Last semester I had the opportunity to intern at the Camp Care Inc. Therapeutic Riding Program in Columbia, CT. Since I am minoring in Therapeutic Horsemanship Education, I was required to learn the basics of running a therapeutic riding program and being a therapeutic riding instructor. Throughout my internship, I had the opportunity to work with many different riders and instructors. Besides learning about why we do certain stretches with our riders, how to work with riders who may decide they don’t want to ride anymore mid-lesson, and safety practices for if things go awry, the Camp Care program gave me much more than I ever anticipated.
On my first day I met Kirsten, one of the riding instructors and my new mentor. She welcomed me with open arms and made me feel as though I’d been there for years. She quickly “taught me the ropes” and I jumped in with two feet. The barn work was easy to get used to, especially coming from a horsey background. I knew the basics of feeding, cleaning up, and exercising horses. What was completely new to me was working directly with the riders. Although I was a camp counselor for a few years at my local horseback riding camp, I had never had the opportunity to work with children with special needs.
For my first lesson, I got to work with Jake, a spunky teenager who suffered a traumatic brain injury. I quickly learned when the lesson started that Jake is an extremely determined and strong rider, despite his limited use of his body. Watching Jake steer his horse Mandy around obstacles, through poles, and over bridges simply amazed me. What was even better was that he laughed and smiled throughout the ENTIRE lesson. Naturally, I couldn’t help but laugh along with him. By the end my internship, we had switched Jake around to three different horses, tried out new obstacles, and had him ride without using his hands to practice his balance. He attacked each challenge with enthusiasm and would put 110% into everything that we asked of him.
Now I don’t think he realized it, but as I was teaching Jake, he was teaching me too. No matter the challenge, he pushed through and didn’t let his disabilities stand in his way. This made me step back and look at my own life in a new perspective. When I was feeling down and had a seemingly never-ending list of things to do, I would think of Jake and his determination. This immediately helped me to change my attitude and look at my to-do list as a challenge rather than a burden. I changed my mentality from “I can’t do this” to “I can and will get everything done”.
Jake also taught me to celebrate my achievements, no matter how small, to push myself and my limits in order to be better, that laughter is the best medicine, and that when you make a mistake, fix it, and move past it. Every Wednesday I would get to start my afternoon off with a smile and end my first lesson with a big high five. Jake will always hold a special place in my heart and I am grateful that he was not only one of my students, but one of my teachers as well.