“Isaiah Forte, 9, flashes a brilliant smile from the horse he’s riding,” writes TODAY contributor Linda Carroll in the show’s November 12th feature story that shares how horses can help children with autism. “Diagnosed at 2 with autism, Forte for years had difficulty communicating and connecting with others. But then the little boy met a smallish chestnut mare at the HorseAbility Center for Equine Facilitated Programs in Westbury, N.Y., and everything started to change.
“‘We struggled to find a breakthrough,’ Isaiah’s dad, Rick Forte, told TODAY, tears welling up in his eyes. ‘HorseAbility . . . really gave him confidence. That, to me, was like his coming out party. That was awesome.’”
In RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM, French riding instructor Claudine Pelletier-Milet shares countless stories on this subject—her own anecdotal evidence—of how horses can be the means to forming and nurturing lines of communication while encouraging a healthy and natural evolution of self in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
“Children learn that they can exert control over their pony,” writes Pelletier-Milet in RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM. “This gives them the idea of ‘otherness’…at the same time they see that the pony responds to language just as they do…They also understand that they can be a little afraid of the pony and similarly, the pony is a little afraid of them…they have to learn to treat the pony as they want the pony to treat them.
“The pony holds them safely in the saddle; it rocks them comfortingly; it carries them along faster than they could move on their own legs…Their head is higher than their parents’, and this gives them a new feeling of independence and power…They have to learn about cooperation, give and take, and caring for an animal.
“The pony is the means for autistic children to develop contact with their body, their feelings, their emotions—and with other people.”