National Forest with the permission of the U.S. Forestry Service.  They also hope to eventually build a facility in southern Illinois to teach folks with all sorts of disabilities to ride.