Recipe For A Smile:
- Patient, experienced horse (with assorted equipment)
- 2-3 Dedicated professionals (riding instructor, occupational therapist)
- Caring Volunteers (Horse Leader, Side walkers)
- Human (large or small) with significant life challenge.
Mix professionals, volunteers and horse in large arena. Blend until skilled team forms.Introduce human into mixture, gently bringing expectations from simmer to boil. Add color, light, and music to taste. Sprinkle liberally with fun and love. Smile may be maintained indefinitely with regular infusions from the hearts of devoted supporters providing equipment, time, skills, and funds. Recipe may be doubled as needed.
At the invitation of a friend, I recently spent a day at one of the most unique riding programs I have ever seen. Located just outside of Greybull, Wyoming, the Body and Spirit program uses instructors and other volunteers to provide mentally and physically challenged individuals with an opportunity to increase their life skills, through interaction with horses.
As soon as the riders started arriving, I could see the truth in that famous quote: "There's something about the outside of a horse that's good for the inside of a man." Or woman or child. . . .
Sandy McFadden, owner of the McFadden Ranch, started Body and Spirit in 1998. She and Cindy Hinkley established the program, first receiving certification through the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NAHRA). Sandy also has a John Lyons Trainer's Certification.
Body and Spirit has two programs: HIPPO (Greek for horse) THERAPY, in which the horse influences the rider, and THERAPEUTIC RIDING, in which the rider influences the horse.
Safety is paramount. Riders wear helmets. A horse leader is in total control of the horse at all times. Side walkers on both sides of the horse steady the rider in the saddle. The instructor is in charge of the lesson and explains the maneuvers to be practiced.
The first client of the day is Brian, who has Down's Syndrome. I introduce myself and ask Brian's permission to watch the lesson, take notes, and photographs. Nothing shy at all about Brian. He gives me a smile as big as Texas, and says, "Sure"!
As Chanda (Horse Leader), Cindy (Side Walker) and Priscilla (Volunteer) assist, Brian first grooms his mount, Duke, and assists with tacking up, identifying the different parts of a saddle and bridle.
Mounted on Duke, Brian is steadied by side walkers, and the lesson begins. Sandy instructs Brian on several tasks meant to improve Brian's balance. As they prepare to start, Sandy asks Brian what he should say. "Walk on please," Brian politely commands Duke. As the team walks around the indoor arena, I'm amazed at the concentration on Brian's face. This is no ride in the park for him. He not only must use his muscle coordination to balance on his mount, but also his memory of previous lessons, from brushing his horse, to naming the tack used, and repeating maneuvers under saddle. At the end of the lesson, Brian gives a "high five" to everyone, including me. My eyes are misting. I blame it on the sun.
The next client is Mike. Mike is seven years old, and has cerebral palsy. This time, Cindy, an occupational therapist, is the instructor. Mike practices putting plastic rings on a post. When I first saw Mike come into the arena, I could see how tense he was, but as soon as he was mounted on Duke, he relaxed. I could see a transformation, somewhat unexplainable to me. But, just like Brian, there is that grin.
The third lesson of the day is with Penny, who has cerebral palsy and limited vision. As I talk with Penny, I get that big smile. Smiles seem to be contagious here, and Cindy, Sandy and DaNae seem to be having as much fun as their students.
Next is Brooke, another cerebral palsy child, mounted on Hollywood. Brooke has been coming to Body and Spirit for almost four years, and her mother says she can see marked improvement in Brooke's coordination and attitude.
Like Brian, Mike, Penny and Brooke, clients come to Body and Spirit from all over the Big Horn Basin area of Wyoming. Those that can afford to pay something, do, and anonymous donors contribute funds for those without the means. The horses and most of the tack have been donated by local residents.
On the wall of the arena is posted a sign that no doubt has special meaning for the clients when they first enter the program: "Courage is Being Scared to Death but Saddling Up Anyway." -- John Wayne
For more information on Body and Spirit, contact Sandy McFadden, McFadden Ranch, 2480 Lane 30 ½, Greybull, WY 82426. Phone 307-765-9684.