Short Story: Sarah Has Cerebral Palsy (Part 2)

Sarah who had cerebral palsy and partial blindness was growing up and was spending more time alone. At the age of six, whether in school or at home, she would be placed in a chair or on the floor while classroom activities took place, or her mother took care of her sisters or cleaned the house. Even though she was six she didn’t have friends coming round to play, and life was lonely. Coming to the horses and her special pony was something new and exciting. Sarah was outdoors, meeting someone, her pony, who would be there for her. She felt something stir inside her. Although she did not know what it was, it was likely her confidence growing. Sarah felt love and attraction to this beautiful pony.

One day at the riding center Sarah was about to get on her pony and start an adventure. She had poor eyesight and she found herself looking for the reins.  Holding her small body in my arms, I felt that the beats of her heart were telling me that she wanted to guide her pony. I looked at her and smiled and I felt from her expression she was saying: “I want to ride, but I am not sure where. I have seen other children ride ponies on the television, so I think I can do it.”

Sarah was not developing quickly.  Everything she did, or was done to her, took time. Everything she played with was arranged, everything she ate was given to her. There was nothing she could do by herself.  Coming for riding therapy was different as her pony was not only her therapist but a friend, and this was the first time she felt a friendship connection. I started this session by first helping her to sit upon his back. She was not able at this point to stretch her legs wide apart, so she sat sideways. Gradually as the moving pony relaxed her spasm, I was able to separate her legs for moments of the ride. She was smiling and it must have felt so fast. Her whole body was challenged, and she kept smiling because she felt so good.  

In this supported position the few minutes on the pony’s back gave her the opportunity to look around her and see things that were new.  In this position on the pony, she could see a lot further than she could at home sitting on the floor, or in school, even from a special chair with supports. She was focusing, yes on the reins, but also on different objects in the arena. She raised and turned her head to look at the volunteer walking beside her and she smiled.  Sitting up she felt her six years, and with help, holding her hands she soon got the idea of steering the pony.  She started making speech sounds and began to laugh.  Sarah was open and responsive to whatever I asked her to do. She opened her fingers and touched the horse’s mane, moving her fingers slowly through the hair.  

After sitting, I lay Sarah down on the pony’s back.  In that position I was able to mobilize her spine and in fact all of her body, always checking to see that lying on her stomach was not stressing or making her feel sick. She lay in this position with her shoulders parallel to the pony’s croup. Lying along the horse’s back made it possible for her to absorb the pony’s rhythmic three-dimensional movement as they walked around the arena.  She started to kick her legs backwards and forwards and her body became so relaxed it felt like a piece of soft rubber. She allowed me to move her legs into the crawling position, and she started to crawl along the horses back. When I sat her up again to finish her riding session, she was able to lift her arms forward and away from her body, and again she tried to reach the reins.

Sarah had spent a whole half hour socializing with her pony, and the people supporting her for the session. She had smiles, laughter, and lots of movement. She made it clear that she wanted to do things, that she wanted to learn how to ride. She communicated nonverbally with her new friend, the pony.  We all knew she was enjoying herself and would want to come again to be with her new friend.

Sarah had made enormous strides, physically, and socially.  She communicated well with the volunteers who helped in the lesson. Back at school her teacher reported that she was in a good mood for hours after the ride and that her new flexibility made it possible to put her in the crawling position on the floor.

This poem is written by Christina Gugliotta. I thought of Sarah as I read it!

To My Horse
What is the most appropriate word to describe your spirit?
It would just deserve to be free in nature and run thoughtlessly
your glances,
your silences.
Your always being there, without borders and with courage
without any complaints
I want to thank you for all those times riding with you
when I borrow your strength your elegance,
your speed,
your courage,
your trust,
your dignity
and when I close my eyes I feel free
imagining what you might feel running wild in a huge meadow alongside your herd
and that is why I want to especially thank you
for one priceless thing,
for having allowed me to take your freedom.
Poem By Christina Gugliotta.

Short Story: Sarah Has Cerebral Palsy (Part 1)

Sarah was six years old and had severe cerebral palsy and partial blindness. She was unable to move or walk by herself and needed full help with all her activities of daily living.

She could lie on the floor and play with a mobile toy from above, but even this was difficult as she needed a cushion between her legs to stabilize her. She couldn’t crawl, rollover or move from side to side. If she was put on her stomach, using circular whole-body movements she could turn round. Her hands were tightly closed in an upward position all the time.  

In kindergarten when she lay on the floor, her right hand in an uncontrolled movement touched her hair, which she could feel but not see. Sarah was unable to turn her head from side to side or lift it up to see her hair. With her limited vision, partial sight, cortical blindness and cerebral palsy she was a little girl living a very restricted life.

Sarah Came for Horseback Riding Therapy: Her First Ride  

When Sarah met her large pony for the first time, she was smiling and appeared extremely excited as she had no idea what a pony was. As she had such a serious disability and was so small, I decided to pick her up in my arms to introduce her to her pony. After we had looked at the pony from all angles and spoken to him, I gave her to a volunteer while I mounted the pony. Taking her once again in my arms, this time I showed her what it was like to sit above a pony, and in this new position she seemed to be in awe. Her first pony ride was a first step towards living like other children of her age, something she could have never imagined. Holding Sarah in my arms, I could feel her tiny body begin to relax, and saw she had the most amazing smile. It was as if she was experiencing new feelings arising from her soul as an inspiring dream.  Coming in contact with such a large animal made her heart pound. In her excitement, she was feeling a sense of healing and transformation. Sarah smiling, reached out to stroke the pony, she wanted to touch his mane, she had a desire to care for her new friend.  Looking along the neck of the horse, she could just see the pony’s head and again she was smiling- it was in her line of vision. She wanted to engage with her horse -there were things she could do!

I passed Sarah to a volunteer as I dismounted the stationary horse. I explained to Sarah and the volunteer what we were going to do next. I was going to lie her on the horse on her stomach but facing the horse’s bottom and then I would ask the pony to walk. She accepted this and lay on her stomach with her shoulders parallel to the croup.  I was concerned about her frailty and that even lying on her stomach could make her feel sick. However, she was in such a good mood, and showed no signs of stress. This position just offered her an even greater experience. In this first visit to the natural world, Sarah’s body started to move in rhythm which allowed her mind and soul to become flexible, as she felt that wonderful three-dimensional movement provided by the horse pass through the entire length of her body. The movement changed things for Sarah. For the first time, she received new energy that reduced her spasticity, giving her a feeling of some normality.

In a short period of time, she was raising her head, looking up and turning her head from one side to another.  She was looking to see what was going on, she was focused.  She appeared full of spirit and with a path to follow because of the new energy coming from her body. Sarah purposely reached out towards the volunteer, she could see her, and she felt the need to contribute to this new environment.  Her soul and new life force continued, and she returned to the kindergarten in a happy mood.

Lying on the horse, Sarah experienced the feelings expressed in a Native American legend:

Before me peaceful, Behind me peaceful.
Under me peaceful, all around me peaceful.
Peaceful voice when he neighs, I am everlasting and peaceful.
I stand for my horse.

Navajo song.

A Balanced Year

Looking back at the past year, I am asking myself the question, “have I had a balanced year, materially, spiritually, physically and socially”?

These are my answers.

Despite a year of Covid-19, and lockdown, I have found a way to stay afloat, give my husband who has severe dementia the best possible care, and keep my house.

I wrote a book and developed a new website. The book is almost at the printing stage. I love it and I think this is my best book, however, I have only written two!

Lockdown gave my website, which must be my legacy. A website for the future that is full of knowledge and experience, and in the coming year will be a place where I can ask other experts to join in my quest to inform practitioners of best practice. In 2021 it will provide new opportunities for checks and balances for professional work ethics, and quality of practice.

Do I feel fulfilled?  Professionally yes, personally no, there is still a lot more I want to do. I really want to go to Galapagos and spend some time again in Japan. Having said this, I am a happy person, and have the ability to look on the bright side of life.  

Spiritually I feel I am growing, and now openly seek the contact of those who are more spiritually wise. I have some friends who are in the business of spirituality, and during 2020 I enjoyed joining them through Zoom. Spiritual fulfilment gives me, my soul even greater power as I venture forth into 2021

Physically 2020 was not such a good year. Sitting at the computer I have put on 3 kilos, which must come off. When my job finished, and my old horse became sick from melanomas, I stopped horseback riding regularly. I don’t ride my bicycle and take walks as it has all become an effort.  I use the excuse that my discs are doggy, and that I should take it easy if they were to take me to the end. I have done quite the opposite of what I knew I should do and that was exercise.

Socially, the past year has been good for new and renewing old contacts. I have really enjoyed a daily email contact with old school friends around the world. I am learning to use my phone more; in fact, I now carry it around with me instead of leaving it somewhere and never checking who had called. Perhaps there was another reason? Just before Covid-19 shutdown I received my hearing aids. What a difference, instead of lip reading and constantly having to lean forward to listen to people, or just saying ‘Yes’ or nodding to people speaking to me when I hadn’t the foggiest what they were saying, I can hear them! I am blue-tooth connected to the phone and music from the 70-80’s.

I have enjoyed long discussions with my brother who has spent time giving me his opinion about the quality of the vaccines, and I always respect his opinion. I have had my first doses of vaccine and go for my second on Wednesday morning, sometimes it’s good to be 73 years old. After vaccination I felt as high as a kite, until the adrenaline crashed at 6pm in the evening, and all I wanted to do was to sleep. I love seeing my grandchildren and family. I am proud to report my rockery at the front of the house looks amazing.

I look forward to seeing you on the 3rd of February for a zoom lecture reflecting upon EAA/T practitioner practice. I have invited Kitty Stalsburg to join me for this Zoom, See you!

Human-Horse Relationships: Horse Language and Behaviors

The memory of my life with Sara convinced me to write this article, which attempts to explain the importance of understanding horse language, behaviors, and how they value their space. Sara was in my life for thirty-seven years and was my constant companion who taught me a great deal about horse communication and how to think positively about life. Writing this article, I am offering some practical tips which may help those who wish to enjoy the company of their horses, take care of them or participate in various types of horseback riding activities. If you can spend time trying to understand the language, behaviors, and how they value their space, you will find that you can communicate with horses, enjoy their relaxing companionship while building that precious human-horse bond.
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The Human Horse Bond/ Therapeutic Riding Horse/ Benefits

The horse’s ancient bond with humans established a level of communication, (behavioral, emotional, cognitive, and relational), whereby both the horse and the human can reconstruct the content of the message sent by the other.  All horses, and that includes the therapeutic riding horse, have developed a type of functional readiness that encompasses skills like preparedness, communication, confidence, and thriving. One of horses’ reactivating mechanisms is their ability to recognize whether they are in danger from other living beings. Living in the present and living consciously, for their own security, they are astutely aware and mindful of what is happening in every moment of time.  (Shkedi, 2003)

Therapeutic riding horses, being in the present, encourage the  rider to be focused and mindful at all times. They are able to do this because of their natural disposition towards humans, and their adept ability to accept humans into their herds and connect cross species. When asked, horses show that they are able to participate in any activity or therapy that will benefit any challenged individual.  This might be ground based activities, horseback riding and hippo-therapy.  

When a therapeutic riding horse is well cared for and has received sufficient experience and expert training, they allow themselves to even perform activities that are against their natural instincts. For example, when working with a physically disabled person, they will  accept standing in claustrophobic spaces, have people lowered onto their backs, and move with someone on their back who,through no fault of their own, is unable to synchronize their body movement with them.

To become an effective therapeutic riding horse, the horse must  be well cared for, and kept fit, so that they can perform their job without being harmed. They need regular feeding, water, and shelter, and the opportunity to have time to relax with other horses in the herd.

The benefits of therapeutic riding have been recognized for many years since the time of Hippocrates, and the Greek civilization. Today, any Equine Assisted Activities and/or Therapy (EAA/T) can be tailored to meet an individual’s needs and treatment level. One of the most useful and positive EAA/T activities is therapeutic horseback riding, as it is particularly creative and motivates challenged individuals very quickly when they are sitting astride a horse. Riding a moving horse reawakens the mind, body, and soul. It demands fast automatic thinking that is emotional and instinctive. It builds body coordination and movement that become intuitive while the rider attempts to learn new tasks which can benefit someone with a wide range of needs.  When challenged individuals practice new skills and learn new paradigms, it is possible to feel the full effect of making these fast judgments that provide positive physical, psychological, social, and educational experiences. 

 Therapeutic riding horses never fail to connect even when they are interrupted. They are always in the present which means that they are able to constantly “listen” to the rider and react accordingly.  With this kind of sensitivity and immediacy of reaction, a non-verbal pressure is put on all individuals to acquire self-control and self-regulation.

For challenged individuals to learn horseback riding skills are complete and complex tasks that requires a person to absorb themself, put their mind, body and soul into the activity to succeed.

The benefits of therapeutic riding  have been recognized for a long time. Practitioners, partnering with a therapeutic riding horse, can have a major impact upon the challenged individual.  Therapeutic riding horses are incredible animals that provide connections and activities that are holistic, and have the power to repair, reestablish and rebuild a person’s mind, body and soul.

My Human-Horse Bond

My bond with horses story began at the age of three years. It was a time when I had not been influenced by TV, as we did not have one. I was too young to listen to the radio, but I was old enough to listen to my parent’s stories, see pictures of horses, unicorns, and Pegasus in books. My first book was Wish for a Pony, by Monica Edwards, that left me dreaming. Every night going to sleep in our London apartment,  I was wishing for a pony and trying to imagine how I could keep him or her. From a noticeably young age I received presents of small china and wooden horses. One of these small horses was an orange Swedish horse that has remained with me to this day and has even entered my dreams. I was told if I kept the Swedish horse it would always bring me good luck.

Except for my little Swedish horse that I was told had belonged to my grandmother, no person in my world talked about horse bonding, or archetypes, images, and thoughts. However, the adults in my life did provide me with opportunities to read about horses and meet them in the flesh. These experiences provided me opportunities to develop powerful supportive ideas that would remain as a support for life.

I knew from a young age that I wanted to be as one with a horse. The less equipment I had the better. When I started to ride, I would rather hold the mane than the reins, as this made me feel like Ricky who so elegantly rode the Wonder Horse. Even to this day I love to let my hand slip down and hold the mane for this very same reason.  I prefer to ride without chaps, long boots, and spurs and all the other contraptions of horse apparel.  

My Father used to love taking us on camping holidays in the U.K., or away for the weekends to the countryside. One time, we came to a farm in the Lake District in Cumbria, which was one mile outside of Broughton in Furness.  He wanted to find a place to stay and put up our tent up for a few days. He asked the farmer if we could do this at his farm, and for some reason, unknown to me at the age of five, the farmer suggested we sleep in his horse lorry, which he added was clean and ready for the next horse trip.

This was my first experience of sleeping on straw and hay and breathing in the exquisite smell of hay and horses. That experience was hugely bonding, and as I write this note I am breathing more deeply, sucking in the air of that experience so many years ago.  

In the morning I woke early to hear horses moving in their stables. They were making gentle blowing noises, waiting for the food to arrive. They were talking to each other, and I could hear that. I heard the birds, the horses and even the dogs on the farm.

I was close to nature, and even at that young age I was experiencing a healthy blast for my physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. Coming from the urban city, living in the streets of London, I did not hear the birds sing or experience the sounds and smells of horses and a farm.  Sleeping in the horse box I was so close to nature, it made me feel active and clean. The horse box was saturated with the smells of horses and I found this so relaxing. I know that my brother and parents felt the same, as we all recalibrated our senses from our urbane way of life. From early childhood till now horses have grounded me. Like so many people, I have gone through some difficult times, but horses were always there to restore my health and peace of mind. Whenever I have needed to reconnect to my world, I found myself drawn toward horses. I have been lucky enough to ride them since I was three years old and have the bonus that I can still ride them seventy years later. I know that having horses in my life has been extraordinary. I cannot thank them enough for listening to me in my hours of sadness and bringing back a smile to my face. Today, I still dream a lot, and often see horses in my dreams. They send me messages of hope. They symbolize my passion and drive, and desire for personal freedom. They maintain my motivation, and according to the psychologist, Freud, the horse dreams are my drive, power, and success.