Horsemanship is the art of mastering our movements, thoughts, emotions and behavior. Not the horses. – Mark Rashid
When my son is on a horse, his mind stills, and words clear. His body adjusts to the movement, the cadence of the horses’ shoes printing the soft earth. His body feels the horses’ cadence, and in turn he adjusts his stature. He sits in the saddle and turns his entire body in circles on the saddle – legs and arms gently rotating 360 degrees – while the horse continues to walk. His arms stretch long and big, like a T, as he balances his small body on the center of the horses’ strong, graceful back.
When my son is with a horse, he is in perfect balance with himself.
The loud shrieks and repetitive flailing disappear. The anxiety from his day is washed away. No longer does he have to worry about how to interact with his friend on the playground; how to sound out a word; how to tell the difference between the “b” and “d” sounds; how to read someone’s emotional body language; why the water heater makes a clicking noise; how to calm his own body; how to ask appropriate questions; what someone might think of him; why the pencil eraser makes a sound that hurts his small ears; how to still his mind. All of this occurs in one small moment – and continues for all moments in every day. Some say this is why “they’ve lost their child to autism,” or “they can’t see their child anymore.” Truly, our children are not lost. Rather, they are processing everything around them, in front of them, within them and for them.
Yet, I know this feeling. And, my son lives with it every minute. It can feel as though you are losing your child to his/her own thoughts.
Yet, his new horse companion, Freckles has allowed my son to explore parts of himself that even his very talented therapists can’t do. Freckles has provided my son with the opportunity to feel calm and stillness. Freckles stands strong when my son brushes his dusty, white coat. And when my son finds that perfect spot, just below Freckles’ cheek, a smile curves his lips as Freckles leans into the brush stroke. And when my son uses the hoof pick to clear out dirt and debris, Freckles accepts his invitation, by lifting his leg willingly as if part of a daily ritual.
In these moments with Freckles, I can see my son’s outlook on life. I can see his sharp focus and tenacity for learning more about Freckles. I feel his simple joy as he touches his small hands to Freckles’ cheek. I feel his sense of pride, empowered by just being with Freckles. I watch as his, often, impulsive body language is tethered by his desire to care for Freckles. His arms move with purpose as his shovels up piles of debris in Freckles’ stall. And, I listen to him, when he says to me, “Mom, thanks for bringing me to Freckles tonight.” And, I know that these words, not heard very often, are the true feelings of my son.
Thank you, Freckles, for all of your horse words and whispers to my son. You have opened the barn door for him.
I share this with you because there is not a one-size-fits-all therapy for individuals on the spectrum. In fact, our journey continues to point us in a multitude of directions: talk therapy, occupational therapy, social skills therapy, horse therapy, private tutoring, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), and more to come. With every new exploration, I remind myself to stay open to the experience because it may be another key to unlock another beautiful piece of my son. It is the moments with Freckles that I lean on – that I remember – when the other moments challenge my strength as a mother. This is, yet another, tool for parenting on the autism spectrum: horse therapy.
Resource: Sara Hatamaya, Horseback Riding Lessons and Training.