Ben’s first horseback riding lesson was today. Enchanted Acres Equestrian Center and the lovely Miss Kelly and Miss Shelli offer wonderful individually tailored lessons for “exceptional” riders on Sundays. This is a different center than the one Ben visited with Mark back in November. That experience was so positive for Ben that we thought regular lessons might be something he would enjoy. That, and the therapeutic benefit of riding, of course.
Our first visit was last Sunday, where we observed another child during her lesson. Ben really enjoyed watching the little girl ride the gentle appaloosa, Spot, but continually asked if he could have a turn to ride. When the opportunity arrived, Ben eagerly put on his helmet, listened to the directions, indicated he knew his left foot would be put in the stirrup first, smiled as he was hoisted up into the saddle…and promptly freaked out. “MAMA! I DO NOT LIKE THIS. STOP! I WANT TO GET OFF! GET ME OFF OF THIS HORSE! AHHHH! I DON’T LIKE SPOT!”
We guided Ben to dismount and he ceased yelling, but made sure we all knew that he did NOT like it when Spot moved. Spot, to his credit, continued standing in the same place he had been during Ben’s stationary “ride”, munching the new grass beneath him, unaffected by Ben’s panic.
Along with the ASD, Ben has sensory integration difficulties. He can be hyper-sensitive to certain sensations, especially those that affect his balance and motor coordination. Maintaining his balance on an unpredictable, albeit stationary, grass munching horse was too much for Ben’s vestibular system. It was obvious we were going to have to begin this endeavor at a much slower pace.
Or so I thought.
Ben’s first lesson consisted of initial grooming tasks, then using the lead rope to guide Spot into the arena. There, Miss Kelly and Ben used finger paints to paint right on Spot. This was a neat tactile exercise that encouraged familiarity and comfort with the horse, while using all kinds of language, too. Next, Ben offered different foods for Spot to taste, including a can of Dr. Pepper which the horse snarfed and asked for more. (evil high fructose corn syrup!) Here Ben talked directly to Spot telling him “C’mon Spot, here’s your sweet feed. Do you like it? Eat some more.” So cute.
Lastly, Kelly and Shelli introduced us to the iGallop. It’s an electronic horse riding simulator that really does help you feel like you are in the saddle. There are 3 speeds on the iGallop, of which I anticipated Ben to vehemently protest. He was not eager to climb up, even after watching both Will and I take a happy turn. After encouragement, Ben agreed to get on with Mark and seemed to trepeditiously enjoy it. Once he realized that he could start, stop, or speed up the iGallop on his own, Ben gradually lost all inhibitions. We were actually a bit worried at the end that we’d have a hard time getting him off of it.
Hopefully we can transfer this success to riding the real thing. We can’t wait for next Sunday!