At age 9, I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism. I was in the fourth grade and having terrible trouble making and keeping friends. It was as if I were living on an alien planet, only I was the alien. Just when I thought I'd made a friend, that person would suddenly refuse to have anything to do with me.
I seemed to be every bully's favorite target. They would tease and laugh at me. They called me names like "freak" and "retard," and told me I was worthless. When I'd cry or become upset and have a meltdown, they'd just laugh.
It's hard for people to realize what life can be like for someone like me. I've never been asked to a sleepover
at a friend's house, or had anyone spend the night at my place. I don't have classmates I can text or call, like other girls my age. I've often felt that the world just doesn't want me, and have sometimes felt suicidal as a result. I struggle to live up to people's expectations, but it seems I inevitably fail.
A Turning Point
Shortly after my Asperger syndrome diagnosis, my mom discovered the Wings of Hope equine therapy stable near Burleson, Texas, not too far from where we live. I began taking riding lessons there, and helping to care for the horses, some of which had been abused by their previous owners.
This turned out to be a pivotal point in my life.
I discovered that when I got up on a horse's back, all the troubles I had melted away. I'd never before felt so free and happy. I soon graduated from being led at a walk to loping a horse on my own, with no assistance. I even got to compete in shows, which began to rebuild my battered self-esteem.
I was riding at the therapy stable once a week, but that wasn't enough for me, so my family started looking for a horse I could own. That's when I met The King Elvis, a gentle older gelding that a friend of my dad's had rescued. He had a drooping lower lip?the inspiration for his name, I learned. He also had a scar on his face and appeared to be missing some of his cheekbone. Life hadn't always been good to The King, and I realized he was a lot like me. My scars didn't show, but they were there, on the inside.
That horse became my best friend. When I had a bad day at school, I would go and ride him or just lay my head on his withers and cry my eyes out. He was always there for me. That's the wonderful thing about horses?they accept you just as you are. They don't care if you're pretty or ugly, fat or thin, normal or burdened with problems. They never mock or tease or hurt you for the fun of it. The King became my "safe place."
Horses Lost?and Found
Then, one terrible day, The King became sick and died. I couldn't believe it; it felt as if a part of my soul had died as well. I fell into a deep depression. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. That's when I met a wonderful lady, Elaine Nash, online. I belonged to an anti-slaughter group on Facebook; Elaine saw my posts and became concerned about me. We struck up a correspondence by phone, and before long she'd become a good friend.
Then Elaine did something amazing: She made it possible for me to acquire another horse. With my mother's permission, she arranged for me to become the owner of a 2-year-old Arabian gelding, plus got me connected to a Parelli Natural Horsemanship professional to help me learn how to train him.
This wasn't just any Arabian, however. Before Elaine introduced me to him, she asked that my mom and me watch the classic movie The Black Stallion. We did, and imagine my shock when Elaine told me the horse I would own was a grandson of Cass Ole, the stallion that played the Black in the movie! Cass Oles Beau is kind and gentle, and looks a lot like his famous grandsire.
That's not all Elaine did for me, though. She knew I'd need an older horse to ride while Beau was being trained. So she posted about it on Facebook, and a Canadian teenager who saw the post set up a page called "A Horse for Meghan." It took a few months, but one day Elaine called my mom and said the horse for me had been found. A woman who lived near us in Texas had a 17-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse mare that was a good fit for me. The woman had owned Ebony for over 14 years and wanted her to have a special home. My story had moved her to give Ebony to me as a gift.
Now I have two wonderful horses, each of which brings me a different kind of joy. And I still have my good friend Elaine, who's helped me to realize that I can trust people again.
The horses that have graced my life so far have blessed me with hope, happiness, and self-esteem. They've given me a sense of purpose and the courage to face the world.
In the truest sense imaginable, I feel that I owe them my life.
Meghan Dixon, 19, lives with her parents, David and Luci, in Rio Vista, Texas. She's busy training Beau and riding Ebony, and plans one day to write a book about her experiences.