While I am far from being a skilled horsewoman, horses feel like kindred spirits to me.  Something about looking into a horse’s eyes seems reverent-like you can see straight through to their souls.  So gentle.  I have this whole romantic notion of what it would be like to live on a dude ranch.  Wide open spaces.  Mountains in the distance.  Hair blowing in the wind as I gallop through the fields… And then there’s reality.  Me.  A mama over 40, not even having sat on a horse since middle school, taking her first adult lesson several years ago.  Trying to trot, two-point, post and steer without peeing in my pants at the same time quickly put any thoughts of taking-up life on a ranch into proper perspective.  That said, I do look forward to getting my horse- fix every other Saturday when we bring my boy to his horseback riding/therapy sessions at Mesa  Vista Therapeutics.

Donkeys and llamas raise their heads in acknowledgement as we make our way down the gravel driveway, slowing for Clementine, the pot-bellied pig, the occasional chicken, or Little, the blind farm dog.  When my family spills out of the car,  the familiar farm smells of hay and horse manure greet our noses.  Teenage volunteers muck-out stalls and saddle-up horses in preparation for eager Saturday morning riders.  My boy scopes out the horses in the stalls, hoping to see one of his favorites waiting just for him.

I still remember those first lessons with my boy around the age of 7.  Hours before leaving each Saturday, he ruminated over the possibility of having to ride any other horse other than his favorite at the time, Winston.  Once there, I watched as my boy slouched in the saddle and struggled to remember his right from his left when steering. Progress was slow, but my boy enjoyed himself and that’s worth something all on its own. Fast-forward two years later,  that same little guy,  legs long in the stirrups, now confidently tells us (and himself) that he doesn’t have to ride the same horse every week.  He can be flexible and besides, Winston is stubborn.  He sits-up tall and chats easily with his helpers about everything from porch lights to Presidents.  He deftly holds the reins and steers his horse around barrels, trots, two-points (one of his favorite skills), and practices posting.  My boy is at ease with his body and the horse beneath him.

Our Saturday crew is a diverse one with special needs ranging from high-functioning autism, to down syndrome to cerebral palsy.  I have witnessed one teenager, with the support of another rider, start-out a session with his muscles seized-up in a cross-legged position only to relax into the slow rhythm of the horse’s gait and fall asleep by the end of his session.  His older brother, who happens to have down syndrome, sits jauntily atop a stately black horse named Breeze, confidently urging him to “Giddy-up!” Each time this beautiful boy makes his way around the ring and passes his grandmother, who is visiting for the weekend, he smiles broadly, waves, and proudly greets her with a joyful “Hi, Eemaw!”

Something magical happens when you put a horse and a person in need of healing together. Something both physical and spiritual.  The slowing of the heart-rate.  The relaxing of the muscles. An unspoken bond of love and understanding.  And, as a parent of a special needs child, to be able to witness this connection is a gift.

Throughout this journey with my boy, there have been times when I feel like I am constantly on the receiving end. So, as I pondered Autism Awareness Month and all that it means for our family, I thought how nice it would be to give back in some small way.  Throughout the month of April, I will be donating 25% of all art sales from my Etsy site, Dandelion Studio,  to Mesa Vista Therapeutics.  Not interested in purchasing any art right now?  No problem.  Just hop on over to the Mesa Vista Therapeutics website and you can make a donation right on their website!  Won’t you join me in celebrating autism awareness and the beautiful people who are helping our children live their best lives?