According to The Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation, individuals with autism can benefit from equine, or horse-assisted, therapy due to the motor, emotional, and sensory sensations that come with riding a horse. Children with autism create a bond with these gentle animals through non-verbal expression. When a child pats, brushes, or caresses a horse, they build an emotional bond that most children with autism may have trouble building with people. Equine therapy also allows a child to take lead in certain activities with the horse and give the child opportunities to take direction. A child’s senses are also engaged throughout the therapy as the horse trots, a great source of sensory integration.
The American Autism Association proudly hosts the Saddle Up for Autism program for children with autism in Miami , FL. Each season, we take on about 10 children with their families on a 10-week long adventure. The Spring 2017 program began this past Saturday, February 18th and I was lucky enough to have facilitated it.
The past week was a combination of nerves and excitement as I planned the introductory class. Buying supplies, planning crafts, and reaching out to the participating families and volunteers was a whirlwind. Saturday morning came and I could not contain the excitement. My youngest brother, Nicolas who has autism, would be participating along the other children and as a sister and facilitator, I couldn’t wait to meet all the families and start the program.
As each child arrived on the ranch with their parents, you could feel the anticipation in the air. We began a tour of the ranch and while passing the horse corrals, the children, and parents, could not help but reach out to pet these gentle giants.
We walked back towards the front of the ranch and my co-facilitator, Carlos from El Paso Ranch, began taking each child on a short ride. Some kids were hesitant and fought to get on the horse but with a bit of encouragement, each one bravely put on their helmet and rode. While each child rode, the rest of the group stayed behind working on crafts and exploring the land. Some kids could not wait to take off in a sprint enjoying the open space, while others thrived with finger paint and construction paper.
As each child came back from their ride, I couldn’t help but notice the serenity they felt on the trotting horse. The look and gentle touch the children would give to the horse seemed so calm and loving as if they had known that animal their entire life. No words needed to be said to know an emotional bond was made in that short ride between horse and child. Even the children who at first seemed hesitant to touch the horse and initially fought back, were then pleading to get another ride. This is an extremely rewarding program, and I am grateful to be facilitating the Saddle Up for Autism program for the Spring 2017 season!