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Story from a Volunteer

© Margaux Dunbar Hession 6/23/14 (Here is a beautiful story that captures the essence of our Program written by an amazing volunteer…)

I Am, We Are…..Whinny-ing Words from Santa Ynez Valley Therapeutic Riding Horses

Mornin’ Valley Neigh-bors, I’m Baard, a Norwegian Fjord gelding, a proud therapy horse at the Santa Ynez Valley Therapeutic Riding Program.

With my creamy tan coat, white Mohawk mane with a chocolate stripe, my kids at the program chuckle and call me an ice cream swirl in a sugar cone, which sounds as good to me as a seven-layer carrot cake. I’m happy to be a therapy horse, because helping my kids is a special treat for me.

It’s a crisp, summer morning and I’m here at the Equestrian Center with my nine-horse family, ready to start our lessons on our six-day work week.

Our lesson riders, boys and girls dressed in cowboy boots and riding helmets, wait in their own kids corral as my horse brothers and sisters look on from theirs. Our kids are looking to connect and learn, to feel loved, appreciated, and respected. To be heard, seen, and understood. To feel free from what ails them. We are more alike than most people know.

Fed, brushed, and saddled up by my volunteer, I’m led to the mounting ramp to meet my shy girl rider in a pink helmet. She looks skyward, feels for my reins, her sparkly boots step into my stirrups as she is helped into my saddle. Peggy the Program Director whispers to me that this shy little girl cannot see.

I stand up taller, ready to help, for today, I am her eyes.

Each week, my little girl who cannot see steers me places she could not reach on her own. We trot and the wind fills her hair as she runs safely through her darkness. I see what her heart sees and together we go to the places of her dreams.

My buddy Hawk, a red quarterhorse, clops up to the mounting ramp. A boy in a wheelchair lifts his head and smiles when he sees him. The boy’s core is too weak to sit up on his own. Hawk whinnies over to me, “Miss Kimmie says my boy’s legs have never walked, his feet have never felt the ground. Today, I’ll give him his first steps. Today, I am his legs. Today my boy will walk and even run.”

As instructor Amy adjusts my girl’s stirrups, I snort back at Hawk. “That’s why they say we are special horses – we are the horses that Walk, Trot, Heal.”

My sister Mari, who looks like me, joins us in our arena – a playground of poles to jump over, barrels to trot around, cones to serpentine through and hoops to catch our basketballs. A quiet boy sits in her saddle, his eyes off in the clouds. Mari blows out a long breath, “Instructor Merilee says my boy hardly speaks,” she flicks her tail, “so today, I am his voice. At our last lesson, he hugged me and said his first words: ‘Love you.’” Mari lifts her head high. “I did that.”

Whinnies and snorts murmur through the other horses’ paddocks.

Our tall, black and white mare Elsie purrs out “Hey…”

“Hay is for horses,” snickers our orange miniature mascot, Teacup.

Glimmering gold Nick chortles as Executive Director Robin tosses him a handful of hay. “Ha. What you lack in long legs Teacup, you’ve got in attitude, kid.”

Elsie flings her shimmery white locks off her ebony brow. “Instructor Taylor told me my boy can’t hear, so today, I am his ears. My boy watches me follow his rein commands. I know he hears me when I whisper, “You got it!’”

Little Dunny sticks his head out his paddock window, “Volunteer Coordinator Karie told me my girl got bullied at school, so today I am her confidence. I let my girl take charge of me and when she canters me and her frown turns upside down, I smile inside, knowing I put it there.”

Funelope bats her long eyelashes. Her dappled spots sparkle in the sun. “My volunteer J.J. says my kids think I am magic, but to me, they are the magic. When we trot together, I feel like we’re flying through the skies like a Pegasus. They give me my wings.”

Our horse leader, Indian paint Dooley steps slowly to his gate, looks over us and speaks in his low, wise voice, “One look in our eyes and all will see our souls are one. Child and horse, together we are one joy, one heart, one soul. Together, we heal each other.”

© Margaux Dunbar Hession 2014