By Sandra Zunino
It was 2006 when Elaine Dow stood amongst the thoroughbreds in her field, feeling overwhelming stress ebb away as the sentient creatures surrounded her. Elaine had good reason for the accumulated stress in her life.
In 1993, her 5-year-old son Joe came down with vaccine-related health problems and was diagnosed with autism. Common vaccines tinged with mercury and other toxins, are now suspected of causing autism and neurological damage for children – boys especially, according to Elaine.
While Joe is 90% recovered, it was a long fight and one Elaine was determined to win. After years of educating herself on the chemical composition and possible side effect of each vaccine, today, Elaine sounds like a biochemist herself. Parents of other vaccine-injured children began to seek her out for advice. “These mothers are heartbroken beyond belief,” she says.
Elaine recalls how the horses lifted her spirits and came to an epiphany. Perhaps other mothers could find a moment of respite among Elaine’s herd. Thus was the inspiration behind Chesapeake Victories.
Chesapeake Victories, founded by Elaine and her husband Mike, is a 501 3(c) not for profit organization aimed at helping families of children who have various special needs including autism and other vaccine-related injuries. “Victories” stands for Vaccine Injured Children’s Treatment Organization specializing in Research, Information, Education and Support.
The 14-acre farm located in Church Hill is the only therapeutic riding program in Queen Anne’s County. Elaine’s horses, cast-offs from the thoroughbred racing industry, along with the help of certified trainer Rebecca Pitre, provide one avenue of healing for special needs children and their families. “We tailor our program to the individual child,” says Elaine.
While thoroughbreds have a reputation as a hot-tempered breed, Elaine made a conscientious decision to use racetrack rescues for her mission. Bred for racing, non winning thoroughbreds are often ill fated. “When I got my thoroughbred, I noticed when the children came around to visit, she was very social and affectionate,” Elaine explains. “I thought, if they can be trained to work with theses children, we can find another use for this beautiful breed.”
Children participating in the program learn to lead, groom, tack and eventually ride the thoroughbreds. “The horses have worked out beyond my expectations,” says Elaine.
Riders experience increased self-confidence and improvement in strength, balance, coordination, attention span, language and social skills. Riders also strengthen spine and pelvic muscles. The discipline needed to master riding also improves concentration and emotional control.
While similar programs average $70 per hour, Elaine recognizes that families of these children are tapped out financially, so riding is free for participants. Instead, she is applying for grants and seeks help from the local community. Even everyday stable maintenance is appreciated. Elaine invites youth groups such as 4-H, Scouts, FFA and high school students to donate time in exchange for community service hours.
According to newly released statistics, the rate of autism now affects 1 in 91 children in the U.S. Boys are affected at an astounding rate of 1 in 58. Elaine campaigns tirelessly to gain rights and services for autistic and vaccine-injured children. Last Sunday, Chesapeake Victories exhibited at the Autism Expo 2009 in Columbia, Maryland.
“When a mother comes here, she can forget her troubles and see her beautiful child make this wonderful achievement with this gorgeous animal,” says Elaine, “When they are going around the ring, their smile is worth a million dollars.”
For more information, or to make a donation, visit www.chesapeakevictories.org.