If horses had rear-view mirrors, then after Monday night at Dream Riders I’d be looking at my comfort zone through it. It amazes me that every time I try to form a comfort zone, it quickly gets demolished, which I guess is a good thing and a great way to beef up my coping skills! It’s so hard to have a comfort zone when everything changes and I have to work with new horses and riders. I found out that we were short on volunteers Monday night so everyone was pulling double duty just to keep everything running semi- smoothly. I also found out that I would be working with not 1 but 2 historically “challenging” riders…. and on top of that, I would be working alongside my boss… no stress!
My first rider of the evening is a little guy named Mark. Mark has severe Autism and is easily over stimulated. He HATES wearing his riding helmet, and if the horse stops for too long, he starts to cry and wiggle around. Last week, he had a complete meltdown and his side walkers had to end his lesson early. Knowing all of this, I was a little apprehensive to work with him- I mean the only meltdown that I’ve ever handled was my own, and that is different! The fact that I would be working with both of my bosses (at different points during the lesson) offered little comfort; it might have made me more nervous. It’s difficult to remember the little rules/protocols when you’re the lead dog because you don’t usually have to worry about them all the time like the rest of us do. That’s fine, and I totally understand that when you’re in charge you can do things that usually aren’t done-like talking to the leader while side-walking. I felt pretty much by myself during part of the lesson because the conversation didn’t involve me, and there was little discussion about what was going on. Please don’t hear this as me speaking negatively about my superiors- I just found the dynamic of the “Leader” in the volunteer position very interesting (among other things.) I became hesitant and began to second guess myself while working with Miss Jennifer and Miss Corky because they have so much more experience than me. I’m not usually like that because I love what I do and I usually take more of an interest in the rider than I did the other night. Thankfully, there were no meltdowns with Mark Monday night! We had a fairly smooth ride and he seemed to enjoy being back in the saddle (literally.) It was difficult to work with him at times because he has a toy horse that he carries with him all the time and he kept playing with that rather than participate in the activities. He also has almost no verbal skills, which also presents its own challenges. Although I understand that these quirks are all qualities of Autism, it still doesn’t change the fact that I’, not 100% sure of how to best work with a person who has a more severe form of Autism than what I am used to. I really can’t wait to learn strategies for working effectively with patients who have Autism. I think, in part, it comes with practice!
Since we were so short staffed, I had to work the last lesson, which is a rare occurrence for me! I was working with a teenage rider named Raven who has an anxiety disorder and some sensory “issues” which makes it difficult for her to execute proper riding techniques at times. She loves to talk, and sometimes she fixates on certain topics of conversation. For instance, Monday night, I was told at least 15 times that she had her nails done last week and that she would be getting them done again soon. We could have been talking about worse subjects- but it was very interesting to hear the different ways she made the same story connect to whatever we were talking about at the time. Obviously it was very exciting for her to have been pampered- who can blame her for that?! After all, disability aside, she is still a 17 year old girl. It took me an embarrassingly long time to come to this conclusion- maybe by the fourth time she told me about it. Maybe that simple act made her feel “normal”… don’t most 17 year old girls enjoy having their nails sparkle? I know I did, and still do! She was fixating on it because it meant something to her, not because she couldn’t think of anything else to say! I guess that means that I am at least a little guilty of thinking about a rider in terms of his or her condition… not per-say in what they cannot do, but as a means of explaining why they do the things that they do. I forget that people who have disabilities can do things or react to things simply because they are human: that’s all the explanation needed. I hope that confessing this doesn’t make me a bad person- I would never “dis” a rider’s abilities, but I use the disability as a means to explain the situation around me. I am really thankful to Raven for repeating her story until I came to this realization!
It breaks my heart to think that in 3 weeks I will be leaving DR for the summer! I’ve grown used to the routine, even though it forces me to adapt to new things, I still love every minute of what I do… and I think that is the general idea about one’s vocation; even in the midst of challenges and or struggles, at the end of the day you love what you do.. and you willingly sign up to do it again!
Hours at barn: