Connection to horses continues through equine therapy
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Muriel Wollack Poehler came to her 120 acres of nature north of Royalton in 1965, purchased by her parents in 1954, in a state land auction for $120. It is a piece of the outdoors she calls a “cattail farm” — a water refuge supporting deer, fox, wild turkeys and other diverse species.
But her roots go deep in Morrison County in other ways too. Poehler’s grandmother, Isabel McLeod, graduated from Royalton High School.
“She babysat Gordon Rosenmeier (Little Falls lawyer and later state senator) when he lived in Royalton as a baby,” Poehler said.
She and her mom, Gwen Hodorff, also graduated from Royalton High School.
Poehler has filled many roles in her life, including horsewoman, painter, teacher, musician, mother, mentor, collie enthusiast and state racing commissioner. Stroke survivor is now one of her roles as well.
In November 2011, Poehler’s daughter Diana was home for deer hunting opener. Poehler remembers being out on the deck, and finding herself lying down.
“I hollered really loud for the dog, and remember him standing over me,” Poehler said.
Poehler couldn’t find the strength to call her daughter who was only 50 feet away. But Diana noticed that something wasn’t right with her mom, and that the left side of Poehler’s face had fallen so she called 911.
“I was in St. Cloud in 20 minutes,” said Poehler. “I never lost consciousness and kept talking in the ambulance.”
Poehler repeated the axiom that “whatever you do right after the stroke you get to keep” and commented, “I wish I’d been playing guitar.”
Her physical therapist had her standing up right away in the hospital, where she remained for a month. She had not quite a year of physical and occupational therapy at St. Gabriel’s in Little Falls.
“I can walk with a cane, but my balance is bad. I have some numbness yet,” she said. “I have learned to have a lot of patience with this stroke. It takes 10-15 minutes to retrieve a dropped brush.”
Poehler credits her daughter for being there that day and acting quickly.
“My daughter was the hero,” she said. “She never left my side from the time I had the stroke through my stay in the hospital. I was so helpless after the stroke and she was so patient.”
Poehler has twin daughters, but her daughter Carrie could not leave her job at the time. “It was so scary for them,” Poehler said.
It was a painful challenge for Poehler to do her physical therapy using knees that were worn out. So in the summer of 2012, she had both of her knees replaced.
“I had to be talked into doing my knees by the gals in physical therapy,” she said. “I’ve had no problems with them since then. I’m glad I went through with it.”
After completing her medically-covered course of therapy, Poehler looked for other ways to make a complete recovery from the stroke. Having taken care of horses for 59 years, she knew about Project Astride equine therapy in Avon.
Poehler did a lot of online research for horse therapy. She read that 20 minutes on a horse is worth five hours of physical therapy in a gym.
“I have a lot of faith in horse therapy,” she said. “Now I can actually say that I must ride. For once, I have a really good excuse to ride.”
After just one session, she said, “I just couldn’t believe it — it felt like I went back home, like I was back in my real body again.”
After the session, Poehler walked the length of the barn with a person on either side of her. “It was the best I’ve done,” she said.
More than a week since that first session, the benefits continued.
“I can still feel the difference,” she said. “It shows in my equilibrium and when I get up out of a chair.”
Poehler appreciates having the company of her collie, Bravo. She was introduced to a collie breeder near Rockford many years ago, and fell in love with them. At one point, she had four collies at one time.
“I think they’re beautiful; I like the way they move,” she said. “They have a great attitude.”
Poehler also has two retired thoroughbred race horses, a 26-year-old descendant of Man o’ War named Elliott, and a 5-year-old named Nova, “the tallest horse that ever lived here,” she said.
Poehler is travelling a new path in life as she recovers, but that is nothing new for her. After graduating from St. Cloud State University she taught science in Pierz for a few years. She then taught science, religion, spelling and music to seventh and eighth graders at St. Mary’s in Little Falls.
“I was closer to those kids because of the smaller class sizes,” she said.
She was also the first riding instructor for the horse program at the College of St. Benedict.
As an accomplished musician with voice, harp and guitar, she taught at the St. Francis Music Center in the early 2000s. She is a current member of Sestri, the women’s Slavic chorus at the Center. She was a substitute teacher in the Little Falls schools for a number of years.
Since her high school years, she has been a self-taught artist and regards her art as an ongoing lifetime process. She painted a mural on the wall of the Lutheran Home in Little Falls during the time she worked there in the activity department.
Poehler began painting with oils and over the years added watercolors and pastels.
“They are more flexible. It’s easy to build the painting slowly and make corrections,” said Poehler.
She has been an artist mentor through the Minnesota State Arts Board, spending 20 hours each with students from Staples, Long Prairie, Royalton, Motley and Brainerd.
Several paintings are on display at the Morrison County Animal Humane Society — of dogs, horses and a landscape or two.
Carnegie Library has some of Poehler’s paintings in permanent collection and First United Church also display some of her paintings.
Looking back at a life full of challenges, Poehler said she knows that “because there have been other close calls of many kinds; I’m supposed to still be here.”