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Senior woman checks off bucket list item by riding horse
The Stables at Lake Lanier Islands Resort lets woman groom, mount and ride Lil' Joe
Dusty Harrison, 87, talks to the horse named Lil’ Joe at The Stables at Lake Lanier Islands Resort in Buford. Harrison’s daughter, Donna Fullwood, brought her to the stable to groom and ride the horse to complete one of her bucket list items. The Stables obliged the request. - photo by Courtesy of Beth Pedaggi

For more information about The Stables at Lake Lanier Islands Resort, visit their Facebook page.

Horse lovers of any age can appreciate the earthen yet pleasant smell that comes from a horse stable. And that is especially true for 87-year-old Dusty Harrison.

But the Missouri woman’s life has been devoid of horses for some years.

“When you’ve been around horses all your life, and they are a part of your everyday routine,” Harrison’s daughter, Donna Fullwood, said. “You get to an age and stage where they just disappear.”

However, when Harrison compiled her bucket list, smelling or brushing a horse again took top priority.

“I think it was only one or two of the things on her whole list,” Fullwood said, adding she remembers her mother’s love of horses as well as her own from the time she was 3.

Harrison’s attachment to horses faded as the woman aged and dealt with increasing health problems, which prove problematic for riding a horse. Harrison suffers from vertigo, vision problems and other health issues.

But Fullwood wanted to fulfill her mother’s request. The 64-year-old Suwanee woman called The Stables at Lake Lanier Islands Resort to schedule a horse-related activity. She picked the Hall County facility because she said it looked clean and it was close to her home.

Stable manager and project director Beth Pedaggi was happy to oblige the request.

“I’m getting to that age that I want to start adding things to my bucket list, too,” Pedaggi said. “Before I get too old to do them.”

Pedaggi said her mother suffers from similar health concerns and knows the risks of a senior citizen trying to ride. Therefore Pedaggi found a way to accommodate Harrison’s wishes.

Harrison arrived at the stables after normal operating hours with her daughter and granddaughter, Kelly, in tow. With regular customers already gone, Pedaggi kept her full attention on Harrison and the experience.

First, stable employees brought one of the older and calmer horses, Lil’ Joe, to the stable. They hooked him in the middle of the hallway with two cross ties.

Harrison carefully walked toward the large animal.

“She had to watch where she put her feet, but you didn’t have to tell her where that horse was,” Pedaggi said. “She could smell it from a mile away and she headed right for it.”

Harrison was handed a grooming kit and identified the items by touch. Pedaggi said she could see what she was holding when she held it closer to her eyes.

Lil’ Joe stood patiently, allowing Harrison to comb his mane and brush him.

“It was like he knew what was going on,” Pedaggi said.

As she groomed the horse, Harrison shared stories with the stable employees. She recalled the time her daughter headed off to college and could not take her horse with her. To keep her daughter from missing her horse, Harrison said she snipped hair from the horse’s mane and took hoof clippings and mailed them in an envelope to her daughter.

After she was finished brushing Lil’ Joe, it was time for Harrison to climb into the saddle.

Fullwood was apprehensive, not knowing if her mother could mount the horse.

“I didn’t want to get her hopes up,” she said. “It was beyond my expectations that we would get her up on a mounting block and get her up on a horse.”

But Fullwood and Pedaggi assisted Harrison onto the horse by using a mounting block. They also walked alongside Lil’ Joe to steady Harrison in the saddle.

Pedaggi said it was like holding her own mother’s hand as she held Harrison’s.

“She picked up the reins like a pro,” Pedaggi said. “ It was just really touching. We all got weepy-eyed.”

Harrison walked Lil’ Joe around the stables and closed her eyes to enjoy the moment.

“As horse people, we all know there’s a time where we have to say we can’t do it anymore,” Pedaggi said. “But we can always stand there and brush them and love on them.”

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