Avery grew up in small, rural communities where he was often the only child with Down syndrome. He knew few other children like him. Before long, Avery began experiencing panic attacks and was at risk for depression, to the point where doctors advised medication. All of this changed when he found Eagle Mount.
Eagle Mount is an organization in Bozeman, MT that celebrates abilities through inclusive recreation such as horseback riding, skiing, swimming, gardening, cycling, climbing, and more. Established in 1982, Eagle Mount has always been characterized by a belief in the power of recreational activities to empower those of all abilities to “mount up on wings as eagles.” They’ve grown to serve around 2000 participants annually, relying on just as many volunteers, through ongoing programs, summer camps, and events.
“Eagle Mount is therapeutic recreation for all ages, all challenges,” says Jen Hedrick, executive director of Eagle Mount. “It uses the power of nature to inspire and to heal.”
Avery’s story is a testament to the healing power of nature, community, and recreation. Before finding Eagle Mount, Avery had few communities where he fit in or felt understood. His mom, Jennifer, describes Avery’s most recent school experience.
“We were the only family with Down syndrome, and Avery was the only person with Down syndrome that [the school] ever knew. And I said, ‘He’s like a unicorn.’ You know, they were neat, nice, but they just didn’t know anything about him really.”
Eventually, Avery started to experience panic attacks and show symptoms of anxiety and depression. According to the National Down Syndrome Society, these types of mental health challenges affect at least half of all children and adults with Down syndrome.
“The panic attacks were something that a friend of ours, who has a child with Down syndrome, had experienced in the beginning of adolescence, and their solution was medication,” Jennifer explains.
But Avery’s parents wanted to find a different solution, so they followed a coworker’s recommendation to check out Eagle Mount. In place of medical appointments and medications, Eagle Mount offered Avery swimming pools and horses. Under Montana’s big sky, Avery found a community where he felt welcomed and understood.
“When we came to Eagle Mount, it was like a whole herd of unicorns,” says his mom Jennifer. “We found his people.”
Avery hasn’t had a panic attack since.
Eagle Mount as a Foundation for Life
Eagle Mount’s philosophy is that recreation is more than just leisure time; “it is a chance for ‘re-creation’ – restoring yourself by discovering new strength, confidence, freedom, and joy,” according to their website. It’s a chance to discover new capabilities and test your wingspan alongside others with unique gifts and abilities.
Their regular programs include summer and winter recreation, horsemanship, aquatics, and gym, serving individuals with disabilities of all ages and their families, as well as young people with cancer. They also offer outdoor adventure camps for these groups, as well as for veterans suffering life-altering injuries.
The activities at Eagle Mount offer participants a chance to make memories and friends, but they also promote their health and wellbeing. Take horsemanship, one of Avery’s favorites. Riding a horse helps tone muscles and improve flexibility and balance. Even unmounted lessons can encourage participants to form positive relationships with their therapy horse, helping them develop important life skills such as confidence, patience, self-esteem, and social skills. Often, according to the Eagle Mount website, the development of these skills results in employment opportunities working with horses, such as at veterinary clinics and stables.
“It’s so much bigger than just recreation,” says Jennifer. “It’s a foundation for life.”
At the Murdock Trust, we want to see all individuals, families, and communities have the opportunity to flourish and thrive. This is why we are so proud to support organizations like Eagle Mount that help amplify the abilities of all people while simultaneously providing support for their unique needs.
The Murdock Trust is grateful for the opportunity to have supported Eagle Mount’s inspiring work for a number of years. Since 2007, the Trust has been fortunate to grant Eagle Mount a total of $762,000 through three grants toward a land purchase to increase their campus size, capital improvements for their outdoor spaces, and most recently, new staff to provide family support services.
When Avery was asked what Eagle Mount means to him, he replied, “Beautiful.” Thank you, Eagle Mount, for the life-changing work of laying foundations for Avery and his peers, and for making their lives more beautiful one swimming lesson and horse ride at a time.