August 13, 2002
By: Shannon OCork, Recorder Correspondent
KILLINGWORTH - The indomitable Carol Wilkinson, who served as the town's Animal Control Officer from 1993 through 2000, has never let the multiple sclerosis she battles daily keep her from anything.
Once, she went out at 3 a.m. to track down a wayward cow. She found it on Route 81 and returned it unharmed to the grateful owner. That quality of going beyond the call the duty won her the Connecticut Animal Control Officer of the Year Award in 1997 and National Animal Control Officer of the Year in 2000.
At the end of 2000, Wilkinson resigned as ACO and she and her husband, Joe, retired to Southern Pines, North Carolina. Now, Wilkinson is jetting off to Conty, France as part of the United States Equestrian Team Driving for the Disabled international competitions.
On August 27 in the Hippodrome d'Amiens, Wilkinson will compete driving a pair of carriage ponies ("I've requested French ponies," she said). This event will mark the first time disabled drivers have been allowed to compete driving a pair of horses or ponies. Always before, it has been, Wilkinson said, "single turnout."
In 2000, too, Wilkinson and her own driving partner, Tintagel's Lord Ghent, a Morgan gelding called Buzz for short, qualified and competed at the World Championships for Drivers with Disabilities in Stadl Paura, Austria, after winning the selection trials at U.S. Equestrian Team headquarters in Gladstone, New Jersey. Now she has become part of the national carriage-horse-driving scene. She has a coach in Southern Pines and trains at a horse farm there.
Accompanying Wilkinson to France will be her husband and Michael Muir, president of United States Driving for the Disabled, Inc, a non-profit organization in Georgetown, Ky. Muir, 50, shares Wilkinson's fighting spirit and love of horses. He has suffered from multiple sclerosis since he was a teenager. Multiple sclerosis is a progressively debilitating disease that attacks the protective myelin sheaths of the nerve cells of brain and spinal cord. When first stricken, Muir, great-grandson of the naturalist John Muir who founded the Sierra Club, was paralyzed from the neck down. He credits working with horses for making him stronger.
Last year, Muir traveled 3,000 miles across America in a horse-drawn carriage, driving a team of Stonewall Sporthorses, a breed of horse he developed himself that is dappled white with black spots and black socks up to their knees. The trip was called Journey Across America. Muir drove his horses from San Diego, Calif. to the Capitol grounds of Washington, D.C.
In France, Wilkinson hopes to be able to practice "at least three times" before she competes. There will be three events for her, or three phases to her competition. One is the classic dressage, which involves certain maneuvers that demonstrate the horse's obedience and ability and the rapport between horse and driver, or pair of horses and driver.
Then there is the "marathon," which is a certain distance the horses and driver must traverse that has many obstacles to circumnavigate. Last, there are "the cones," 20 sets of yellow highway-like cones set in rows between which the horses and driver must nimbly drive without a scratch to cone or carriage.
Her husband, Joe Wilkinson, is going with her. While she trains as a horsewoman, Joe golfs, she said in a telephone interview, and she said that while she misses Killingworth, she is happy at Southern Pines.
"We've settled in," she said. "We built a home with an attached suite for my mother who is with us. Joe is golfing like you wouldn't believe. He has 43 18-hole golf courses around here to choose from, and he's doing them all. My horse Buzz is here. And I'm so happy. It's a horse lover's dream come true."
All her animals made the move to North Carolina with her.
There is Daniel, also known as Tripod, the three-legged abandoned dog Wilkinson rescued from the streets of Puerto Rico and brought home with her. And there is Hot Ticket, a 15- or 16-year-old Yorkshire Terrier who thinks, like Peter Pan, she will never be old. Both Daniel and Ticket are volunteer therapy dogs. They regularly go into the hospitals and entertain the patients. And there's Bianca. Bianca is the big white cat Wilkinson rescued out of a Killingworth drainpipe. Small and terrified then, he is now fat and happy and thriving, she said. Her birds are there too. She has five cockatiels. And there's her aquarium, "still full of interesting fish." So her commitment to her animals remains constant.
As she did when she was the town's ACO, Wilkinson is still going that extra mile or miles that makes a champion. The French may try to keep her.
To learn more about the United State Driving for the Disabled, Inc.,
visit their website at www.horsejourney.com or write to them at USDFD,
Inc., 3329 Cynthiana Road, Georgetown, Kentucky 40324 or telephone at (502)
© Clinton Recorder 2002