Monday, August 24, 2009
H.O.R.S.E. Heart Story: Autism, Horse Therapy & Hope
I received the following must share, horse therapy story starring 9 year old, Sam via an e-mail from Susan O'Neal, an amazing volunteer for Helping Others Reach Success & Excellence (H.O.R.S.E.). We ran her email by Sam's mom to make sure all the facts are straight. Other than a few minor tweaks, the post below is the email I received from Susan. I found out that the H.O.R.S.E. foundation calls these personal testimonies H.O.R.S.E. Heart Stories. Thank you for letting me share Sam's H.O.R.S.E. Heart Story on my blog!
Grab a tissue and get ready for another inspiring horse therapy/autism miracle:
Sent: Wednesday, August 05, 2009 2:41 PM
I came across your blog about The Horse Boy. I was at the book signing event too with some people from H.O.R.S.E. an non-profit that provides equine assisted therapy to kids on the autism spectrum.
I have been volunteering for them for years but this summer I actually got to do some real hands on work. I volunteered at the week long Camp Round Up. It was an amazing experience.
I contacted Rupert Isaacson to follow up about the movie opening and to tell him about our camp. We are going to try to do some kind of a benefit if we can get the movie shown here in KC.
I took lots of pictures and really got to know the kids and the amazing volunteers. We had 10 kids but one boy, Sam, really stole my heart.
Sam’s mom called us about Camp Round Up. Sam is 9 years old and is on the autism spectrum. He is a very active kid but he is developmentally delayed. Sam communicates with single words that are forced out with great effort. He isn’t toilet trained, he has never asked to use a public bathroom.
She didn’t think we would take him but she was hoping. She didn’t have high expectations, she just wanted him to get to be in the fresh air and do a little riding. Sam did therapeutic riding weekly at another location. Brenda said we would give it a try. Zena's note: Brenda Wright is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of H.O.R.S.E.
I was checking in campers on Monday morning when Sam and his mom arrived. Sam spilled out of the car and took off running. I told two high school volunteers to chase after him while his assigned volunteer Mike, (the father of an autistic boy) and the staff talked with his mom. She looked apprehensive but mostly, she looked exhausted. She said Sam would be happy if he just ran around outside and chase bugs all day. She seemed a bit nervous about leaving but she saw we had lots of volunteers and we had her cell phone number. She planned on staying close by.
I have to admit, I was worried. So was Mike. Sam just ran and ran. It was scary to me. We were at a ranch with horses that belonged to other boarders, equipment around that could be dangerous if he fell on it and cornfields to get lost in. If we let him out of our sight for a moment, who knew what could happen.
It took all three volunteers assigned to him that first day. The girls got him figured out. They would play a kind of freeze tag if he got near a dangerous situation. They also played human wall. Luckily, Misty and Alexa are premiere soccer players and had the energy and stamina to keep up with him. We just couldn’t spend the week running after him though. I began to wonder… if he would chase bugs, would he chase bubbles? I went to my bag of tricks and gave Misty and Alexa some bubbles. Sam was captivated.
Once he calmed down and began to focus we were getting somewhere. Athena, the horse professional came over and started mirroring his behavior to get his attention. Eventually she made eye contact and invited him to ride. Once on the horse, everything changed.
The next day, we had a horse ready for Sam when he arrived. After a few minutes of trotting, Athena would lead him to the camp circle to participate in the morning song ritual.
Sam participated in the activities and even joined other kids in water play. He was giving us high fives and seemed to be enjoying the group. He would run through the sprinkler, then run to us for approval. And then it happened, he came up and said something to us. At first we weren’t sure what he was trying to tell us. Then we realized he needed to go to the bathroom. Any mom who has ever potty trained a child knows how exciting that is!
Sam’s mom was shocked when we told her that Sam used the bathroom. Although he has used a public toilet before, he has never asked to use the toilet, public or not. This was a huge breakthrough!
We were all having fun with Sam and Sam really seemed to be enjoying himself. He has a special connection with the horses though and that is where he was most at ease. The horses seemed to like Sam too, you can see it in the pictures.
Sam started weekly therapy after camp. His mom said that his communication is improving, he uses verbs now. I can’t help but think we have a little bit of a miracle unfolding here.
I bet you will be able to pick Sam out in the video showing our week: