Your Sto­ries: Dance in the rain.

Horses opened up a new world for her. Now she hopes to give back to her com­mu­nity.

Horse & Rider - - Table Of Contents - By Les­lie Os­tran­der

I’ve been liv­ing my life sit­ting down since I was 4 years old. I was in an au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dent that left me par­a­lyzed from the chest down. That was in 1979, when fed­er­ally man­dated car safety seats were far off the hori­zon. My in­jury forced me to live life dif­fer­ently. I learned early that I had to seek out my abil­i­ties and live boldly upon them.

For years I dreamed of rid­ing a horse. Many phys­i­cal chal­lenges stood in the way, how­ever. My sup­port team was my fam­ily; ul­ti­mately we gath­ered at a lo­cal sta­ble. My hus­band mod­i­fied a West­ern sad­dle for me, us­ing parts from a re­tired wheel­chair.

When I first sat astride a sweet Ten­nessee Walk­ing Horse mare and took the reins, I dis­cov­ered a new sense of free­dom. The mare’s gen­tle, repet­i­tive walk­ing stride moved my body in a way that’s sim­i­lar to a hu­man’s gait. Phys­i­cally, it was as close to walk­ing as I had come as an adult. Horse­back rid­ing gave me a new vis­ual per­spec­tive, too. For the first time I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the world at a higher level. I was eye to eye with my hus­band!

Af­ter just one ride, I was hooked. Af­ter a cou­ple of rides, I began to achieve greater flex­i­bil­ity and bal­ance. Rather than sim­ply lead­ing me on a horse across an arena, my fam­ily and friends cre­ated an op­por­tu­nity for me to ex­pe­ri­ence an au­then­tic trail ride. I also learned the ba­sics of car­ing for a horse, such as sad­dling and bridling, mount­ing and dis­mount­ing, do­ing things the right way. And I had to care for my tack like any other rider, too.

In other words, I built my re­la­tion­ship with horses or­gan­i­cally, by do­ing real ranch work. In fact, my ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with horses has be­come so en­gag­ing that my wish now is to help oth­ers like me ben­e­fit from equine­as­sisted ther­apy.

Stud­ies have shown that rid­ing a horse has spe­cial ben­e­fits for any­one chal­lenged with a phys­i­cal, emo­tional, or be­hav­ioral dis­abil­ity. Cu­ri­ously, it all goes back to those won­der­ful equine gaits. They en­able riders to ex­pe­ri­ence move­ment in three di­men­sions—up and down, for­ward and back­ward, side to side. This com­pli­cated mo­tion stim­u­lates a rider’s nerves, mus­cles, and brain ac­tiv­ity si­mul­ta­ne­ously, with marvelous re­sults.

Then, too, eques­trian ac­tiv­i­ties in and out of a ther­a­peu­tic set­ting im­prove phys­i­cal func­tion­al­ity (bal­ance, strength, co­or­di­na­tion), emo­tional func­tion­al­ity (fo­cus, self-aware­ness, em­pa­thy), and so­cial well-be­ing (con­fi­dence, mo­bil­ity, in­de­pen­dence).

A ver­i­ta­ble bo­nanza of ben­e­fits! And that’s why I’m set on de­vel­op­ing my own 501(3)c—a ther­a­peu­tic rid­ing fa­cil­ity right here in my com­mu­nity in east­ern Ge­or­gia.

One of my fa­vorite quotes is from Vi­vian Green: “Life’s not about wait­ing for the storms to pass…. it’s about learn­ing to dance in the rain.” Putting peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties into sad­dles doesn’t just al­low them a new sense of free­dom—it prompts them to grab life by the reins and pros­per.

The au­thor poses for a quick snap­shot on Maxi, her Ten­nessee Walk­ing Horse mare.

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