In April, National Autism Awareness Month, Trafalgar Square Books was pleased to release RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM, a new book that chronicles one riding teacher’s experiences using equine-assisted activities and therapy to instill confidence and promote independence in children with autism spectrum disorders.
RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM was originally published in the French language, but we at TSB felt the author’s inspirational stories of the challenges and joys she experiences in her work with children and ponies worth sharing. We hope it can serve as one more window through which we can begin to understand the autistic individual and what helps him or her develop a sense of self and learn to communicate with others.
The cover of the English edition of RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM features a wonderful photo taken by Kenan Cooper of a young man named Matthew, on a lovely horse, with his arms outstretched and a huge smile on his face. Matt began riding horses when he was four years old. But until then, Matt spent most of his time on the floor, lying on the couch, or in bed. He did not have the core strength to stay in an upright position. He could not kick, catch, or throw a ball—all simple things that many parents watch their small children do with ease.
When Matt began riding at Wings & Hooves Therapeutic Riding, Inc, of East Kingston, New Hampshire, “I began to witness a miracle unfold,” says Matt’s grandmother. “The riding brought such inner peace to Matthew. He went home happy and so proud of what he did with his horse each day. Over time, he sat up straight for longer and longer periods on horseback, and today, his instructor and side-walkers tell me Matt sits up for the entire lesson. The benefits of his therapeutic riding are immeasurable. For one hour a week, it is just Matt and his horse—a creature who in no way judges him, but supports him in mind, body, and spirit.”
The horse Matt is riding on the cover of RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM is Khlassic, an Arabian gelding who left behind his successful career showing in halter and hunter-pleasure classes to help new riders at Wings & Hooves (www.wingsandhooves.org), become GREAT riders, full of confidence and ready to do anything to which they set their mind.
“While the benefits of therapeutic riding and horsemanship activities have been medically documented, statistics alone cannot fully describe the true value of this service,” explains Karen Cuneo, founder and lead instructor of Wings & Hooves. “The look of confidence, pride, and achievement on a student’s face when they have successfully completed a task on horseback is the most profound measure of its value. The skills gained and abilities discovered at Wings & Hooves enrich life-skill development in each of our students. Such life skills are important, not only to the student and his or her family today, but the future and the greater good of community.”
Karen was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus at the age of 20, and has received three subsequent kidney transplants, so she has experienced firsthand the powerful, healing nature of the horse.
“Throughout my illnesses and recovery periods,” she says, “I realized that when I was with my horses and riding, I didn’t think about anything else but the horse I was with—not work, not life, not my illness or the circumstances surrounding the illness…my vision was then very clear: I wanted to share the magic of the horse with others facing their own personal challenges—whatever they may be. As I say to my riders, ‘Your eyes are the horse’s eyes’…your horse sees, feels, and reacts through you…they are a mirror of you. People of all ages can comprehend this, and the trust, bond, and relaxation begins.”
Wings & Hooves Therapeutic Riding, Inc, provides therapeutic horseback instruction to children and adults with physical, emotional, and developmental challenges. You can find out more about instruction, special events, and opportunities to volunteer on their website www.wingsandhooves.org.