I feel it’s really important to start this off with the clear understanding that I am not a huge fan of horses. I wasn’t the little girl who asked her parents for a pony and never had dreams of riding horses on the beach or anywhere. I will pet the pretty horse across the fence and take lots of pictures, but keep those things away from me, I don’t trust them.
About six years ago, a couple of gentlemen came out to the boarding school I worked at and pitched the idea of my students working with their horses. We worked out a plan and in the midst of a horribly cold winter I drove a van load of students out to an unheated barn in the middle of a pasture. Over the next few weeks, I never had a kid refuse to go out in that cold barn and I watched those horses work their magic on some very troubled kids. Then I watched a ten year old, with the attention span of a gnat, take a wild mustang from untouchable to doing obstacle courses in less than 3 months. Needless to say I was sold on equine therapy, equine assisted therapy, or any of the many names that are used. I took a lot of pictures of these kids and their horses, from a very safe distance of course.
Recently we had the opportunity to have a couple of our young adults volunteer to assist with the Special Olympics Horse Program. A very shy young lady and a young man who struggles with self- confidence were both very interested in the program. Their job is to teach the Olympians how to handle their horses as they do obstacle courses and present their horses for judging. From the very beginning both clients put themselves outside their comfort zone. It’s hard to be shy around a group of people who insist upon hugging you quite frequently. The young adults both jumped right in leading horses, talking to their buddies and to the other volunteers. People I have to tell repeatedly to pick up their own shoes, were taking off saddles and putting things where they belong, cleaning hooves and putting horses back out to pasture and asking if they could do anything else.
This evening, I drove one semi surly young man and one young lady who is a little under the weather out to the barn. It was hot, one had a headache and one was just having a bad day. However, both immediately set about the tasks of getting horses geared up all while handing out hugs and introducing themselves for the second, third and fourth times to their buddies. My very timid young lady took the lead for the caravan from the barn to the arena and kept her horse calm even in the midst of a loose horse attempting to run them all over. Olympians were helped on horses, routines were practiced, and encouragement was given all through a steady rain fall. When the instructor decided it was getting a little too wet for safety she told everyone to dismount and head back to the barn. She told me to take the extra horse and lead it up first, she didn’t bother to listen to my pleading that I didn’t like horses and I was the creative assistant volunteer not horse volunteer. So Shea, the horse, and I walked slowly up the hill both of us a little wary of each other. Pulling up the rear was my earlier surly young man whose Olympian buddy, who spends most of the day with his hands over his ears and staring at the wall to avoid eye contact, slyly slipped his hand in his as they walked back to the barn.
I have seen the horse choose the child and change the child. This time I am watching the child on the horse change the young adult.
By Rebecca Dukes
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