Our Team at McKenna Farms in November, 2011
What a difference two days can make!
That’s what we hoped we’d be saying when we completed our working weekend at McKenna Farms in November 2011. Favored by perfect fall weather, our team tackled the late summer weeds, mowed, stained wood, restored a bridge to its rightful purpose and place on the sensory trail, and replaced worn parts along the way.
By late Sunday morning as we put tools away and began packing, we were indeed marveling at what a difference two days can make. We’d completed our list of chores and scoped out our next project – building an enclosed viewing room so parents could watch their children’s progress during therapy without being a distraction to their child’s session.
However, it wasn’t our efforts that we praised. The “Wow!” came from our amazement and sheer joy of of watching the kids who came for therapy during our visit. Being given the opportunity to observe first-hand the miracle of hippotherapy and therapeutic riding, we began to understand the value of this therapy at a much deeper level.
We had seen Giselle, one of McKenna Farms therapeutic riders, emerge from her mom’s car on Saturday morning. She held onto the hood for balance and then took her mother’s hand so as not to fall. Her head wobbled as she held her mother’s arm during their slow walk to the barn where she disappeared inside.
Momentarily, Giselle appeared again, this time on horseback. The transformation in this pre-teen was stunning! This once wobbling girl carried herself with grace and near perfect form on top of the horse. Her newfound balance nearly took our breath away. For the better part of an hour, she perched atop Major, one of the therapy horses, while he cantered and navigated hurdles repeatedly at her command.
“At school, Giselle is the girl who has trouble walking,” Jessie, McKenna Farms’ Director, explained. “But here she does something that no one else in her fifth-grade class can do.”
Our collective “Wow!” then morphed into an aha moment. When, like Giselle, you’re the one who’s never been the best at many of the things we often take for granted—like walking, jogging or skipping—moving with sweet freedom in this beautiful and graceful way on a horse is like taking flight. Not only did her physical body work hard but her confidence soared.
Later that afternoon, another therapeutic rider named Sarah arrived for her session. In 2010, Sarah rode in the Special Equestrian Olympics for the first time. As she watched the parade of police officers carrying the Olympic torch, Sarah dreamed of riding in that parade. In August, 2011, her dream became reality.
Sarah almost missed her chance for that glory when she fell off her horse before the parade. Well-meaning bystanders rushed to her, sure she’d be too frightened to continue. But not Sarah. “Put me back on that horse!” she said. “I fall off all the time. It’s nothing.”
Yet another “Wow!” moment. Sarah’s determination and perseverance was refreshing.
On the Other Side of the White Fence More Children like Giselle & Sarah
Following our work and observation of Giselle and Sarah, Jessie told us about the children with great need who are not coming to McKenna Farms. She talks with their families every day: the ones who don’t qualify for Medicaid or other forms of assistance; families who are above the poverty line, but all of their resources are exhausted with basics such as food, housing, and transportation. These kids need hippotherapy and therapeutic riding. Their doctors have prescribed it, just as Giselle’s and Sarah’s did. Their world, too, can be changed from one of helplessness and frustration to one of achievement and the joyous elation of dreams come true.
Our goal, with the continuing help of our Global Giving community, is to hand the reins to these kids, as well, by offering scholarships to children in need. Thank you for your ongoing support of these exceptional kids.
Staining one of the Sensory Stations
Sarah & Friends at the End of Her Therapy Session
One of the Therapy Horses