“Nicole” came to me as a five year old girl, recently diagnosed with autism. Her parents had been to several specialists, even as far back as the east coast, to find out why their daughter was nonverbal and detached. Finally an answer! With their new found diagnosis of autism, they wanted to try therapeutic riding as one of her therapies.
In she came, this beautiful red haired little girl with bounding energy, a smile to die for, but no way to communicate. My first choice for her first ride was a wonderful old pony named “Wonderful”, and wonderful he was with his sheer patience and care for his special needs riders. Perfect for a five year old as he would never think of taking a wrong step and he would stand quietly or even slowly walk, tolerating the crying child who was a bit apprehensive on their first ride. With Wonderful were three caring volunteers who not only guided their equine partner, but who took such good care of their new rider with the gentlest of holds, calmest of voices, following the quiet guidance of the instructor, all working together as a team to help this child. So, off they went, down the trail.
As Nicole became more and more comfortable with her new found sport, more challenges were introduced. Make your pony stop, Nicole, pull on that rope! And pull she did. Pass that ring to your volunteer, Nicole! And pass she did. But how do you make your pony ‘go’, Nicole?…you have to tell him with your words. Tell Wonderful to “Walk-On!” with your words. The movement of the pony is so comforting with riders with autism that standing still is not fun. But how? How does she make him Walk-On? First we tried a method called “pat to go”. So she patted Wonderful’s neck to go, and go he did. Next was use your words, Nicole, say “Walk-on, Wonderful”. But her voice remained silent. But one day, Nicole proudly did say something…..”Walk-on Wonderful!!!”, she said, Walk-on!!,…..not Mommy or Daddy or MaMa or DaDa……but her first words were “Walk On, Wonderful!” and walk-on, he did.
Nicole is now a teenager, growing into this tall, beautiful, long legged young girl. From that 5 year old’s first ride on Wonderful, she graduated to a bigger horse, learned to ride in a saddle at the posting trot, competed in our facility horse show and guess what, she now speaks in sentences!
But all things come to an end and as Nicole grew up, Wonderful grew old. His days as a therapy horse were ending as his arthritis grew worse and it was painful for him to continue on. He told us that in his own equine way. It is time for me to go, my dear caretakers, my work is done. And go he did, gently and quietly and humanely to his horsie heaven full of green pastures and no pain. And he went, surely knowing how many kids he helped along their way in life. Especially, our sweet Nicole.
And that little 5 year old, non verbal little girl with autism named Nicole? This is what she wrote, on her own, at Wonderful’s passing:
I hope he is in heaven. I believe. I know.
Thank you for having Wonderful.
He took me for many rides and you are riding him in your dreams.
I rode him in my dream last night. I rode him east to the river. Open your mind to the possibilities. Too hard to tell you now but someday you will know the possibilities. Think openly about hope to play with him again someday.
Thank you again for your generous gift to me.