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The Ride of Her Life: Horse Therapy, Leg Up

November 19th 2007

I am standing on our windswept riding arena with ten girls and visiting staff. The sun is shining and it's a perfectly clear day for seeing the mountain ranges spread out below us. The girls are huddled in a group for protection. The horses pose the first major challenge for the girls. I take a count of how many have ever touched a horse before. None. I start telling them the horses' names and how to watch their ears to know their mood. Ears pricked forward shows interest, willingness, and a positive attitude. Ears “half mast” eyes half-closed reveal a relaxed, resting pose, but ears flat back against the skull indicates anger, fear, and displeasure. The girls are listening intently. The possibility of animals having feelings and emotions has not occurred to them before. They are thinking of the horse, not of their fear.

Next, I show them the different grooming tools and how to groom. The girls begin curry combing and brushing Shadow. Quickly he turns from a muddy orange to the light grey he is supposed to be. Girls comb out his long mane and put in a few braids. He is ready to saddle up. I tack him up and then it's time for the first brave soul to mount. As Sony swings up on the saddle she freezes. Eyes wide, body rigid she clings desperately to the saddle horn. Shadow hasn't even moved a muscle. Everyone shouts encouragement and instructions. The blind leading the blind.

Sony pleads with me to not take a step. Chest heaving, face tense, this girl is truly terrified. Everyone is watching. I know how the fear can spread. Slowly I get her to look into my eyes and focus only on me. I take her through some simple exercises; stretches, deep breathing, cross-lateral work. In a few minutes she is able to reach forward and stroke Shadow's mane and side of his neck. Her entire body is relaxed. She gives me a stunning smile, and we are ready to go. We step forward with confidence around the ring. Sony never stops smiling. She continues to ride “no hands” following my lead in arm circles, twists in the saddle, and airplane maneuvers.

In five minutes Sony has moved from abject fear to full confidence and faith in Shadow and in me. I feel honored to be a part of the transformation. Shadow, with his steady, rock-solid, kind personality has once again brought another girl the ride of her life. Sony may well never have another chance to ride a horse. But that's not really the point. She conquered her fear. She didn't give into it. Sony embraced the challenge, and she has discovered that she can do more than she ever dreamed.


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