We are so very fortunate to have a therapeutic riding centre here in our town. We didn’t know this before we moved here, and of course we didn’t know our kids were on the autism spectrum, either. It’s funny how life turns out sometimes. I’ve always loved horses, but it was apparent when my kids were little that they weren’t going to be following me in my passion. Then came the diagnoses and the opportunity to have them ride in an environment perfectly suited to them, and paid for by autism funding. Now I’ve got two kids riding horses, I don’t have to pay out of pocket (riding lessons are not cheap), and they are both enjoying themselves. I couldn’t be happier.
Mr. Boo started taking lessons there last year. We’d visited the barn a few times over the summer and he really loved the horses. He was very excited about taking lessons, but after the third one he said he wanted to quit. This is always the pattern with him, from the time he was a toddler. I didn’t know why, but his behavioural interventionists taught me about control and how much kids on the spectrum need to have it (the more so the longer they have gone undiagnosed, because they learn early the world can be a scary place and others usually don’t seem to understand that). My boy was deep into the need for control. It got to the point where he had a meltdown in the parking lot one morning and screamed at the director to shut up (she’d come out to see if she could help). He has been rude to the instructors and volunteers. He has refused to get on the horse. Through a variety of ways we convinced him to stick with it. The folks there assured me that they had dealt with all that and worse, that they are all trained to work with autistic kids and they don’t judge him or me. This place not only provides unconditional acceptance of these kids, but it’s a wonderful place for parents to be too.
A year later and what strides we have made! He has a great handler – a young man who gets along fabulously with him. His instructor learned what helps him (she keeps two stuffed toys reserved for him each lesson after seeing what a difference they made in his mood and focus), what games he likes to play…they never gave up on him.
This term, his sister joined his lessons and today was their first day together.
One of the issues Miss Em struggles with is anxiety and she was extremely resistant to riding because it was both new and potentially dangerous (and, as she pointed out, horses are unpredictable). After talking about it with her for months I managed to convince her to give it a try, and the predictable outcome was that she loves it and can’t wait to go back. The best part was having her there changed things for her brother. He was the expert for once, and the instructor made a point of asking him to show her how to do things. He thrived in that role, and at the end of the lesson he even gave his sister a hug! He told me that now he likes riding lessons because it’s fun having her in the class.
I know that I will probably go through the same control issues with her that I did with him, as she also tends to drop things after a while. I’m hoping that joining 4H club this year (more on that later) will help keep her motivated to continue improving her riding skills.
But for now I am celebrating. My children are learning to ride horses and I know one day in the not-too-distant future our family will be able to ride together. I’m so looking forward to that! My children are getting exercise in a way that is perfect for their bodies, working on core muscles in a low-impact way. They are in an environment where they are supported and valued and never judged for their setbacks. I feel very blessed today!