Have you ever seen a child who cannot walk help steer a horse through a set of cones? Have you ever seen a high school senior with such strong disabilities he can only communicate through nods ride a horse with a smile from ear to ear? I volunteer with an wonderful equine therapy organization called Equestrian Connection in Lake Forest, IL and I am thankful and hopeful every time I side walk or lead walk with one of their clients.
I cannot imagine the freedom that horses grant these children with disabilities. Some of these people who cannot walk have freedom of movement for their first time ever, as we work them through exercises and games and get them to simply focus. I work with S. with Downs syndrome who was once petrified of the horses and could only ride for less than ten minutes, but now she tries to direct each session. There was C. who we tried to slow down his motions and pay attention to our task while working muscles, and S. who once could not communicate verbally now smiles and mumbles a few directives and holda her head up and focus on us and the horse. The therapist had me tell her mom about the wonderful changes I had seen over a several month span, and she simply cried smiling.
Hippotherapy has given me a great apppreciation for people with all disabilities, their view points in the world, and a profound respect for their caretakers. Yesterday, one of the most beautiful, charming 4 year old girls I have ever met showed me how she is learning to walk independently with her pony (we usually have our hands on their legs for support). We walked over some poles on the ground, and she exclaimed “That was awesome!”
Then, as she stretched her body up and around hitting balls suspended from the ceiling, again she said “Totally awesome!”
After I was done volunteering, I had a riding lesson at my barn. I thought about these children, as I was able to carry my tack, groom my horses, walk outside, and as I jumped a new horse my thought was the same as S, “Totally awesome!” and very lucky indeed. C