Friday, May 13, 2016

The Therapeutic Riding Center ~ Joys and Progress

The smell of horses is in the air, the creak of saddle leather can be heard, the arena rail is lined with colorful reins, buddy stirrups, saddles, and other specialized equipment, a laugh rings out . . . all sights and sounds of a day at the therapeutic riding center.

Once a week, Leah and I spend much of the day volunteering there and loving every moment of it. There really isn't a way to express in words how wonderful our times are there and the joy that comes in working with each of our special riders, developing friendships with them (and their parents/families), and seeing the progress they make.

Down the trail during the veteran's class. Leah and I are sidewalking with the veteran on the near horse - he and his wife have become good friends of ours (as has Pam, who is leading the horse.) We always enjoy seeing and talking with all of them!

Horses waiting their turn for their riders to mount. There is a mounting area at the front of the arena with steps for the riders to climb up. Or, sometimes the therapists/instructors will mount the littlest riders by lifting them onto the horse - a job that Leah and I are often asked now to do which we love! A few riders are also mounted by a special lift that they have there.

Waiting while the stirrups are adjusted . . . then followed an enjoyable hour with him!

Each rider has things they are working to overcome, strengthen, or improve in . . . physical, emotional, speech . . . and our role is to not only keep the rider safe during their classes, but to help with therapy in whatever areas they have need.

For our littlest riders, it might be encouraging them to talk, helping them do the exercises, giving voice prompts, playing with them to help draw them out, singing to help comfort them or allay their fears, teaching/helping them with things like reining or holding onto the saddle horn, and/or just loving them. :)

This spring, Leah and I each worked with seven riders with the youngest ones being two and the oldest in his 70's (he is in the veteran class.) Almost all of 'our' riders are quite young, and three of them are ones Leah and I work with together. Due to how busy we stay there, it is quite hard to get photos, though some were taken with our cell phones and a few were shared with us by others. 

(For privacy reasons, I cropped the photos so as not to show the full faces of the riders, save for Will. :)

Leah and one of her riders.
This darling girl struggled so much the first few weeks, and Leah worked and worked with her singing, talking with her, and encouraging her. The end result is a little girl who LOVES riding now and loves Leah dearly. It is so sweet to watch the two of them together! (Especially since her mom shared that she rarely bonds closely with others.) And if you want to meet someone who has one of the most precious smiles that lights up her whole face . . . just spend some time with this sweetheart!

Mounted and ready to go! Leah is on the far side of the horse with her little rider.

Me with one of my little riders . . . this dear boy also really struggled the first three or so weeks. Little by little, though, the tears became less, he began to love playing peek-a-boo with me, and the smiles and laughter came. By the mid-way point in the spring session, he was running up to the gate, eager to ride! After working with him, I decided I need to learn some basic sign language . . . he signed many words, but I knew so little of what he was saying!

Leah with Chico (with our friend Mr. K riding)

Leah with the sweet girl I mentioned in my last post :) Such a smile this girl has, too!

One of the volunteers picked flowers for the 'horse show' day and put them by the 'jump'

How I love this dear boy! I worked with him last summer, and we developed quite a bond then, but he wasn't there during the fall. So this spring, I was thrilled to see his name on the class sheet! And . . . he remembered me! Each week, I love seeing him and his mom coming up to the arena and then when I go down to greet him, seeing his face alight in smiles and his hand begin waving emphatically as he tries to walk faster to me.

As he rides, he'll often lean over and give me one of his hugs and sometimes a kiss, too. :) He doesn't have many words, but his eyes say so much! And now when he wants to show me something, he'll reach over and gently turn my face in the direction he is pointing. He's also a tease and his laugh is so infectious.

Love you so much, sweet boy!

And dear Will! The progress he has made in the last year is amazing . . . each week milestones are reached, and he has just blossomed with his communication, comprehension, riding skills, and much more. The love and care this boy has for others is also really heart-touching! I so love this sweet and special boy and working with him! And again, if you want to hear an infectious laugh, just be around Will for a little bit. :) He's also quite the tease!

Some weeks during his rides, watching him talk and make progress right before our eyes, is enough to keep a smile of joy on my face much of his ride (in the above photo, [taken by his Mom], I'm on the opposite side.) Really looking forward to seeing what the summer holds for him!

He, his mom, and little sisters are good friends of ours, too, and Leah and I love spending time with them and talking with his mom. She has been a great blessing and encouragement to me in many ways!

As I type, my heart is full . . . and thankful for the opportunity Leah and I have to volunteer here. It has been such a blessing to us! 

Last week, there was yet another special and encouraging moment . . . one of the instructors/therapists came up to Leah and I and shared with us many encouraging words with tears in her eyes. She also said that if we wanted, there is the potential for us becoming instructors there ourselves! I am not sure if we'll ever do something like that or not, but it really touched our hearts that they would want us to be.

For now, though, we'll keep volunteering one day a week! 

Cloudy skies one night on the drive home . . . and you can barely see it in the photo on the horizon in the center, but there was a sundog in the sky. It was neat to see!

10 comments:

  1. Such a happy post filled with love and caring. Love it and your servant hearts.

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    1. Thanks so much for your sweet comment, Suze. :)

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  2. It is wonderful to learn just what unlocks a child's ability to respond. It must give you so much satisfaction to know that they are steadily growing in confidence...and that affects their whole life and skills, not just in riding. It's a super work you are both dong Sarah.

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    1. It is indeed wonderful, Elizabeth! We love watching them blossom during their time there. And yes, it does give so much satisfaction and joy as we see their progress! As you shared, it isn't just the riding it effects, but their whole lives. What a difference it is making for them!

      Thanks so much. :) We love it!

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  3. Your posts lately have been so much enjoyed, Sarah - I feel like you are including us all in your life so freely. Thank you as always.

    These children are able to learn much more than riding and communicating here I can see - they learn about love and acceptance and trust, too. It's really lovely.

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    1. I am so glad that you are enjoying them, Rena! And you're welcome. :)

      The children do indeed learn so much more there than what might at first meet the eye. It is so wonderful to see!

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  4. Sarah...Love your uplifting post about all the sweet kids. Such a blessing to be a part of kids (or veterans) lives at such an important time to them. Making the future look so much better from their eyes...Love and caring, smiles and lots of laughter is so key to helping anyone. You and Leah are such a blessing!! Have a wonderful weekend and may God richly bless you both!! (Love all the smiles in this post!)

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    1. I am glad that you loved it, Linda! It was special to share. And thank you for your sweet comment. :) It is indeed such a blessing to be a part of their lives. We are so thankful for this opportunity! And love seeing the progress they make.

      Thanks so much! I hope you have a wonderful week as well. Blessings to you!

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  5. Hi Sarah, such a wonderful post and your photos are beautiful. God bless you. Warm greetings from Montreal, Canada.

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    1. I am glad that you enjoyed it, Linda! Thanks so much for your comment. :) And warm greetings back to you from Missouri!

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Thanks so much for your comment! Each one is read and enjoyed. :)