Horses give me the opportunity to change lives. For many years I have volunteered at a therapeutic riding stable where I am able to help many people with a variety of disabilities. Riding a horse can be therapeutic when it consists of exercise for the muscles and mind. When a horse senses that its rider is unsteady, the horse will change its’ pace to correct the rider’s balance. If the rider is capable of directing the horse’s movement, the horse may challenge the rider by trying to go another way. This equine interaction assists the rider in becoming more independent in their personal life. As a result of this bond, the client can learn to walk with better posture or gain the confidence to talk to other people. The contact I provide through therapeutic riding helps people gain an inner confidence they did not previously possess.
One morning, a man who was blind and deaf came to class. He had some assistants who led him around because he did not understand what was happening. For a while, his helpers simply attempted to convince him to mount the horse. By signing into his hands, they tried to explain that the horse was safe, and he could ride it. He was visibly shaking and trying to get away from the horse. It took some time before he eventually relaxed, and his assistants were able to help him. I led the horse in large circles, so the rider could become accustomed to the motion. Whenever he was not seated firmly, the horse would slow down to help him regain his balance. The rider began to sit up straighter and did not hunch over as he had at the beginning of the ride. Eventually, he even started using the reins to guide the horse. After a few rides, he was steady enough to try trotting his horse. His helpers bounced their fingers on his palms to show that this might be a bumpy ride. As he continued therapy, he began to laugh excitedly when the horse would trot. He enjoyed his rides so much that it was often difficult to remove him from the horse when class was finished.
Horses assist me in working with people who often are not physically or mentally capable of living on their own. Many riders live in a group home and require much assistance. Some clients have social disabilities, some have physical difficulties, some have previously sustained head trauma, but they all gained some measure of independence through riding horses. These people are so special to me; I enjoy the privilege of helping build their confidence. Teaching a woman how to brush a horse or leading a child through an obstacle course can bring them to a new level of ability. Horses truly do give me the opportunity to change lives.