Equestrian Connected–People Connected

“When was the last party you were at with three generations singing together?” John asked, as we all broke into the familiar words of  Hard Day’s Night, Yellow Submarine, Eight Days a Week and a myriad of other Beatles songs performed perfectly by the band American English.  So true.

There were over 300 of us joined together last night, at the annual fundraiser for Equestrian Connection, the equine therapy program I volunteer at.    I looked around the indoor arena transformed into a party room with flooring (no dirt!), round tables and chairs for dining, a bar, a stage for a live auctioneer and bands, the silent auction nestled in the aisle with the curious horses, not used to these late night festivities.

The evening was lively and inspirational, with some young students speaking, a homemade DVD put together by one family showing the benefits of hippotherapy, wheelchairs scattered around the room intermixed with dancers and revelers.  The goals were clearly defined: to raise enough money to pay for one year of therapy for the 20 or so families who cannot afford the therapy right now but know how critical it is for their kids.

One choked up mom said on stage that her wheelchair bound eleven-year old daughter cannot play soccer or softball or baseball…but she can ride horses!  I have personally witnessed time and again the amazing improvements these children (and adults) make during their weekly lessons or fields trips from schools and institutes.

So, there we were, routing for the auction bids to go higher, warmth spreading on a clear, cold autumn night.  American English entertained–and reminded me how many Beatles songs I know ALL the words for (hard admission for someone who grew up a true-blue Elvis fan with the scrapbooks to prove it)–and drew people together.  Some people danced, I saw one group of seven from 65 to 13 standing arm and arm  and singing along while swaying with the music, others took pictures with their phones and cameras, some just tapped their feet and enjoyed the sets.

And we all arose with the encore, seeming to sing together strongly–if not totally in tune–that we would start a Revolution to band together and keep this organization moving forward.

A fine, successful night for all, horses now enjoying the quiet until their riders come again. C

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Small Steps, Huge Smiles

R. is an always-smiling 5-year old with beautiful light brown eyes, who cannot speak or walk or grasp things too tightly. R. is one of the children I volunteer with at Equestrian Connection, a marvelous place where we work with physically and/or mentally challenged people on horses, therapy called hippotherapy.

When R. wants his horse to walk forward, he smiles and grunts to the person leading the horse, and she, the therapist and I (the sidewalker) move forward.  Occasionally, he can grasp the reins, though he is easily distracted and drops them from his gnarled hands.   Today, after many weeks of working together, was the first time ever that the therapist and I removed our hands from his legs and the saddle, how we usually help prop him up. 

The look of joy on 5-year old R’s face was priceless, as he became an independent rider! He walked once around the arena mainly unaided–though our hands were only inches away, should he slip.  I have written this before, but I cannot comprehend the feeling of freedom and exhilaration he must have felt, for one who cannot use his legs to run and jump and climb.

Feeling tired after 2 hours of working with children, R.’s huge success was all I needed to see to know that my time there was worth every step around that arena.  C

Totally Awesome

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