In the Spring of 2013, our little Matthew was a tiny six-year-old boy. He was about the size of an average 3-year-old. Our sweet boy had seen so many doctors, had so many surgeries, and had been to so many therapists in his short lifetime, that Matthew decided he was done with it all. We dropped out of speech and physical therapy, because Matthew was refusing to cooperate during the sessions despite everyone’s best efforts. However, we felt like he was doing well at home. He was starting to use more and more words, and would use sign language when he couldn’t verbalize something. He would run, jump, climb and play with his brothers, and was truly a delightful, vibrant part of our family. Still, as his mother, I would wonder if there wasn’t something more we could be doing for him.
At one of the parent support-group meetings for families with special needs in our area, I picked up a brochure for Blue Mountain Therapeutic Riding. I admit, I was a skeptic at the start. Our past experiences with therapy had made me hesitant to expect any real therapeutic benefits, but I knew Matthew would enjoy the experience. He loved animals of all kinds, but horses were his favorite. We decided to enroll Matthew, and see how it went.
Matthew loved every single minute he was able to spend with his therapy horse. His smile would be so big, and his eyes would be so bright, that it would often bring tears to my own eyes to see him so happy. My little guy who struggled to speak would talk endlessly about his horse. He would be so excited to ride, that he would talk all the way to his riding lesson, and all the way home. His instructors also insisted that he use the correct commands, spoken loudly and clearly to the horse. This was speech therapy, but Matthew didn’t know it!
I was also surprised by the benefits therapeutic riding provided for improving Matthew’s core strength and balance. During that first summer, he needed volunteers to hold both of his legs to keep him from slipping off the horse. But, as he gained balance and strength, playing “airplane” or “picking apples” while riding bare-back, it became obvious that this was physical therapy, too. By the second summer, he had graduated to a saddle and stirrups, and by the third summer, he was holding the reins.
We were thrilled that Matthew’s speech was improving, and that he was gaining strength and balance, but there was still more. Matthew would often stop his horse by the fence to wave and say, “I did it, Mommy! Look at me! I did it myself!” The pride and confidence he gained is absolutely priceless.
There are therapeutic benefits that are harder to put into words, too. If we had a tough day, riding would fix it. If Matthew was struggling and frustrated with something, riding would ease his stress. If he wasn’t feeling well that day, he would feel better while he was on his horse. I will forever be thankful that we found therapeutic riding for Matthew. I truly can’t say enough wonderful things about it, or the patient, kind instructors and volunteers at Blue Mountain Therapeutic Riding. Thank you for all that you do. We can’t wait for the Summer session to start!