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Hello to the experienced riding instructors out there. I have been trying to think of different horse jobs I might like to be apart of, and to be completely honest, no idea has ever really got to me like being a riding instructor. And not just any riding instructor.
You see, ever since I met my friend who has Cerebral Palsy, I have been deeply interested in working up to being a riding instructor for students who require therapeutic horses, just as my dear friend does. (She used to ride hunter/jumper, and owned two of her own horses until a twist of horrid events.)
My whole dream? To someday have a little ranch that doubles as a retirement for aged horses, and a drop-off point for horses that can no longer be homed by their owners. Horses found suitable will be used as therapy horses, and previous owners will always be welcome to visit their horses to see how they're fairing in their new home. This includes horses bought, donated, and placed in retirement. Bought horses, if young enough, will be thoroughly trained and donated to low-income homes and boarded for low-charge or free under special conditions. Donated horses, with permission, will also be donated to other homes with special-needs children.
I really love this idea, and I know it will take a lot out of me. But it fits my personality, and I would love to train children who are not special-needs to help financially.
Before I can ever do this though, I obviously need experience in training children on horseback. Right now, I am doing a friend a favor and training his child in horsemanship. This has only pushed the idea and dream further, and I wanted opinions.
I know it's a big dream, and that may be all it is, but I'd like to think it perfectly possible.
I worked at a wonderful place called Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp in Oregon as a Therapeutic Riding Instructor. You see, all of the campers, from age 8 to over 70 had a disability ranging from mild physical disabilities to completely debilitating disabilities that did not allow any motor function or communication. Even campers with mild Asperger's and Autism, Palsy, Paralysis and Quad/Paraplegic, and so on.
Every camper got the opportunity to ride, even those who could not verbalize or hold themselves upright. We had the wonderful assistance of an "adaptive saddle"; an Aussie saddle with a metal frame that allowed a cushioned back/head rest to be attached, as well as adjustable arms with handles. Not all campers needed this, and some with paralysis even rode in regular synthetic western saddles. All campers wore a "gate belt"; a belt with handles for assistants to walk alongside and hold onto in case of a fall.
Campers got to go on trail rides (with slopes, logs, gates to open, branches to duck under or go around, and different pathways to choose from), and/or complete an obstacle course including weaving cones, tossing a frisbee into a lasso goal on the ground, poles to walk over, and the like. Campers were encouraged to dress up their horse with a funny hat, a bandana, sunglasses, or other safe costume item, and join in on the fun themselves!
I worked at camp for 8 straight weeks, upwards of 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, and learned more about myself there than I did in 12 years of public school. When I started, I was uncomfortable around people with disabilities, was not sure how to act around people with Autism or Down Syndrome, or how to talk to people who merely were in a wheelchair. When I finished camp, I had made lifelong friendships with some of the campers, did not think twice about conversing with someone with Down Syndrome (as they are normal people too!) and felt confident and comfortable being my goofy self around any and all of the campers.
This was just 8 weeks on a mountain in the middle of Oregon's Mt. Hood National Forest, and because of it, my aspirations have changed forever. I now seek to also become a therapeutic riding instructor on a more permanent basis. Getting involved can be a long road; some advice I suggest is becoming fluent in American Sign Language, learning about special education procedures in public school settings, learning about speech pathology and deaf education, as well as learning about various disabilities like the Autism Spectrum, Down Syndrome, Palsy, and other common disabilities. Learn the common lingo as well! I made the mistake with my bunk mate and fellow riding instructor who was a translater for a school for the deaf if saying "hearing impaired." "Deaf people want to be called deaf; they aren't stupid, they just don't hear," was the response I got.
Also learn some basic procedures for emergencies; seizures, choking, and extreme behavioural outbursts.
It is a long road to become proficient, but with a good backup staff also trained (in specific areas even, which could be helpful and help speed up the process, as well as help riders build one-on-one relationships) it is well worth it.
Maybe you can find a place like MHKC to gain experience?
Good luck and I am glad to see someone else interested in the world of therapeutic riding!
Look into NARHA :)
Thanks guys! And thank you so much RunSlideStop. I love your story, it was very heart-warming.
I have a cousin who is autistic, a step-mother who also has CP, my friend has a paraplegic, and my aunt who I'm close to is half-deaf. I admit I don't know sign language, as my aunt has learned to read lips. I have always been interested in learning though. I have also found I LOVE children with down-syndrome. The ones I have had experience with were always really cool and loving of the people around them, even if they couldn't speak a full sentence.
I know there will be moments in my learning process that I'll be a little off-put, but only because I'd be new to the experience. My friend told me of a place in Missouri that does therapeutic riding, and I've thought about working there. If I move to CO, I'm also going to look into volunteering when I can at any barn I find for this purpose.
My friend that I've mentioned loves horses and wishes all the time that she could ride them again. This, even after they technically having been associated with a horrible incident involving sexual abuse - having whatever she wanted, including horses, being her "shut-up and you get this" bribe. She says they took her mind off of things.
I was also spiked the thought in my preteens when watching The Saddle Club. I was kind of inspired by the episode of the blind girl who said, "I love (horse's name). It's like he's my eyes to see." <-- not a perfect quote, but I love it.
I always remember that and it always makes me really happy to think back to it. I know there's boys and girls out there who feel that way in real life.
Also worth noting: Our campers went over simple safety guidelines every time thry arrived to ride: Always wear your helmet, your gate belt, and you can only ride with these things plus your counselor! Remember horses are sensitive and can become upset if we run, yell or shout, or hit the horses. We want to use calm hands and calm voices so our horses are calm and happy to be ridden!
Only two campers were allowed out of the waiting area at a time with their counselor, and each ride included riding instructor, counselor, and if the very top-heavy adaptivd saddle was used, an additional person to hold the other side of the saddle/camper to keep from swaying or damaging the horse's back. We only let two at a time because there were only two of us instructors, and we only had 4 horses (half day on, half day off for the pairs since days were gruelling work in the sun walking around for 4 or 5 hours straight).
Campers waiting would play games, color pictures, sit on a saddle bolted to a barrel and try to rope a steer head, or feed treats/brush horses who were resting, under supervision.
Sometimes we let more able campers help tack up, taking the time to teach them anatomy, parts of the tack, behavior (ears pinned v ears forward, etc), and grooming techniques. Teamwork, compassion for others, patience, etc came as a hidden cherry on top of the sundae!
In the end, this simple routine took up the majority of our day aside from other obligations at campfires, hikes, barbeques, abd assisting with wake up/dressing, bed time, and setting the tables/putting out food for the 150-200 person dining hall (all with camper assustance)!
On that note, I suggest specializing in one area. Instruction or horse rescue. I think you will very quickly burnout trying to save the world and pay the bills. Both are admirable, so do what your heart tells you. With enough help and money, both are possible!
ETA: A quick note for lingo, a "politically correct" way of speaking and thinking about disabilities is to put the person first, then their disability. Do not ignore their disability, and don't let it become what defined them. Example: He HAS Down Syndrome vs He is Downs. She HAS Autism vs She is Autistic. She is in a wheelchair because of paralyses vs She's paraplegic. - Does that make sense? Some like deafness and blindness are okay; She is deaf, she is blind, etc. For non-physical and most physical disabilities though, a person is not that disability, they merely have it/suffer from it. :)
Hey OP! If you are wanting to be an instructor for therapeutic horses and children, I would look into PATH!
I just recently got certified as an Advanced instructor. I love it! Every time I feel like I am having a bad day, those kids show me how thankful for my day I should be. There is nothing like it.
RSS: don't worry about how I treat those with a disability. Between my stepmom, friend, and my own disabilities (that I don't want) I'll be cool with 'em.
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