My son, Raphael, has Down Syndrome is non verbal and had very low muscle tone, but the first day at Horses For Hope he was just another kid climbing on a horse. From the moment he climbed on he was on top of the world, in charge and taller than us for the first time. As we have gone thru the season of riding he has grown stronger, more independent and his balance has improved. Ever since he was a little infant in the NICU he hated anyone touching his head, tousling his hair or wearing of hats, but when he saw that to ride the horse you had to have a helmet he snapped on his helmet with a smile. Horse magic is what we call it in our house. Raphael will do anything to be able to ride his horse. For the first time, I know he is looking forward to something, counting his days until his next day with his horses. He has been connecting with the people there little by little opening up to them. Some might wonder at what benefit a kid can have from simply riding a horse, but I have seen the change since the first ride. He has been in therapies all his life, but all of them have been work for him to do, a chore of sorts. While all his therapists have tried to make things fun, he rarely smiles or laughs. His speech therapist had worked with him for three years before hearing him laugh. But day one of horseback riding he was laughing, smiling, clapping and even sticking his tongue out at his big brother showing off. For the first time, he is enjoying learning new tasks, stretching himself and feeling that accomplishment that comes with working. He is proud of himself. Horse magic is real.
I was raised rural, barns and animals in our backyard all my life. Now, I live in the city with my family and have longed for opportunities to get my kids connected with those rural roots, but when you have a son who walks unsteady on pavement you rarely can venture off into the woods, or fields. Horses For Hope has given both of my boys, and myself included that opportunity as we volunteer. My eldest, Nisseem, having the opportunity to work with horses, clean up, clear trails, take pictures and work with other kids with special needs has been his dream come true. The fact that he can do it with his little brother makes it a miracle. We have each found our niche here at Horses For Hope, as my horse experience allows me to lead the horses in the ring, and Nisseem’s willingness to work at whatever job they have for him, allows us to all be a part of the amazing experience with our Raphael. As I lead the horses, I get to observe the families and children with special needs. I have watched them grow little by little each week standing a little taller, working harder and simply enjoying the freedom of being on a horse. Each kid benefits immeasurably as they gain independence, flexibility, core strength, and a sense of accomplishment.