Remember Superman can? If you were a Canterbury Park regular in the mid 2000s, you certainly must. Superman Can was a horse of remarkable ability then – he had the power to change people’s lives – just as he is today, in a manifestly different role.
Superman Can transformed his trainer’s life with a victory in the 2004 Claiming Crown Iron Horse. Now he is doing the same for youngsters and families in equine assisted psychotherapy.
“What I discovered is one of the unique features of this type of therapy is that these large, very powerful animals provide very powerful metaphors for issues in people’s lives,” said Liz Letson, Superman’s current owner who operates Eagle Vista Ranch in Bemidji.
Letson is a lifelong horsewoman who also has a masters degree in counseling psychology. She works with a number of different emotional issues and disorders at Eagle Vista.
“We work on communication issues, teamwork, conflict resolution, problem solving as well as addictions and abuse issues too,” she explained. Several of her clients suffer with autism.
Call Superman Can her No. 1 assistant.
“We set up different exercises in the arena for clients to work on,” Letson added. In one instance, Superman Can played the role of an addiction for a woman who had lifelong addiction issues. A smaller horse in the arena played the woman’s family. Superman Can kept blocking the woman from the other horse whenever she tried to reach it.
As simple as it sounds, addicts often can’t identify the real problems in their lives. The woman had recently lost custody of her children because of her addiction. Superman Can helped her look at the issue in a different way.
“It’s very effective,” said Letson “The horse serves as a metaphor that helps a person see things differently.”
In an instance of abuse and boundary issues, Superman Can played the role of an abuser. “A lot of clients have problems developing healthy boundaries,” Letson added. “It helps people understand such things when a 1,200 pound horse keeps bumping them and invading their space. A horse can send a powerful message.”
Superman Can, owned by Dana Isaacson, sent a powerful message to his conditioner, the late George Bango, in the 2004 Iron Horse. Bango, who had handled mostly claimers his entire career, was a transformed man afterward. His colleagues saw a new bounce in his step and heard a new pride in his voice. Superman won 9 of 28 races at Canterbury Park, earning $95,000. He was 9 of 48 during his career with total earnings of $110,000.
Now he is giving back to the community as a therapeutic assistant.
He competed recently in a number of events at the Beltrami County Fair with Liz’s 15-year-old son Donny in the saddle.
That’s when you see a different side to the fellow they now call Supie.
“Oh, you see a real different side of him,” Liz said. “He’s a gentle, easy-going horse. We put kids on him for trail rides.”
Supie gets fired up for competition, though.
“He did pretty well,” Liz said. “He placed in the barrels, pole weaving and the pennant race. He can still move when he has to. He can really move.”
Superman Can also competed in Western Riding, demonstrating his ability to walk, trot and lope, under control and collected. “We’re having so much fun with him,” Liz added.
That’s not all.
The Buena Vista Ski Area and Logging Village has been in Liz’s family since the late 1880s and is located a mile north of the ranch. “We host covered wagon rides throughout the year,” she said. “I take Superman as an outrider along, to be there if people on the wagons need help.”
Superman Can had no problems with the job. “He had no problem acclimating himself to the wagons,” Liz said. “The neat thing about the racetrack is that it desensitizes horses to certain things.”
Some things, not all. Superman had to work out a few issues of his own after leaving Shakopee. He didn’t like being tied up inside a trailer. He didn’t know how to protect himself in a herd of horses.
“But he figured it out,” Liz said. “He can hold his own but he really is a kind horse. He’s not a kicker or a biter.”
He’s about as well-behaved as they come. Liz and her family frequently use nothing more than a rope halter to ride Superman. “We don’t even need a bit,” she said. Apparently, he doesn’t need to be told what to do any longer. He is in charge of his own life.
Just call him Dr. Superman. At one time in his life, he was expected to run away from everything. Now, he is teaching human beings how not to.
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.