Monday, April 22, 2013

Autism Understanding & Acceptance 2013 Day 21

Therapeutic horseback riding

A horse taught Thomas the meaning of “stop” and “go”. True story.

This is a picture from Thomas’ first day – he was 4 ½ years old when this picture was taken. He looks a little uncertain here but this quickly became one of his very favorite activities. The very real benefits of riding a horse: increasing core/trunk strength, leg muscle strength, and all the sensory input from being on a horse – especially when trotting, which became Thomas’ absolute favorite time of his entire week!

This first day was no cake walk, but what a reward was to come. We struggled with getting him to tolerate the helmet being on his head, along with the strap under his chin. Then came the startling but eventually cool but ride up the little elevator to get him up to horse level, because little guys like this can’t just hoist themselves up on a full size horse. We sat him on the horse and he was clearly VERY unsure of what the heck was going on. When he began to protest, we told the leader and side-walkers to just go and see what happened. The horse started to walk, and after a moment Thomas stopped fussing. He took it in with this facial expression for a while, which shortly turned to a big grin. He was sold, and so were we.

During his 30 minute sessions, he would ride with a leader guiding the horse and a side-walker on each side of the horse to assure he wouldn’t fall off. They’d lead the horse and Thomas around the ring and stop at little work areas to do little activities, such as putting rings on a pole, or tossing little bean bags in to a matching colored bucket. And then there was the trotting. How he would light up and belly laugh all the way around the ring! That was my favorite moment of my week too, I must admit.

The usual words in the ring for stop & go were “walk on” and “whoa”. Because Thomas was still very limited with speech, we used the words “stop” and “go” at first. And the leader would tell Thomas to say “stop” with her, and the horse would then stop. Then she’d prompt him to say “go” with her, and the horse moved. She was putting actual motion with the words; a physical understanding of what those words meant, i.e. This is what “stop” feels like; this is what “go” feels like.

He caught on pretty quickly, but my favorite moment – the moment I knew he knew what the words meant – was when she prompted him to say “stop”…and he grinned at her and said “GO!” Not only did my boy know what “stop” meant, he decided he did not want to, and used a word to express what HE wanted to do! There is no way to impress just how monumental that was.

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