Horseback riding is my passion. While my friends are at practice, I'm at the barn. In the summer of 1992, I was given the opportunity to use my knowledge of and love for horses in a unique way.
One of my younger brothers was eligible to participate in programs sponsored by VHSSA, or the Vermont Handicapped Ski and Sports Association. While I was watching him have a lesson, a friend, who happened to be an instructor, mentioned they were looking for volunteers. She knew I rode and asked if I would be interested. Always eager to be with horses, I said yes.
In the months that followed, I watched the sport, and the animals I love, work miracles. Children and adults with handicaps, some mild and others severe, came once a week for an hour of riding. Many came in wheelchairs, some barely able to sit up. A few were withdrawn, never smiling or laughing; others were unable to speak. No matter what their disability, a transformation occurred as they rode the patient school horses. Tightened muscles relaxed and huge smiles filled previously blank faces. The same people who had arrived dependent on others, left able to maneuver a horse through an obstacle course. I saw a little boy, who had never known the freedom of getting around on his own, earn the right to be let off the lead line and ride solo. Even those who always required assistance left the program with a sense of accomplishment - they had ridden a horse! Friendships developed between horse and rider. Those who wouldn't speak to other people, began to verbally praise their horses, and even thank them for the ride when the lesson was over.
Knowing that I had a part in putting smiles on these people's faces was the best feeling in the world. Giving truly is better than receiving. Yet I have received as well. Never again will I believe anything is impossible, because I have seen what true courage and determination can do. fl
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.