My eldest son attends “Riding for the Disabled;” where once a week he gets to ride a horse for an hour during school time, and I get to say he’s doing therapy.
At least, that was my first impression of this oddly privileged outing. We were on the waiting list for a year, so getting a space in the program was itself quite special for us. I was not happy that the only time slots anyone could do a ride was during a school day, but I’d been told it was going to be worthwhile so I decided to give it a go anyway – maybe the value of the experience would outweigh the lost learning time.
After filling out some rather daunting forms, including getting medical clearance from his doctor, we were accepted and ready to travel the fair distance out to the site. The trip there and back once a week plus the ride itself, takes 2.5 hours out of his school day – this is no small thing, and wouldn’t be possible if I had a job. I reflected on the fact that so many of us parents of children with special needs are unable to hold down regular jobs because we need to be on call for our kids, so maybe it wasn’t an outlandish expectation of the organisation after-all; that parents would have the time in the middle of a week day to ferry their kids to and from the event. However, I soon found out that it was not just parents taking their kids to and from the program; there was a van load of children from a special unit who also attended with their teacher.
My son took to his horse surprisingly quickly, and over the school term he has built a rather special relationship with this one horse he rides each time. He loves making the horse happy and getting to help look after it; it’s almost like having a really big pet that someone else looks after for him. The volunteers who help him ride the horse and take part in the activities during his sessions, have got to know my son quite well too. They always have a smile for him, and love seeing him succeed and try new things as much as I do.
The activities my son takes part in serve a number of therapeutic vales and functions. For him particularly, the rides are building his balance, coordination, and core strength, but the list of benefits for him and others is long and significant. It took me a while to appreciate those potential benefits, but it took me hardly anytime at all to see the unexpected benefits for me as his mother attending each session alongside him.
There is something really quite unique and very special, to travel a bit out of town each week to a landscape of gently rolling fields, fresh air, and a quiet that is occasionally interrupted by the whinnies of these huge and yet remarkably gentle beasts. It is my escape – I ignore my phone, I sit and read a book, I look out over the land, and when I feel the need for a little socialising I approach a fellow parent or teacher for a chat. But none of us impose on each other; we all seem to have an innate respect for the fact that sometimes people in lives like ours just need some space to breathe and to simply “be.”
I’ve also formed a fondness for the horse my son rides. I look out for the horse when we arrive and it always makes me smile to spot him. I feel like the horse is looking after my son during the session. Even though I have never had the privilege of touching the horse, I feel close to him, he’s become special to me as well as to my son.
I know there will come a time when my son and his horse must part, but thankfully we’ve recently been told they have at least another term together. The waiting list for the therapy is a long one, and once you’ve experienced it and caught a glimpse of its benefits for all involved – the student, the parent, the volunteers – you see why it’s in such high demand, and why people are so reluctant to give up their space.
I personally got to see the life-long impact the experience can have at a recent session, where I got to meet a well-spoken, polite and friendly young man who is now a volunteer, but was once himself a rider. Seeing his smile, seeing the respect and welcome the other volunteers showed him, said so much about these people and the program itself.
So yes, once a week my eldest son attends “Riding for the Disabled,” where he gets to ride a horse for an hour during school time, and I get to say he’s doing therapy, but that description of the experience barely scratches the surface of the value it offers both him and me. Yes, we sat on that waiting list for a year, but it was worth the wait.