GUEST OPINION | I can do that

We recently had the opportunity to visit Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Woodinville. They had visited our early learning center to see and hear about our work of inclusion in the classroom. Now it was our turn to see their work. The Little Bit website describes therapeutic riding as a place “where miracles happen every day.” The day we visited was no exception.

After a quick tour of the offices where t-shirts are on sale that say “my therapist weights 1,100 lbs,” we went out to the arena. We shivered in the cold as three teenage girls in the adaptive riding program prepared their horses and themselves for a workout. After the girls mounted horses in turn with just the right touch of help and encouragement from the coach, they began walking slow circuits around the arena to warm their horses and to put themselves into the proper state of concentration necessary for the drills ahead.

One of the riders — the girl in the yellow down vest — was accompanied during her wamup laps by a volunteer who walked next to the horse giving encouragement and just that extra small measure of comfort and security. That an extra measure of comfort and security was needed became evident as the trio filed by our end of the arena. While the faces of the other two riders clearly showed a state of focused concentration (the look of a person carrying a very full pot of water across the room) the yellow-vested rider was clearly afraid. She declined the coach’s offer of a riding crop as she rode by with a terse “not yet.”

We headed off into the tack room to admire the well-organized collection of saddles and bridles, and then went on into the barn to pat the horses and let them snuffle us hopefully. We learned how hard it is to find a horse willing to be handled by so many people and what hard work it is for a horse to be an effective therapist. We learned also about what makes the riding experience so therapeutic — the extraordinary sense of control a rider has while atop a horse, the range of motion involved in staying on a moving horse, and the array of sensory inputs involved in riding.

When we returned to the arena from the barn two amazing sights awaited us. One was the very small child who had just been lifted from his wheelchair and was now being deposited lovingly on a horse waiting patiently in the mounting ramp at our end of the arena. And off he went with a therapist engaging him on one side, a volunteer walking along for safety on the other side, and a staff member skillfully driving the horse from behind with long reins as if plowing a field instead of changing a young life. That a young life was being changed became clear when they approached our end of the arena after the first lap. The joy on that young child’s face outshone the sun on this sleety grey afternoon.

The other amazing sight was our yellow-vested rider, cantering along on her now-frisky mount down the middle of the arena flourishing her crop like a pro. The volunteer who had provided a measure of comfort and security earlier was nowhere to be seen. The coach led each rider in turn through a drill that involved directing the horse through an obstacle course and making sure the horse did things her way. When yellow-vest’s turn came around she absolutely aced it. The horse pranced through the obstacles perfectly, under the total control of a supremely confident rider. Yellow-vest circled by us, her face now a million-watt smile of pride and accomplishment.

Did I forget to mention that each of these riders has a disability of some sort? It doesn’t really matter when they are riding, because riding is all about ability. Which of course is how miracles occur, by focusing on ability whether in the classroom, in the workplace — or in the paddock. Please visit the Little Bit website at www.littlebit.org and see for yourself.

Tom Everill is the President and CEO of Northwest Center. Contact him at inside@nwcenter.org.

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