If you are not familiar with what a therapeutic riding center is, visit the UpReach website for an overview.
Many riders require three volunteers - a leader and two side walkers, as well as an instructor. For the last several months, I've been with D, a wheelchair bound, non-verbal male who I would estimate is in his mid-thirties. It is a challenge working with someone who does not communicate. How do you know if they are happy, or sad? Or if something you do hurts them?
Last Tuesday was one of those picture perfect days in NH. The sun was shining, it was 70 degrees, and there was enough of a breeze to keep the black-flies (also known as the NH state bird) away. We decided to head outside for a trail ride. Yes, a real trail ride, back through the woods. Over the years UpReach has cleared a wide trail, and even built bridges across small creeks, so riders can enjoy some time out with nature.
D rides Frodo, a Belgian cross who looks somewhat like a big teddy bear, and likes to nibble on his leader's nearest body part when something makes him unhappy. Like most horses in therapeutic programs, he is calm and extremely intelligent.
Our trail ride starts by climbing a pretty steep hill. Then back through the woods we go. Imagine how much fun it must be for someone who spends their life in a wheelchair, with people looking down at them, to be on top of a horse, looking down on everyone else.
Imagine being unable to move without assistance. Now imagine the thrill of being out in the woods, seeing sites that you can't see from the back of a handicap van, or your apartment. What must it be like?
It must be wonderful, because for a fleeting moment, I looked back, and I know I saw it. D smiled.