Autistic 10 year old now terrified- suggestions?
I'm going to try to make this very long story as short as I can. I couldn't decide where to put this thread, but figured this is probably the best place for it.
I am 'half leasing' two geldings from a friend in exchange for keeping them tuned up and teaching her son to ride. She is an advanced beginner/intermediate re-rider who took a break from horses for 20 years and just started up again, he is beginner who has been doing lessons for two years, but as a form of therapy. I will call the mom K and the son L to keep things straight.
L is autistic. He is not 'severely' autistic, but he is properly diagnosed, in therapy, and displays all of the symptoms. He is verbal. He is ten years old, and has been doing therapeudic riding for 2 years, with the past 8 months being with him learning to direct the horse himself. He has always adored riding. I helped K pick his own personal horse out for him once he was ready, and the gelding is a lovely 12 year old 15.1hh horse who is very quiet and typically very tolerant...but he IS a horse and therefore if you don't command respect from him, you'll lose it. The idea was for him to have his own horse to ride during the week on the trails with his mom, and then do a lesson once a week. K also has a horse who is not a kids horse but is fairly tolerant as well.
Well, the boy, L got away from K one day about a month ago and ran to the pasture in with the horses. She followed him out, but not before L proceeded to run behind his horse flapping his arms, and hit the gelding in the face. The gelding kicked one back foot at him warningly and grazed his leg. Obviously the gelding should not have done this, but it was jut a bad situation all around and it was just as much L's fault for running behind a horse and doing that, after being told not to. That was all dealt with, the gelding was reprimanded, and we explained to L that he must never, ever run behind a horse or even go in the pasture when he is told not to, etc etc.
L is fine. No bruise or anything. He cried and was terribly upset but is not injured, though I'm sure he was very sore. But now he absolutely hates his horse. And it terrified of him. As in, he will not touch the horse, will not feed the horse, will not ride the horse. We assume that, because he is autistic, maybe he was more traumatized than the average person would be, and so we are trying to meet him where he is and encourage him, but he is now at the point where he believes that any horse, including the lesson horse, will "throw him off" (we don't know where he got this, as he has never fallen off and is actually a very decent young rider with lovely balance.) and kick him. We explain calmly that as long as he listens to us for safety, the horse will not hurt him. We always have his horse on a lead line when the boy is around them, and are taking precautions to make sure the gelding is on his best behavior. But L is still terrified. He works himself up and just repeats to himself "I'm scared, I'm scared, I'm scared...." until he's so anxious that you can't talk him out of it.
So now we're trying to decide what to do. It appears that his greatest anxiety is mounting now, so I've gotten him a mounting block so that he can just slide onto the horse rather than having to vault up onto him like he used it. The horse is VERY quiet and will stand there all day waiting if you ask him to. I've tried mounting before him and offering to ride double with him, but it has not worked. Last week we finally coaxed him to get on his mom's gelding, who again is not a kids horse but on a lead line is OK for the boy (very well trained horse, but he is more sensitive so isn't a beginners horse) after about 30 minutes, by suggesting a picnic and using the horse as a mode of transportation TO the picnic. He seemed to enjoy that, but two days later when we tried again, he was right back to "I'm scared, I'm scared, I'm scared" and he still will not touch his horse. We are fine with him riding K's horse until his confidence back, but now he doesn't even want to do that, or ride the lesson horses.
The gelding was not cheap. $2400. He is a good horse, but must be respected and must be treated like a horse. I keep him tuned up and ready for L. We want L to enjoy horses, but he is getting worse and worse about his fear despite nothing going wrong, rather than better, and we don't know what to do at this point. Now we are afraid that he may be done with horses all together because of that incident, and if that is the case,a LOT of money has been invested in this for naught (they moved specifically so they could own horses). So now we don't know what to do.
I put this in the therapy board hoping someone with experience with disabled kids may have an idea. I am experienced with them, but I work more with physical disabilities and mitochondria, not autism, so I am not sure how his brain works, why he is so afraid now, and how we should help him overcome this. I really feel like he CAN, but I don't know if we should a. require him to get up and ride each time even if he is resistant, and just make sure they end on a good note, or b. let him stop riding and just encourage him to work with the horses on the ground. The problem with that though is he doesn't want to lead, or brush, or pet his horse or his mom's horse either. He WILL 'bathe' them by spraying them with the horse, so we've been letting him do that, but that's all the progress we've made. The therapy/lesson facility is basically just letting him do what he wants out there and this week he didn't even ride or really go near the horse- so we're not sure that's going to help us too much. Any suggestions? Is it best to slow way down and let him just be on the ground with him, or should we push him a little? I'm really at a loss here and so it his mom.
Thanks for any insight, whether that it about how autistic minds work, what to do with him and the horses, ideas for his instructors or for me, etc. At this very moment my approach is to make everything about horses FUN and hope he gets over his fear little by little, but eventually he has to learn that sometimes we get hurt or the horses do dumb things (who knows, maybe one will spook with him one day, or he'll fall or something) but we just have to get back on and keep trying. Last week we went for a trail ride and picnic, Wednesday we hosed the horses off and just hung out with them, tomorrow we plan to insist that he rides, but let him ride his moms gelding if he wants to, and do a short ride then bathe them as a reward- since L enjoys that. But it doesn't seem to be working as well as I'd like.
Everyone in your life is meant to
be in your journey, but not all of
them are meant to stay till the end.