Felix. Aptly named.
He has complete non-verbal autism, and the most beautiful face on the planet; yet, I have never seen him smile.
The first time we put him on a horse, he cried and cried. He was terrified. He held on to his mother's arm and my arm for dear life.
Usually, I stand in the middle of the arena to be the voice for the sessions, explaining games and telling folks where to go and what to do next, but when Felix joined in, I had to let him hold tightly to my arm. I didn't resist. I stood by him and guided the session from his side.
During the next week's session, the same response. He complained when we lifted him up onto the horse but a little less intensely. While riding, he still grimaced and held tightly to his mum, but he allowed a volunteer to be his sidewalker and assistant this time.
The wonderful thing is that Felix's mother comes with him to our Horsepower sessions, and she is consistent. She volunteers by his side to encourage him, and even though her son cannot talk at all, she is bonding with him and communicating with him as they learn together.
The next session, I came up with the idea of using a Frisbee as a steering wheel to get Felix to 'let go' of his mum. It worked.
Every session, however, he still was afraid. He did not relax to the idea of being on horseback as quickly as the others. Usually by the end of ONE session, our new, reluctant riders are smiling and not wanting to go home. This didn't happen with Felix. He stayed unsure for months until...
This weekend, we tried to put Felix on Moonshadow, but he threw his body to the side screaming letting us know that he was not happy with riding Moon. He wanted our smaller pony Aby and only Aby. So he had to wait for the first session to finish because someone else was on Aby. He sat watching patiently with his helmet on ready for his turn. His dark eyes seemingly knowing more than men who are wise followed the horses and took in everything.
When it was his turn, with his permission, we lifted him up on Aby. He gripped his mum's arm in fear. He looked her in the eye with confusion and frustration, but as the session went on, he began to relax. He let go of his mum and began to ride with confidence. He started playing the games and touching his forehead in the most elegant way that only Felix can do.
I even asked him to trot. I wasn't sure if bouncing around at a trot would scare him and put him off, but...
I could just look at his beautiful face all day with that smile.
This. This is what we do. We build confidence, and we make kids smile.
He cried again.
This time it was when we tried getting him to dismount. He cried, not because he was scared but because he just didn't want his time on his horse to end.
Felix, my darling boy, you may not speak, but today, you spoke volumes to me. You filled my heart with hope, and I am here to serve you with joy and passion.