What is more spectacular than introducing children to the world of horses? Their expression when they catch their first glimpse of the majestic animals or when they touch the horse’s soft nose or muscular shoulder reminds me how deep my own love of for the animals go. But what if the children are visually impaired or can’t see at all? Do they still have the same response of awe and wonder? You better believe it!
I was fortunate to be asked to help at a birthday party this past weekend for nine visually impaired 8 to 9-year-olds through the Equine Therapy group, Salto de Fe. I was in charge of Lefty and Dr. Ashley Thompson was with Saltos.
She started with a brief overview of how to interact with the animals: calmly and respectfully. I was a little surprised that most of the children had already had some experience and contact with horses. I found out many of the parents had their children currently or previously enrolled in an equine therapy program, so it wasn’t completely new.
Their reactions were the same though. Lefty happily munched on his hay and I held his lead rope and answered questions while four of the children ran their hands over almost every inch of the Quarter Horse. Watching the children make sense of their world by touch was such an amazing experience for me too. I assisted one boy to feel Lefty’s mane, each ear, forelock, throat and chest – all the while the boy was processing how horses ate: “So everything goes up?” he asked. While another boy was terrified of getting near Lefty’s mouth, so he needed reassurance he was no where near it.
Then it came time for riding. Being as I have anxiety myself, I couldn’t even imagine what it was like to experience being on the back of a horse putting my faith into the horse, handler, and parent who walked beside them. I would struggle in a saddle, these kids were bareback! I let them know if they just wanted to sit up there, it was fine. But every single child, after sitting for a moment, wanted to ride. I can take a lesson from these fearless kids!
The bond between horse and rider was immediate. After the brief ride, everyone told Lefty they loved him. Not everyone wanted to ride again, but they all wanted to pet him and whisper their affections. I think the promise of birthday cake was the only thing that lured the children away from their equine companions.
It was such an amazing experience for all of us, I can’t wait for Dr. Ashley to invite me back!
Of course, you can always contact me too!