By Starrla Cray
INDEPENDENCE, MN With their well-trained horses and bright flags, the Zuhrah Shriners Mounted Horse Patrol is a standout group at parades, but their purpose isn’t to draw attention to themselves it’s to help children in need of medical care.
“Ultimately, the cause is to benefit children’s hospitals and burn victims,” said John Tackaberry, who has been an active member since 1989.
The 100-acre ranch in the northwest part of Independence is the place where local club members board and train their horses for parades and drill competitions.
Money raised from member and community contributions benefits the 22 Shriners Hospitals for children.
These hospitals provide medical treatment for children through age 18 at no cost. There is one Shriners Hospital in Minnesota, located in Minneapolis.
“The best thing I like about it is that the organization raises money for the hospital,” said Captain Mike LaVine. “We try to raise as much as we can.”
In Independence, there are about 25 active and 25 life members, Tackaberry said. A total of about 400,000 people are members of the Shriners, belonging to 191 chapters in the US, Mexico, Canada, and the Republic of Panama.
Not all units are horse clubs, and some Shriners have antique cars, drums, helicopter carts, or other trademarks.
LaVine said his group typically goes to about 12 parades each summer, mostly in the metro area.
“We’re local,” Tackaberry said. “We’ve done the Fourth of July parade in Delano since 1989.”
Tackaberry has also participated in parades throughout the US and Canada, including the Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA.
The Shriners horse club meets at the ranch in Independence formally each month and also trains Wednesday evenings during the summer.
An important part of training is desensitizing the horses to alarming sights and sounds.
“We make sure the horse doesn’t flee a situation,” Tackaberry said.
LaVine, who has been a Shriner for 10 years, didn’t have much experience with horses before he joined.
“I didn’t have much skill at all,” LaVine said. “I had an interest in riding horses and other people I knew rode for the Zuhrah Shriner unit.”
He took lessons from a professional horse trainer and bought his own horse.
People who don’t have a horse can also be a member, however, through the lease program, he added.
“We’re looking for people who like horses and want to devote the time and energy to train them,” he said.
Brian Rodgers, who has been the ranch manager for the Shriner horse facility for the past three years, became interested in the Shriners through his mounted training as a Twin Cities police officer. In 1996, the police force began training horses at the farm in Independence.
“It just seemed like a good group of guys,” Rodgers said. Now, he lives at the ranch and helps take care of the horses, as well as payroll and feed reports. There are two full-time workers and one part-time person on staff, that help care for the 74 horses on the ranch.
As a Shriner member, LaVine said he likes having a reason for owning a horse. The group is also a place to build friendships, he added.
“I like the camaraderie,” Tackaberry said.
The main reason for the club, however, is to support the Shriners Hospitals. At parades, the Shriners often have the opportunity to meet families who have benefited from their efforts.
“One of the most gratifying things is to meet the mother or family of a child that has been helped,” LaVine said.
The first Shriner Hospital opened in Louisiana in 1922. Today, the hospitals treat injuries and problems of the bones, joints, and muscles, as well as complicated conditions such as brittle bone disease, spina bifida, and cerebral palsy.
Four of the hospitals specialize in providing medical care to children with burn injuries. This effort began in the 1960s, after the organization recognized a lack of medical expertise in the field.
In 2005, a cleft lip and palate program was established, which provides lip and palate repair, nasal reconstruction, facial work, and dental procedures, as well as audiological, speech, and psychological services.
“We make sure the parents are taken care of, as well,” LaVine said. The Shriners provide transportation costs to and from the hospital, as well as living facilities for the families.
“It has developed into holistic family care,” he said.
The idea for the Shriners started in 1870, when a group of guys who were members of the Masonry fraternity decided to start a new organization that stressed fun and fellowship.
“They wanted to pick a fun concept,” LaVine said, so they went with a mystical Near East concept.
In keeping with the Arabian theme, Shriners often greet each other by saying “Es Selamu Aleikum,” Arabic for “Peace be with you!” The traditional response is, “Aleikium Es Selamu,” or “With you be peace.”
Tackaberry, whose grandmother came from Lebanon and whose mother is full Lebanese, is very familiar with these sayings.
For more information about the Zuhrah Shriners Mounted Horse Patrol, go to www.zuhrah.org and click on “fraternal operations.”
To join the club, contact LaVine at (612) 349-7247.
Here are the names of Shriners you may recognize:
• Brad Paisley, country singer
• Buzz Aldrin, astronaut
• Arnold Palmer, golfer
• Richard Tyson, actor
• Kris Kristofferson, singer, songwriter, actor