Entries from July 2018
In case you want to know where I am on the planet, and why!
I hope you are staying warm!! Where we are (on the Equator, literally!), it is dropping down to 8 Celsius at night!
Saturday, Makena, Butterfly, Emma Caite, Eowyn, Starlette and I left at 5 am to travel 6 hours to the bottom of Mount Kenya. Traveling on Kenyan roads in the dark and fog is terrifying, but the ride was mostly pleasant. (We hired a friend to drive us in our old van that we donated to Sonshine School years ago).
We are here in Nanyuki for two reasons. Firstly, a friend wants to donate two of her horses to A Future and a Hope. We came to look at them and see if they might make good therapists! (More on that tomorrow)
Secondly, Butterfly, Emma Caite, and Eowyn are going to summer camp!!!
If you know us and our life in Kenya, the idea of going to a summer camp is a HUGE deal.
We have lived in Kenya for 13 years. My kids have literally grown up here (and for most of my kids, they know nothing else). Butterfly was ONE year old when she moved here with her six year old brother Andrew and four year old sister Makena. Over time, Emma Caite, Eowyn, and Starlette were born here.
Not only do they do school at home isolated in a small village, they don't have access to ballet classes, baseball, or any other 'normal American kid' activities. We don't have neighbors who can handle playing with them. It can be frustrating to be a minority who looks different. My children have Kenyan sisters, speak Swahili, and don't see color differences, plus they have lived here all their lives which means my kids are as Kenyan as their fellow neighbors, but the local village kids don't see it that way.
Urban children and children who are a bit more exposed to different people groups, on the otherhand, have no issues with playing with my kids, but we live in a fairly remote village. It is more difficult to find those kinds of kids around withwhom mine can connect on an intellectual level. They yearn for the type of kids who have owned toys in their lives and understand how to care for them, kids who owned pets, too, and understand their importance to our culture and families, kids who don't just stare at you because you are different, but can accept you as an equal... Kids with parents who don't think that when bad things happen it is because of witchcraft. Kids who don't want to pinch or touch to see how your skin and hair feel... Those issues make bonding and conversation difficult.
When we found out that there is a 'camp' that goes on in this area of Kenya with children who ride horses, we decided to send Emma Caite last year. Emma needs friends. She really needs them. She is motivated by people and is a group learner.
Last year, we managed to borrow a pony and send Emma to this camp for the first time in her life. She LOVED it. She had never been far from home ever, and she says she didn't even miss us. She, despite being raised in a barn, blended right in. The camp was such an AMAZING experience for her. She finally made some friends. No matter what their cultural differences are, the one thing they have in common is ponies, and that makes them equal.
This year, I wanted to send three of my kids to camp. And we pulled it off! Barely. Camp is $200 per child for a five day camp, but getting horses to camp in our case was impossible. We weren't the only ones struggling to find means to get ponies to the camp since horse trucks are so rare. In fact, we ended up just renting some ponies near the campsite, which is not ideal because my kids don't know them. Part of the point of camp is for the horses to learn, too, and to connect with their riders! So the ideal situation would have been to bring our therapy ponies up to the camp. Regardless of our struggles to pull off getting our kids to camp, we did it! They are there, and I am happy that a year's worth of planning worked.
It will be interesting to see how they feel after camp. It is five days long, and that is the longest they have been away from me. Five days on a very cold hillside near Mount Kenya riding horses and camping out.
I'm actually borrowing a car and staying an hour away in an acquaintance's house because I didn't want to travel on Kenyan roads six hours back to home just to have to turn around and come back on Friday for the awards ceremony, camp out, and leave Saturday. Makena and Starlette are with me so I wouldn't be bored out of my mind! Plus Starry is still nursing.
Being that my children don't go away to school, I feel as if they need to have something beyond their book learning at home. Seriously, can you imagine living in a mud barn, going to school in your kitchen, and never making friends? As a mother, I feel deeply about this... I must find ways to get my kids to meet OTHER kids! So ponies is the key. (It appears to be a theme these days, huh?)
So I will admit, as we received donations last year, I set aside tiny bits here and there to save up so the kids could attend camp this year. I also studded out Bu, our Great Dane, and occassionaly sold little things, too. It wasn't easy to save, but the reality is, it is going to the best cause ever-- my kids. And they are worth it.
So here I am waiting for my kids to complete their Winter camp (aka summer camp) (it is 8 C degrees!) in Kenya. There are over forty children with ponies spending a week bonding, riding, and having fun up on the chilly hills of Mount Kenya.
If you read Butterfly's article Clumsy, you already have a slight idea how part of our week went... Let me tell it from my angle...
The kids and I were in the house when suddenly we heard a loud crash outside. Butterfly screamed, "Popaway!!!" Our 1,199 lb horse came tumbling out of a stall with the front wall breaking away in front of her! Our half tonne horse who crashed out of her stable has some wounds from her fall. I am doctoring her, and am grateful I know how to inject her since getting her to a vet is impossible; and THREE vets I called were not available. Having a dad who is a dentist and very scientific, as well as 15 children, I am somewhat knowledgeable in what to do in these situations. She will hopefully recover because not only is she a pet to our family, but our therapy riders, specifically Eddie, would be extremely upset if 'his horse' were not here. I am not sure how he'll manage knowing she's not rideable at the moment.
As with life in general, we have so many wonderful things happening that we can discuss, but this particular week, I hope you don't mind me keeping things real and sharing some of the unexpected things that have come up.
- We are still working on our paperwork, and it is frustrating dealing with it.
- Our car had TWO flats at once this week, stranding us just 200 metres from our home
- Our car also had brake issues which took THREE expensive repairs
- Our car has some clutch issues, too and needs new tires. One tire is repaired, but the other issues are in the works. We only own ONE car. Johnny did manage to take a tire to town on the small motorcycle to be repaired. It was dangerous, but he managed!
- Our large thoroughbred, as read above, crashed through the stable and fell. She is on antibiotics and recovering from internal bruising and a few screws poking through her body during the fall.
- Edith and Eowyn were both ill this week. Starry isn't feeling her best either.
- Our posts in our fences and our stables are termite eaten and weak causing our fences to fall down after being put up about 4.5 years ago.
- Our stables need repairs after the crash.
- And some GOOD NEWS! Someone wants to give us one, maybe two horses for our therapy program! This will increase our impact and allow more riders to come consistently!
- We need to build two more stables as soon as possible to accommodate these additions ($650). VERY exciting.*
- We also need to transport one of them to our farm on the 29th which is costly (not sure how much this will comem to yet).**
*If you peruse our photos, you will find that most sessions are filled with DIFFERENT children because we have far too many riders for our 4 horses! We need the children to come consistently in order to get the maximum benefit from our program, but at the moment, the riders must rotate who comes due to us only being able to accommodate 8 at a time. This is a good problem, I think, because it means the people are seeing the importance and need of what we do. With two more horses, we can then accommodate 12 riders per session.
**The horse(s) being offered will be loaned to us for free, but transporting them to our farm will cost quite a lot
($2.20/mile). The reason for this expense being so high is lack of horse trucks in Kenya. I have mentioned in the past that a horse truck/trailer would be a potential sustainability project renting it out to people. We could also bring horses to the vet in an emergency like our current situation with our thoroughbred. We could also take them to needy children in town and do some sessions there, as well as carry hay, supplies, etc. to the farm. So we are in the planning stages of how to meet this need in the not too distant future.
Today I received a phone call from the school that brings disabled riders to our Horsepower program. The conversation started with incomprehensibly fast talking, great enthusiasm and praise as to how much they appreciate our program, and how they are seeing great changes in the children who attend. Their excitement was overwhelming, appreciated, and yet, I began to wonder if they were wanting something... They proceeded to explain that they are closing school for the month of August, our winter holiday month, and even though they are not scheduled to have therapy sessions at A Future and a Hope during the school holiday, they were wondering if I could bring the horses to the school, an hour's drive away, so the children could have a week of therapy at the school as part of a winter camp type thing. Although this idea is not a bad one and hopefully will be a goal for the future, it was not thought through very well so I began to ask some questions:
ME: How will I get my horses to your school?
(I assume they think we will walk them there and back the 62 km to the school (38 miles!))
ME: If I manage to get them to the school, where will they sleep or stay when not in use?
THEM: Ummm.... in the compound. (hearing my sigh that this was not adequate, they began fumbling for answers) We can set up a tent for them!
(I am thinking about the hazards of ropes getting wrapped around legs, tent pegs in hooves, this definitely not a good idea.)
ME: Who will look after the horses during the night?
ME: What about feed?
THEM: More silence.
At this point, I am beginning to fill in the silence with guesses as to what they are thinking. "They don't eat grass alone?"
ME: Do you have a budget for transporting the horses to your school? It'll cost about $264.00 (26,400 KES)*
THEM: We hoped you'd volunteer!
At this point, the lack of knowledge from these teachers was getting frustrating. It was to be expected. They haven't interacted with horses a day in their life, let alone other pets or animals. Why would I expect them to think this through or to understand that horses require attention, money, and so much effort?
In my heart my thoughts were pumping with each pulse: I was thinking, "You realize I volunteer every week? I'm not paid by any one. I don't have the means to bring horses to town every day for a week, nor the logistics!"
But instead of responding, it was my turn for silence. After a pause...
ME: I'll call you back after I talk with my husband.
Johnny and I met for lunch, and I told him what the school requested. We discussed it at length- he saying it is impossible to do, and me retorting that IS possible, we just need to figure out a way to do it in the FUTURE... because the reality is, we cannot afford $260 a day for transporting the horses, nor money for hiring someone to look after them, plus feeding them there, plus them not having a stable or anything... it just isn't feasible nor safe without better planning. If we owned a horse trailer, it might be more feasible in the future so it isn't something to just forget about.
I called the school back and explained that the reality is this would be a fabulous idea for the future, putting on a 'therapy camp' for these kids, but unfortunately, we cannot do it at this time...
This is actually the SECOND time this conversation has happened. Another group wants me to bring horses to their project to help with disabled children. Again, they do not understand that I can't just fly the horses to their project which is literally 34 km away (21 miles).
The exciting thing is that Horsepower is in demand. More people are seeing the importance of how horses can help children with all sorts of needs as well as bond them with their parents or guardians, and this means they will continue to take the efforts to get them the physical and emotional therapy they need.
One of the issues we have in this beautiful country Kenya is that parents of a child with disabilities do not understand that the child needs physical therapy. To them, a doctor's checkup once a year or so is enough. They lack understanding that therapy is an on going process that builds upon itself bringing the child to a higher level with each session.
This desire to see more equine therapy in the schools is promising. It means that they are learning and understanding the needs of the children.
Now if we can just get them to understand that even though I am not charging a fee, I can't just hire trucks or walk for hours on end to bring my horses wherever whenever they like. Horses need to be looked after properly just like children do!
This week has been difficult on so many levels. I asked my daughter Butterfly to type her 'lessons learned' from her accident prone horse, and this is what she came up with. I think you will enjoy the read even if horses aren't your thing:
Dedicated to my Opa, because Popaway is his as much as she is mine. Love you, Opa! I also love Popaway. I just don't love her clumsiness.
Popaway was aptly named. One thousand pounds of muscle, a slick chestnut mare, she won three of her races before retiring to play polo.
I fell in love at first sight. Who wouldn't? When I met her she had just come from a ride, and she was sweating, breathing hard. She let me stroke her face. I thought to myself- she's the one. I might have been a little quick to the decision, and remembering past mistakes, I cautioned myself. Don't jump in before you spend more time with her! I thought to myself.
Emma rode her first, just down a dusty road and back. Then Popaway was brought to a large round pen for Mom and I to give her a go.
Dad, after hearing the price, said to Mom, "Do you really want to pay that much for a horse? What if she breaks a leg? Then all that money goes down the drain."
We bought Popaway.
Allow me to introduce our friend Mrs. Mungatana, a neighbor of ours. Just before we bought the Shire, then known as 'The Land,' Mrs. Mungatana purchased a plot of her own just down the road. She had built a few greenhouses and was beginning to produce her own vegetables. She even had a pony of her own, and I had worked for her in the past, teaching her daughters how to ride and her employees how to handle horses.
On occasion, when the notion struck her busy mind, Mrs. Mungatana would pass by our farm with a great big sack of vegetables from her greenhouses. Over time, we had become quite familiar with each other. It was to the point that she would just open our gate, let herself in, and drop off her vegetables as a gift.
We had lodged Popaway for a week now. She behaved differently on our farm than she had at her previous home, more eccentric, alien to our inexperienced hands. She needed more than we knew how to give.
The move from one home to another is always difficult on horses, and Popaway took it especially hard. She wanted her old friends back. We only housed one other horse at the time, an old thoroughbred by the name of Roheryn, and although Popaway bonded to him with ease, she still wanted to return to her home.
Here's a fun fact about Kenyan culture- usually, you don't call ahead to let people know you're dropping in, especially if you don't plan to stay long. When Mrs. Mungatana decided it was about time to come along and deliver the most recent batch of tomatoes, she just drove up and opened the gate to let herself in.
The open gate was the opportunity of a lifetime to Popaway's homesick eyes. She bolted out onto the dirt road and paused for a fleeting moment, waiting for Roheryn to catch up and realize that they were making an escape, and then took off.
The next few hours were spent in a manic attempt to catch her and bring her back to the Shire. If not for Roheryn's old age and subsequent arthritis, I doubt Popaway would have ever stopped. She might have run twice around the world before she decided to take a breather.
Mrs. Mungatana was all apologies, and Mom wasn't too upset. Popaway was back on the Shire. She seemed fine, and so all was forgiven. We graciously accepted the tomatoes.
The next day, Popaway was limping, and there was swelling in her back leg, presumably from knocking it on something during her wild dash for freedom. Mom was seeing red. She called Mrs. Mungatana and spent a good thirty minutes 'explaining' to her that opening gates and leaving them open where livestock abide is not a good idea.
Needless to say, while we remain friends and neighbors, Mrs. Mungatana doesn't come over anymore.
I wasn't too upset about it at the time. It was just a small knock; it would heal, and I would have my time in the saddle again.
It did heal. It healed over a period of six months, slowly, frustratingly, every day spent trying to figure out how to handle an idle, injured, hot horse. We learned a lot about Popaway in those six months. When we first bought her, the words 'racehorse' and 'polo pony' didn't mean much to us. We had seen racehorses and polo ponies, and Popaway's gentle eyes and pleasant disposition set her aside from the wild, frantic horses that we knew. We thought we understood her.
Popaway showed a different side when she was kept to a stall and round pen. She raged that we dare keep her confined! She was fresh off the polo field, fit, hot, ready for action! In her previous home she worked intensely two hours a day with ease. Now, due to the first injury she'd experienced in her life, she couldn't do a thing.
When kept in a stall, she kicked. When we put her out in the round pen, she raised her voice to let us know how displeased she was. I learned to dodge her teeth when I brushed her. If you walked too close by her stall, she would bite at your shoulder to let you know just how annoyed she felt.
I didn't love her any less for these things. They seemed but small faults to me, hidden within her dazzling beauty. When she started to heal, both Mom and I worked cautiously to build up her strength. We rode her for short periods of time at first, until she was back to the old routine.
We were glad to be back at it. We even got two new ponies, Abby and Jazzy, and hired a stable hand to help with the extra workload. His name was Solomon.
Solomon accepted the responsibilities that Mom and I found the most tedious. Since the grass in the paddocks had been worn down by the sun and the constant trampling of horses, we had to hand graze the horses in the garden, where the grass grew tall and lush. This job was despised by all who did it. It was hot and boring. It was also mostly what we had hired Solomon to do.
Unfortunately, it seemed that even though it was his only job, Solomon would somehow manage to mess it up. He tied Popaway's lead rope to a tree, with most of it lying slack on the ground, and left to go get some water and food, even though Mom had explicitly told him not to do exactly that. She said, "put the horse in before you go get lunch. Huwezi kumfunga farasi kama ng'ombe!" You can't tie a horse up like a cow. (In case you didn't know, cows are typically tied by the leg to a tree during grazing in Kenya.)
Popaway managed to entangle herself in the rope, and began to panic when it constricted her movements. With no one around, it was a while before the situation was noticed, and she was freed. The rope had cut into her back leg from her struggles, a deep gash just above her hoof.
Mom was beyond angry with Solomon. She spent a good thirty minutes yelling at him. And then, she fired him. To this day, simply mentioning the man's name will inspire a rant.
Alas, our spirits were crushed. This wound was different from the last. We didn't know what to do, so Mom called a few of her friends and asked for advice. We learned how to clean and bandage wounds, and Popaway seen as 'mine' after the last incident, those responsibilities were passed on to me.
Once again, Popaway's movement was limited. Once again, she hated me for it.
This time, I hated her back. I silently fumed, a fire I didn't know I could have was lit in my gut, an anger that rested constantly on my chest. I don't get angry like my mother get's angry. I don't explode, or yell, or cry. I don't know what to do when I'm angry, so I let it sit in my heart and eat away at my insides. I didn't even know who I was angry at, or why I was, just that the anger was there and bubbling.
The love I felt for Popaway in the earlier days was not gone, just changed, twisted into something that I didn't (don't) understand. That change brought me closer to Popaway in a way that I might never have gotten if she hadn't been injured. We both held each other in contempt- and with that understanding came something like respect.
I stopped letting Popaway push me around. When she bit as I passed her stall, I would grab her by the face and push her back, away from the door. The method might have been unconventional, but she came to stop biting people, even though that wasn't my original intention when I started the habit of backing her up. Eventually, I could hold her head in my hands without fear.
Popaway stopped trying to push my limits, and I started to spend more time providing her comfort. I hand-grazed her (and never left her alone, not even for a moment) because she wasn't allowed to roam the paddocks free. I went out by her stall and read books aloud, feeling guilty that she was standing bored and alone in a box.
Eventually, Popaway healed. She is calmer, the long period of inactivity teaching her something almost like patience. I started to ride her again.
Riding took a different kind of understanding from the one we had developed. But we were working on it. We were growing and learning- together!
Then... somehow, unfathomably, Popaway injured herself again.
It took a long time for my spirit to recover from those blows. I learned how to keep Popaway from hurting herself through trial and error. We didn't let her out in the rain or mud, and when we let her out, we put brush boots on her front legs to keep her from knocking them. I found the hidden nooks of her personality (don't give her carrots- she'll bite your fingers off for more). I rode her off and on, depending on her soundness.
It wasn't until a few months ago that Popaway became sound, and stayed sound. I started to rebuild the old love I had for her, the love that was dazzled by her beauty. We even went to our first event together! We attended a riding clinic, and just after, a part of a show known as le trec, which consisted of a trail ride and a display of obedience. We won a third place ribbon! I couldn't have been happier.
Popaway and I could go anywhere, do anything.
More recently I was sitting in the lounge, reading a book and enjoying life. The lounge has the only glass windows in our house, which look out at the stables and the garden, and I often use the lounge to relax after a long day.
And boy, it had been a long day! Mom, Dad and I had gone into town to pick Edith up from school. She was sick and had to stay at home for a few days to recover. On the way home, just before our gate, a tire went flat. Dad and I worked to change it and make it home before it was time to feed the horses their five o'clock meal.
Looking back, I should have expected it. The day had been full of misfortune. Still, sitting in the lounge, reading my book, I thought the day was over.
A small commotion outside drew my attention. It was the usual sounds of the horses messing around, but I had become paranoid after the many injuries, so I looked out the windows, prepared to settle back down again without incident.
As I watched, the front of Moonshadow's stall seemed to just collapse with a great crash. A flash of coppery chestnut in the destruction had me on my feet before I could even think, my mind flashing with alarm bells. Popaway!
I didn't even realize I'd said her name out loud. I just darted outside, fear and adrenaline welling in my throat. Colic was my first thought. Popaway was lying in the midst of the rubble, struggling to get to her feet, and for a brief moment I thought she wouldn't be able to.
Abby leapt out of the stall, eyes wide in surprise, nostrils flaring, and Popaway finally surged upright. I was still only half-way there. My relief at her ability to walk away was immense. She darted into her stall, her safe place, and stayed there, breathing hard as she waited for me to approach.
Mom was coming out of the house asking what happened. I'm not sure if I answered her. My heart was pounding, my hands shaking, my feet planted squarely on the ground.
I was livid.
I shut Popaway's stall and went to get my boots. I needed to check her for injury. There was no doubt in my mind that she had hurt herself.
I knew then what had happened, the pieces falling together in my mind like a puzzle. Abby and Popaway had both been in the stall, and, as horses are liable to do, they squabbled. Popaway tripped and fell against the wall, huge and clumsy as she is.
When I went back outside the rest of my family was clustered about, staring at the destruction. I looked at the post that had snapped before moving on to Popaway's stall. Termites had hollowed out the wood.
I was right- Popaway had a number of puncture wounds from the nails that had been holding the wall together. I breathed carefully to contain my sudden wash of emotions and got her halter, ready to take her out and get to work cleaning her wounds.
The fright of the situation and the sudden pain had made Popaway more mellow than usual. She put her head in my arms and snorted quietly. "Moron," I told her, because there was no one else to be angry with. "Moron, moron, moron."
Mom spoke to me about what I was to do. I already knew the drill. I went to get the antiseptic and cotton swabs and antibacterial cream.
I've never been one to cry, so I didn't.
~Written by Butterfly Brooks
I remember the first time I heard about Facebook...
Over nine years ago, Johnny came home, when we still lived in Nakuru town, and said to me, "Kate, I heard about this social media platform called Facebook. It sounds pretty cool. I signed up and made my first post. I posted, 'I am drinking tea at Guava."
I can remember staring at him thinking, "Who on EARTH cares? Seriously, why would any one care that you are drinking a tea in the Guava restaurant? That's just silly." Facebook seemed like a terribly ridiculous idea to me...
Well, I think if you know me on Facebook now, you know that I share a LOT about our Kenyan life on Facebook. In fact, I am practically a reality show on there. I guess, living in Kenya where life can seem backwards to my childhood culture, and living up on a hill in the middle of nowhere with few interactions with people who are not my children, I find Facebook to be a window into my past, tying me to my present, and carrying me through your support and encouragement to my future. So I grew to love Facebook, and if you haven't started following us there, you might want to. Because maybe, just maybe, you DO care. You will definitely get a better glimpse into our day to day life.
Here is my personal page: www.facebook.com/kate34
and our A Future and a Hope page: www.facebook.com/afutureandahope
Kate has been busy writing posts for the blog over the past couple of weeks. Her topics range from parenting, horse therapy, to more general updates about our lives. Some really good stuff you should check out.
This post is just a reminder of all the ways one could donate to what we are doing here in Kenya. Remember that we are two individuals who decided to pursue God outside of organized religion. We no longer have any of our own money and must raise the budget each month to continue on.
So here are the various ways one could make a donation:
Make a check out to A Future and a Hope and mail it here:
A Future and a Hope
c/o Bob Humphrey
7909 Walerga Rd STE 112-141
Antelope, CA 95843
Bob banks the checks and sends us the money without taking a cut for himself.
You could use PayPal. Send to [email protected] or use this button:
Do you have any idea what life is like for a disabled child in a country such as Kenya? Can you even begin to imagine? Not only do we not have adequate programs for the elderly, or orphans... we don't have anywhere near enough programs for children with disabilities. Lack of education about disabilities still prevail, although Kenyans are becoming more understanding in how people with disabilities fit into society. Still, in the villages and even in many towns, many folks believe in curses and witchcraft... to the point that they still think that some people have the power to actually 'kill' or damage children by cursing them.
Over the years of working in the communities, we have found disabled children locked in closets never seeing the light of day, parents being too embarrassed to claim the child as their own because they will be viewed as unfavoured by God or 'cursed.' Once you see these children who are not understood, being denied food because,
"He doesn't have the brain capacity to know how to eat," his parents explained, you just want to cry and reach out and find ways to help.
As a mother, I cannot imagine not trying to do something.
Over the years, we were faced with desperate parents asking us to help their disabled children. At the time, our focus was on orphans, and we had to send these precious people away with the knowledge that they at least had a parent looking after them. We took in parentless children into our family so they could live a life with a family to call their own. This was our focus and took every bit of our finances, energy, and time. It was and is difficult having so many needs out there, but I believe it is our responsibility to do what we can, even if it is small.
Now that our orphans-no-more are growing up, don't forget we still have a few still in our care, I feel as if we can begin to do more to help the needs and cries of those who have no voice. Did you know that most of our disabled riders have non-verbal autism? They may look 'normal' on the outside, but the reality is, they cannot verbally tell us how they feel apart from crying, laughing, and squealing. We do have a few who say a few words and a few who have other disabilities. With that said, our Horsepower sessions are bringing a connection between these children and their parents/carers. They are learning to communicate together through the games; and the parents and teachers of these specific children are seeing a difference. Horses don't talk, but they appear to reflect what we feel. They seem like mirrors. They also communicate and bring comfort to these children.
I still believe orphans need help, but I feel as if I am doing what I can with those who are in my path. I would love to use our horse therapy program to connect orphaned children to their guardians as well, or to just bring hope to them. We are in the beginning stages of Horsepower. We are going to expand and grow and work with more and more children.
We are not paid to help. We do this because we choose to. As a mother, how can I not? How can I not continue to bring joy, hope, healing, and happiness to as many mothers, fathers, and needy children I meet?
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.
I love what I do. (My family helps, too, but I feel I should write in first person)
I am not sure if these kids know how much I love them! The joy they bring when they come for our Horsepower sessions takes my breath away!
As seen in the photo, I get LOADS of hugs and greetings from the children, most of whom do not speak.
It is not just about the kids, either. I know the struggle of being a parent to children who may not relate to you or connect with you. You can read some of those struggles in our three part blog here.
I do this for the parents, too, and the teachers.
When you have a child with a disability, every milestone, every learning experience is a refreshing miracle.
Sure 'normal' kids learn to walk and talk at certain ages, but for these kids, these milestones take much longer to develop, if ever. And when they do happen, they are that much sweeter!
I do this for them. I do this because in Kenya there are no programs like this. I do this because they are ignored, misunderstood, and scrutinized. They are considered cursed and unimportant, but to me, they are my world. They have value. They are learning and crossing milestones, and the parents and teachers are seeing these little 'miracles.'
And they keep coming. They keep adding more and more riders... At the moment we have more riders than we can accommodate. More on that in an up coming article!
I am told that equine assisted learning is common in the West, but in Kenya, we are one in a million.
Children with disabilities in Kenya have little or no access to programs to help them physically and mentally. Parents struggle to help their children. In fact, many disabled children are abandoned and abused due to lack of knowledge and education about what ails them. Have a look at the joy we are able to bring to these precious kiddos!