I have a small commercial company and a regular once a month gig in my small town. I’m hired by the town to do free rides. Last night was very busy so I rolled back to back for 3 hours with just little breaks for loading and unloading, water, petting and pictures. On a night like that when there is a line (the ride is about 8 minutes long- 2 square blocks) I don’t usually get so much of a chance to connect with people before and after the ride. My husband does crowd control and tries to get groups paired up the right size … but for me it’s a little chaotic to pull in- get tipped say goodby- keep a watchful eye on the petting and monitor the next group loading… all while a 30 member evangelizing church choir directly across the street is singing (Amazingly beautiful by the way) traditional hymns with a loudspeaker (yes- they purposely position themselves at my carriage stand so they could sing to the captive audience- my line) … it’s just a tad overwhelming once the singing gets going and I can only really talk with the people once we get to the backside of the block.
So I pull in from one ride and there at the front of the line is a woman with a child with a disability. She had thought that maybe the boy could pet the horse- but my husband thought they’d like a ride. I think the woman was shy and a little nervous and didn’t want to spoil someone else’s ride by sharing the carriage with them. The boy was probably about eight and not able to speak- but my husband said that as soon as he mentioned actually taking the ride to the mom- that the boy really got excited- so for the kid’s sake- my husband encouraged her to do it- and he also just let the two of them have the whole carriage to themselves. Now I was out on a ride when all of this was going on- so when I pull in- the choir is singing-Amazing Grace loud enough to put Metallica to shame- I can see the boy is squealing even if i can’t hear him over the choir- and and he’s flapping his arms and wringing his hands- the mom looks really worried and my husband is just smiling at me and pushing them toward the carriage. I was afraid as it sometimes happens- that the idea was fun right up to the time that they have to put their foot on the step… some kids, even kids without a disability, just get scared. Well this little boy also had some balance issues- so mounting the carriage was a little harder for him- but he made it. The sounds he was making sounded worried to me- so I assured the mom that if he was frightened we would stop. She said that she was pretty sure he’d be fine as soon as we started moving…
WOW. The boy was about to EXPLODE with glee. His hands started fluttering around like a butterfly demolition derby- and he giggled and giggled hysterically- like someone was tickling him and he couldn’t catch his breath. He sat on the backwards facing seat nearest me and watched the horse over my box seat. His mom said- “Wow- he’s so happy.” and I asked her- I said, “Now I don’t know him- is this like Christmas Morning Happy?” and she said- “Oh no, much more than that!”
Then he switched seats to sit beside his mom- still wiggling and giggling- and he wanted to stamp his feet on the floor of the carriage- (also- something that kids, even without a disability- want to do with amazing frequency) and something which my horse really hates… not spook hates- more like fingernails on a chalkboard hates- just gets really tense in the back- so I asked him to try to not do that- and the mom also tried to restrain him a little- but she couldn’t really- but I think the boy could understand me and I think he solved the problem himself because almost right away he came back to the original seat which he sat on sideways with his feet up on the cushion and his legs were immediately quiet while his hands fluttered and fidgeted.
And then about 3 1/2 blocks into the ride something even more amazing than his initial joy happened… the most beautiful peacefulness washed over him. He stopped laughing and wiggling and his eyes almost rolled up in his head- he was looking at the sky and the tops of the buildings- his mouth fell open and he started to sway very slowly. The last two blocks of the ride his eyes were half closed and he looked like he might fall asleep. I wonder if there may have been an endorphin rush from the intense happiness that hit him with a mellow. I don’t know really- we were back at the loud Choir and my husband helped him out and he told me later that after the boy got out of the carriage he didn’t want to let go of my husbands hand.
I’m sure people who work professionally with hippotherapy experience this sort of thing all the time- but for me it’s a rare treat and I just wanted to share. I really wanted to write about it on my facebook- but because it’s my small town, I want to respect their privacy a little.