#GivingTuesday: Why today? Why Equi-librium?

red giving tuesday.jpg

There are millions of charities asking you to support them on #GivingTuesday. Why should we be any different?

We are different; here’s why:

November heralds the beginning of our “Late Fall” semester, and a bit of a slowdown on the farm. We have a more time – to take stock, to plan for the year ahead, and to reflect on how thankful we are. It is in this spirit that I write to you today; I’m hoping you’ll indulge me a few things I’m grateful for ahead of the holiday season. We have much to celebrate, but at the same time, there are challenges we face.

We began the year with a fairly robust capital account, but there were a number of items we have been searching for. The first? A tractor. For two years we looked for one that met our needs AND was in our price range. Finally, a volunteer made us aware of a friend who had one meeting all our specifications and in our price range. In March, we purchased “Ol” Blue”. What a difference it has made! We have been able to be more efficient and no longer need to rent equipment to do certain chores around the farm.

 Ol’ Blue

Ol’ Blue

A great portion of the funds were given, and designated, for the purchase of horses. We have been dealing with an aging herd; at the end of last year we were faced with the fact that half our herd was 25 years and older. Ben, our oldest, is still in program, but is defying the odds at 36! With an average life expectancy of 25-30 years, we knew we needed to bring in some younger horses who can be trained and ready to go when the need arises. Our Equine Operations Manager spent a lot of the year looking at horses, and we welcomed 6 new “teenagers” to the farm – Buddy, Faith, Cash, Brownie, Toby, and Renny. We are still looking for two large, strong drafts or draft crosses, and will continue to look through spring.

 Renny - our new Halflinger - his name is Gaelic for “small but mighty”

Renny - our new Halflinger - his name is Gaelic for “small but mighty”

We didn’t anticipate also spending money to pave the parking lot and fix areas of the drive. Though needed, it was not in our budget. When a neighbor with a paving business stopped by to tell us he had materials left over and could help us by drastically cutting the price, we knew we had to do it! What a gift that was – saving us thousands in the process and helping to cure the ills of runoff and drainage issues affecting us and our neighbors. All prudent purchases-all needed-but not all anticipated to happen this year.

We were given the gift of lumber, construction, and service from a major corporate partner- Just Born-and their vendor partner Pratt Industries. Their staffs devoted three full days to us, and in the process, built more than 400 feet of fencing and a run-in shed!

 We cannot do what we do without the assistance, and generosity, of others

We cannot do what we do without the assistance, and generosity, of others

We received funds from new corporate partners and were the recipient of new fundraising efforts made on our behalf by our participants’ family members. We raised the most ever this year for our Kentucky Derby party AND our Lehigh Valley Polo match! 

We became the first and only center like ours in the Commonwealth to be an approved provider to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities under a Waiver program. While monumental, this gift also offers new challenges because the reimbursement rate is less than even our subsidized rate – but we know it is the right thing to do! We have seen the return of adult participants who rode as youth. One of the returning Waiver participants even remembered Ben! Talk about full circle. I am so grateful Ben is still here and was able to welcome him back, as a familiar face can be so very comforting – what a blessing!

The last blessing I will share with you today comes in the form of a letter from a participant. Wins like this don’t occur every day, but they are happening more and more here at Equi-librium. The determination of our participants make them possible. Our staff and volunteers make it possible. Your support makes it possible.  I am asking you today: read through this testimonial, and consider a new gift to Equi-librium to make another new win possible. I hope you’ll find it as compelling as I did. Our board members, like me, were moved to tears, and are moved every day to be involved and lead us to new heights. I hope you’ll be moved, too. I wish for you all good things as we move past Thanksgiving, and give thanks that we have wonderful, committed friends like you.

IMG_0066.JPG

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.

 Alex and the horse she rode here at Equi-librium the longest - Jackie.

Alex and the horse she rode here at Equi-librium the longest - Jackie.