HOW EQUINE THERAPY HELPS ASPERGERS CHILDREN

It’s so exciting when your friends launch websites, especially when they have as much to offer as Avery Ranch in Lafayette, Colorado (AveryRanchColorado.com). My son has been riding with them for almost two years and by far it has been the best investment with the biggest return we could ever have imagined.

Equine therapy is often touted as an exceptional therapy for kids with Aspergers, and I’m one to agree. There’s something healing about hanging out with horses. The rhythmic motion of their hips, the warmth of their sweet smelling hair, the delicate nibbles of their soft lips – enchant.

So without saying a word, my girlfriend managed to rope me into lessons at Avery Ranch. She asked if I could pick up her son after his lesson one sunny afternoon. I went early enough to watch and that was all she wrote. I’m watching as this little boy swings his legs over the saddle on his horse while he’s riding in a circle around the trainer. He rides side saddle, he rides facing backwards with his hands on the horse’s hips, he rides side saddle on the other side, and then, finally, he faces forward. Then he rides with his hands making big circles – like he’s doing the backstroke. As far as I was concerned, it was occupational therapy on the back of a horse! He was laughing, the trainer was laughing, and the horse was smiling! I was hooked.

My son was less enthusiastic and cried all the way to his first lesson. Just to get him to try it out I had to beg, cajole, and bribe heavily, but once he got on that horse’s back and felt the glorious motion, he was hooked too. Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurological disorder; it has a lot to do with brains and neurons. Don’t get me wrong, I love the way my son thinks. He is brilliant. He is poetic. He is visual-spacial and can intuit math and science and systems to a degree way beyond his years. But, he was always a little clumsy and would frequently fall off stationary objects (the dining room chair being the most common).

In the last two years he’s improved in every challenging area. He is graceful, he has better eye contact, he respects personal space, he copes with frustration at home and in the classroom, he speaks more fluidly, his self confidence and self esteem is higher, and he hangs out with friends at recess. I’ll never know how much of his development to attribute to his weekly rides, but I bet it’s not small. We’ve done all sorts of therapies since he was about 4 years old: occupational therapy, psychotherapy, speech therapy, play therapy, swimming lessons, reading/learning therapy, fish oil, raw milk, medications, biofeedback, and each therapy has helped a little.

Someone is going to tell me that he would have ended up just fine without all the therapies, and I couldn’t argue with them without a control, but I have my doubts. All I can say is that the horses, and Jessie the trainer, have helped my son in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Jessie treats him like one of her foals: two steps forward and one step back. She knows that every time he grows his neurons can’t fire across the synapses and that he’ll be clumsy again. She says it happens to the baby horses all the time! She’s got these repeat buttons where she says the same things to him over and over again without ever getting upset (well, OK, she gets upset when he does stupid things that might get the horse mad. A mad horse is never good! How cool is it that my Asperger’s son gets to understand, really understand, that his actions directly impact another being?)

He is loving it. I am loving that he is loving it. Together we get to celebrate the joy and freedom that horses have brought into his life.

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