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Hope Has Four Legs (edited version)
When I first walked into the stable that day, I didn't know what to expect. I was there to volunteer to help handicapped kids ride horses for therapy, and I must admit, I was scared. Thoughts about the different people I would face, how heart wrenching it would be to see those handicapped kids. As the first day approached, the thought "Can I really do this?" kept going through my head.
"Hello. You must be Sarah. I'm Kait, here are some brushes, would you be able to brush Cash?" A girl of about 19 walked up to me with buckets of grooming supplies.
"Yes" I was relived it was something I know how to do, something that came natural. I relieved her of one bucket.
"Great. We have about fifteen minutes" she walked away, setting a bucket outside each stall. Other volunteers got straight to work grooming.
As I get into the familiar rhythm of grooming a horse, i let my thoughts drift. What kind of handicaps did the kids have? What if I do something wrong, and they fell off? What if the kids scare me? This last thought scared me, and I just focused on the horse.
Too soon, Kait comes and yanks me out of my trance. I see a little girl, no more than four or five. She's African American, and adorable. I don't see anything visibly wrong with her, other than she looked a little awkward running down the stable aisle.
"She has Spinal problems. She's just recovered from her third surgery." My heart broke with pity at what Kait whispered.
Alana* wanted to run to the horses. she hugged them, and said to me as I held her belt to make sure she was steady: "Some people look at me funny. But the horses don't care. They just want you to get better so you can bring them more carrots. Same with the peoples here. They don’t care either. They just want to sing and play games."
A five year old said this. FIVE. Just then i realized, sometimes we need to be like horses. We need to help people carry their burdens, and carry them when their weak. We need to allow people to lean on us, and eventually, they'll do the same for us.
I fell in love with volunteering there, and went every Tuesday and Thursday. Before I knew it, the last day of summer was upon us. That day, we had a horse show for all the kids who rode with us during the summer. It was so amazing to see those kid's eyes light up when they saw their trophies, and they each thought the horse on top was the horse they happened to be riding.
We were about to change "Classes" (grouped by how experienced, and what they were able to do.) to a trail (obstacle course) and red light/green light class, and a little boy, about 9 years old, comes off the horse, and walks towards the horses head. I was just about to tell him to be careful, but then he did something that had everyone around choked up with tears. He reached up and hugged that horse so tight and just said "Thanks, Masada. You’re my bestest friend in the whole world. I love you." and walked away.
We (the volunteers) posed for silly pictures, and got lots of hugs. In this line of ‘work’, you can’t be ashamed to laugh, cry, be pelted with balls, dress up in silly costumes, listen, talk, play, sing loudly and off key, or be pooped on by pesky barn swallows. The most important thing though, is you have to be ready to learn, and be open to everyone you meet.
1. Attitude is everything. You need to go in positive, and the rest will figure itself out.
2. When in doubt, ask Tanner*. He'll know. Or convince you that he does
3. When the world thinks your different, smile in the mirror and get on with your life
4. Cognitively disabled people have many more valuable lessons to teach us than what we could ever possibly teach them.
5. Smiles are free. But only on Tuesdays.
6. Kids love to dress up horses in hats, bows, streamers, and anything else on hand.
7. You will form a bond with every single person you work with, and that bond can never be broken ever.
8. When you do something embarrassing because of stupidity, laugh about it. Soon you’ll forget about how embarrassing it is.
9. Don’t hold back the hugs when someone you know is down in the dumps.
10. Lastly, no matter what odds are against you, never, ever give up.
*Names have been changed to protect identity