The writer is a young adult student with Autism. Fully 1/3 of our participants are somewhere along the Spectrum, so she is illustrative of many of our participants. She also is very determined, and has really met all the challenges she faces. She was the only one to demonstrate cantering at this year’s Horse Show. She also has a great gift for writing, so when her mother called me to tell me she was going to be leaving our program, and shared the reason why, I asked if she might be willing to write about what she has achieved. She is leaving our program because she has improved to the point where she wants to take on jumping – something we don’t do here. To progress to that level is a real win, and I can’t be anything but happy for her, and for us.
When I first came to Equi-librium, 3 years ago….I was only a senior in high school. I didn’t know what I wanted, or what I was doing. I came from a place where I had lost who I was, and I didn’t really care where I was going. I knew I was hurting, but I wasn’t ready to acknowledge that, I wasn’t ready to accept myself because I wasn’t done trying to be everything I wasn’t. The truth was right in front of me, but I couldn’t see it, I didn’t want to see it. But when I got on the horse for that first lesson...I knew this pain would hold me back, and if I truly wanted to become a better rider, I needed to work through what was standing in my way. I had to find it inside of myself to take all that pain, and turn it into power. The power to persist and to fight. The power to hurt, and be scared, and broken, while still finding the courage to press onward.
So I stopped trying to pretend that I didn’t have autism. I stopped trying to pretend I could feel, and I started to accept myself for everything I was and what I was dealing with. I had to learn how to set the heavy weight I was carrying down, and let it go. It was then that I realized when I wasn’t trying so hard to hide the disability that it started to get easier. It didn’t feel like I was always walking around everyone on eggshells, anymore. Somewhere inside my hurting body, I knew there was something better... something stronger, and something real. I knew my own darkness, and still...that alone didn’t stop me from finding my own light.
Riding is feeling. It’s being able to learn how to be aware of the horse’s body and feel their movement underneath you. Anyone who rides will tell you it’s all about feeling, it’s about finding your seat, and it’s very hard to ride if you don’t. I can’t say I know what it’s like to be able to feel movement underneath me, but I will say that I don’t believe you have to be able to feel to ride. I know that because I can’t feel, but I’ve never let that stop me from getting on a 4 legged creature and learning how to walk, trot, or canter. I’ve never let that be the reason for giving up. Not being able to feel, is where my motivation comes from. I live there, grow there, love there. That is what moves me, to be and do better. To show this world that different doesn’t mean less. It means that I can still be whoever I want to be, regardless of what it takes to get there. That is what gives me my fire to keep going and to never stop searching for it. You do not need to feel to be able to get on a horse and ride. What you need is drive. I’ve proved those words wrong time and time again. So even on my weakest days, I chose perseverance. On the days I kept questioning why I was still riding because I didn’t think I was good enough. Or I was frustrated because I couldn’t feel and that’s all I wanted. I looked back at where I once was and I remembered how far I had already come. And then I chose to keep holding on because I remembered what I was really fighting for.
6 months ago, when I first started cantering again, I was really weak. I was struggling, but I refused to give in and stop trying. I knew if I wanted to get better and keep growing, I was going to have to get stronger. So I started working with a personal trainer and now I’m in that gym 6 days a week. I’ve set new goals, and I’m ready to reach them. After this last horse show, one of the judges came up to me before I left and said that I rode really well, and if I had thought about where I wanted to go from here. That was when I realized I’m ready to move on, that I am ready for this next level. My new goal, is to learn how to jump at an able-bodied barn and then start competing in horse shows.
I know just where I want to get to and I will do whatever it takes to get there. Every single day, I know I am getting stronger. Even though I can’t feel it, it’s showing. I’ve learned that riding can only teach you what you choose to let it. So for me, I’ve learned to remember the goals I’ve made when I’ve been faced with setbacks, and I’ve found myself questioning why I’m still trying. To persevere and to never give up. I’ve learned that if you want something bad enough, you’re going to find the will, the determination, and the courage to do whatever it takes to make it happen. If it’s something that truly matters to you, you’re going to fight with everything you have until you get to where you want to be. And when it starts to get hard, that’s when you know it is something worth fighting for, that it matters...and you hold on just a little bit longer. Riding has taught me that when you can stop overthinking, and just let it be...that you realize it’s only that hard because you’re making it that way. It’s taught me to never forget what you’re meant to accomplish. To remember the people that love and support you.
Riding has taught me that you have to choose brave: to love, to forgive, to learn, and to heal. It’s taught me that you have to be brave enough to try, to fail, to fall, and to get back up and begin again. When you make that choice, that’s when you grow. That’s where you start to make the mistakes that begin to define the places you still have to get to. That’s where you discover and grab onto your potential. That is where you hit rock bottom and find the ground which you will rise from. That’s where you stand. So if you ask me, it starts with being true, true to yourself and true to what situation you’re living with….no matter how messy and ugly it may be. And then it’s staying true to whoever is lucky enough to share those moments with you. It’s about knowing your limits...but also being willing to push past them.
To say goodbye feels heavy, but it feels free. Like I can love a place with every inch of me, it can love me back….and I can still let it go. I can still wander on.