As of spring, 2015, I created a new Sensory Trail especially for children with autism.
These lessons begin in a beautiful secluded outdoor arena. After all the preliminary lessons have accomplished a sense of confidence and comfort in a student, we leave the arena riding our lesson horse to ride on the SensoryTrail.
The trail meanders through a forest of mature Ponderosa Pines. Hanging in the trees are many surprises for all the senses. There are 30 colored baskets hanging in the trees notice with the eyes, containers with beautiful smells for the nose, carrots and gluten free pretzels to taste and share with your horse, musical books and puzzles that make sounds for the ears, and textures to challenge sensitive fingers.
The horse is already a celebration of sensory information for a child with autism: The relationship between student and horse, the heat of their body, the flowing, relaxing rhythmic movements that ground the central nervous system, the feeling of their mane and body hair, the sound of hooves on the ground, and the nickers and snorts that horses make.
Audrey Seeley, my Horse Time assistant and retired Autism Specialist and I have a special passion for children with autism. We make every effort to cater to this population and provide a meaningful therapeutic experience for them.
Many of my young students with autism present great shyness, fear or resistance in the beginning when they first meet a horse, or me, or my assistants. Patience and timing are key in these and all situations. If a new student is afraid, my staff and I remain calm and create and share our confidence. We offer repeated opportunities for the child to create a relationships with us and with their horse. There is no pressure, only invitation. There are wishes without agenda. I allow this process to unfold as it will. Given the time, encouragement and the space they need, the results of Therapeutic Riding have been truly profound for all of my students.
Audrey Seeley and I specialize in helping kids like this to to feel comfortable and confident as we support them to explore their potential. (For example, Ally Garber, who is featured throughout this website, Riding Cody on "Home Page", hid behind her mother's legs and would not even look at Cody the first day we met)
Working with The Sensory Trail all summer of 2015 has been remarkable. Children who were fearful, resistant or not motivated to even approach a horse at first, became so interested in the fun objects in the baskets that they found the courage to mount their horse to discover more. Now all of the children in my program are riding, demonstrating basic riding skills, and their parents report that their newly found confidence has spread into many other areas of their lives.