When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk. He trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes.
~William Shakespeare (The Dauphin, Henry V, Act III, Scene VII)
Several months ago, I enrolled Jackson in an equine therapy program at Hopes, Dreams and Horses (“HDH”) of Jupiter Farms. Prior to our initial consultation, I completed an extensive enrollment packet detailing Jackson’s diagnosis, abilities, restrictions and our goals. Our first meeting was with Sue Copeland, Home Dreams and Horses’ Executive Director, and Program Director/equine therapist Carly Brown. Ms. Brown immediately engaged Jackson in conversation. We were given a tour of the facility and had a chance to meet the horses used in the program, as well as boarders. Ms. Brown listened to my concerns attentively and assured me she would meet Jackson on his level, while working with him at his own pace and point of comfort. I’m beyond pleased to say, this is precisely what she has done over the past several months.
Initially, Jackson was extremely apprehensive. He had been around horses before, however, he had never ridden one. Instead, he was content to merely stand in close proximity, petting or grooming them—the bigger, the better. He spent the first few sessions at HDH on the ground, talking to, petting and grooming whichever horse Ms. Brown selected for the session. To be honest, I wasn’t certain Jackson would ever be agreeable to sitting astride a horse. His sensory issues can be extremely overwhelming and limiting at times, which makes for a very stubborn and unyielding child. There is no amount of coercing, bribery or cajoling that will call Jackson to action when he is uncomfortable or unfamiliar with a situation. I will never forget the joy I felt when Jackson first mounted Bruno. As nervous as I was, it brought tears to my eyes.
When I tell people Jackson participates in an equine therapy program, they presume he is taking riding lessons. I cannot, nor will I, classify what he is doing as simply a riding lesson. That would do a great disservice to the Hopes, Dreams and Horses equine therapy program. What happens in these twice-weekly 30-minutes sessions is so much more. God bless, Ms. Brown. Seriously. That girl has the patience of Job. She and the volunteers are, as are all good therapists worth their salt, exceptional human beings. Ms. Brown cares deeply about her clients and the program’s horses, so much so that I can’t tell you which she holds in higher regard. That’s really saying something about folks with a true footing in the equine world.
Every single second at the stable and on horseback is an intense lesson for Jackson. Truth be told, I think Jackson may have a minor glitch in his short-term memory. This being said, each session requires much repetition. Every action has meaning. From hand, reign and body placement, to mounting the horse, to participating in the “scavenger hunt” type sessions, nuance matters. Think about it. How DO YOU maneuver a 1,200 pound horse alongside an arena rail, close enough to grab an item from a bucket affixed to the rail or post? That takes thought and requires delicate finessing of the animal. Riding requires so many subtle body movements, something that is challenging for someone who lacks intuition and has difficulty with fine motor skills. Throw joint laxity and sensory integration/processing challenges into the mix and you can imagine how patient, tender and encouraging Ms. Brown and her staff must be.
Perhaps one day Jackson will have that beautiful fluidity many riders exhibit atop their mounts. In the meantime he has much work ahead of him. I’m grateful that he’s having fun while he works so hard though. And I find those 60 minutes we’re at HDH to be perhaps the most peaceful 60 minutes of my week.
Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole and once it has done so, he/she will have to accept that his life will be radically changed. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
The following benefits are excerpted from the Hopes, Dreams and Horses website. ( http://hopesdreamsandhorses.moonfruit.com/)
Benefits of equine interaction:
- A sense of self; personal growth
- Develops kills for healthy relationships
- Develops trust and bonding
- Increases confidence for boundary setting
- Develops assertiveness (rather than aggressiveness)
- Improves self-confidence
- Reduces stress by achieving peace of mind
- Behavior modification
- Fosters interest in the outside world
- Develops confidence to work through fears
- Emotional control and self-discipline
Therapeutic horsemanship involves interaction with horses, staff, volunteers and other participants. Benefits include:
- Improved positive communication styles
- Increased teamwork and socialization
- Improved verbal and non-verbal communication
- Recognition of body language
- Fosters respect and love for people and animals
- Encourages friendships; facilitates an equine family
- Inspires independence
- Provides social stimulation
- Increases interest and enjoyment of the outdoors
- Increased sense of responsibility and respect
- Develops patience and understanding of others