For nearly four years, I volunteered at Winslow Therapeutic Riding Center, a place where disabled, autistic, and/or mentally challenged children strengthen their muscles and minds by learning to ride a horse. When a challenged young child mounts one of Winslow’s horses for the first time, or any time for that matter, the expression on his or her face is almost indescribable. Looking into a smile so wide and eyes filled with excitement, I could never help but to feel an amazing sense of meaning, joy, and gratitude all at the same time. After a ride that such children thought they’d only be able to dream of doing, it looked as though they have been to the moon and back, for they were always so thrilled at having done the “impossible.”
The memories of my interaction with one little girl, Sarah, have their own special place in my heart. She was a young child, no more than four years old, who came to Winslow with vision impairment and a physical disability involving her legs. She was a girl with little confidence and few social skills because of her “imperfections.” It took a few months for Sarah to begin to feel comfortable riding, but because I acknowledged her personal interests and characteristics, eventually she began to gain trust in me and in her horse. She began to talk to me while she was riding, hardly even concerned that what she was doing was once her biggest fear. She was improving every day. She was happy and smiling. She was amazing.
Winslow’s children led me to uncover my absolute love for helping others. Although Winslow’s arena was quite different from a typical classroom, the lessons I’ve learned there are ones that I have already begun to apply to my career as a future teacher. The improvement I saw in the kids there has motivated me to touch as many lives as possible. I want to be that positive influence that proves to children that nothing is impossible, the motivational spark that ignites their curiosity, their desire to learn, and their need to succeed. By acknowledging a student’s individual needs, just as I did with Sarah, students are able to let down their guard that protects them from what is unknown. Their learning environment becomes a place where they can feel completely comfortable being who they are. Without the worries of being “up to par,” so to speak, with everyone else, each child can begin to flourish as a learner.
I know that children can achieve anything that they put their mind to, just like Winslow’s riders do, even if it seems impossible. They just need a bit of guidance getting there. Things that are new and unknown can be overwhelming for kids – that’s where people like me step in. Because of Winslow, I know that being a good teacher also means being a trusted mentor; it means giving children nurturing support, honoring their individuality, having confidence in their abilities, and giving them just that extra, excited push in the right direction. With teaching hearts guiding them, children can do anything. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.