Rush Ranch on the Suisun Marsh offers many outdoor activities that people from all walks of life can enjoy — even during COVID. The 2,070 acres of marsh and rolling grassland, owned by Solano Land Trust, provides recreational and educational opportunities to thousands of visitors each year. The ranch, with its historical buildings and self-guided trails, is located approximately two miles south of Highway 12 on Grizzly Island Road.
One niche of the Ranch that may not be as widely known as its opportunities for hikers, birdwatchers, biologists, teachers, photographers, poets or picnickers, is a program called Access Adventure.
The program is the brainchild of Michael Muir, 68, the great-grandson of the legendary John Muir. He is the past president of United States Driving for the Disabled, a national organization that promotes horse sports for people with disabilities. When Muir retired from that organization, he came back to where he grew up, Solano County.
“I set out to establish a regional program that would serve as a model for outdoor recreation for people with mobility challenges and other underserved people,” he said. “So I visited Rush Ranch. I thought it was perfect. I went to the (Solano Land Trust) board and I pitched the idea to them of establishing this program They were all for it and I’ve been with this program for 15 years now.”
Access Adventure’s mission is to enrich the lives of people with disabilities and other underserved members of the community by providing outdoor recreation, open space access, education and therapy through a working partnership with horses.
“I’ve been a horse breeder since I was 12 years old,” said Muir, who has had multiple sclerosis since age 15. “I breed a unique breed of horse that I’ve developed over the course of my lifetime called a Stonewall Sporthorse.”
The breed, which has established world sales records at auction, earned National Grand Championships in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and set world records in racing, can be found at Rush Ranch.
Access Adventure’s unique horsedrawn vehicles feature solar-powered, battery-operated wheelchair lifts that can accommodate up to 500 pounds. The organization breeds, raises and trains its own horses and provides driver training using Carriage Association of America protocols.
“We design and build wheelchair-accessible horse-drawn carriages,” said Muir. “I’ve driven my horses from my wheelchair from Mission Basilica in San Diego to the White House, 10 months to go 3,400 miles. Along the way we stopped at rehabilitation hospitals and therapy organizations to meet with people who were struggling with the challenges of disability and show them that disability doesn’t mean inability and we could still accomplish amazing things if we find some reasonable adaptations.”
Most who participate with Access Adventure are people with disabilities, though the program also works with veterans.
“Until COVID hit, we visited the Veterans Home of California (Yountville) every month, where 1,200 veterans live,” said Muir. “We take them out with our horse-drawn wagons that have wheelchair lifts on them. We bus them out of the hospital and from their assisted-living situations and we take them out into the real world with our horses.”
Muir also teaches people with disabilities how to drive the carriages.
“I teach driving to people who are profoundly disabled as a form of therapy,” he said. “I’m the only person in the country that has taught quadriplegics how to drive horses (in harness in the carriage). We develop adaptations for people who can’t hold the reins in their hands, and our horses are exquisitely trained to be very sensitive to saddle cues. So it’s a lot of fun for people who can’t get around on their own power to have the horse be the bridge to their lost function and be able to go places that they can’t get to otherwise.”
Access Adventure is run entirely by volunteers and has about 50 at present.
“Everything that we do, nobody is paid, and we don’t charge. We’re a business model and we’ve been doing it for 15 years and it seems to work okay,” said Muir. “We rely on a lot of volunteers to do the work that I can’t do myself. That’s kind of the core of my work. We do it recreationally. We have a group of special needs students that come every week that we help with job skills and money management and things like that just to help them to be able to live independently. We promote conservation. I am John Muir’s great-grandson, so the preservation of the natural world is important to me and to my family.”
For most of the 20th century, the ranch was operated by the Rush family. Unlike other landowners adjacent to the Suisun Marsh, they did not dike or otherwise significantly alter the tidal action on their property. With most tidal marshes in the United States managed or filled, their decision to leave the marsh to natural tidal ebbs and flows has proven to be an important contribution to tidal marsh science as a premier tidal habitat and in protecting plant and animal species of the marsh.
Rush Ranch is open to the public seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. November through February and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. March through October.
To learn more about Access Adventure, visit access-adventure.org.