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.


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