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.


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