Alex is a fourteen-year old boy who is paralyzed from the waist down and has limited movement with his arms. When I first saw Alex, he sped out of his mom’s van in his motorized wheelchair, spun around, smiled, and shouted “We’re here!” Immediately he started asking questions like “What is that horses name? Can I pet your dog? When do we start?”
Alex is a physically disabled child who is one of many who participate at Hope Ranch Therapeutic Riding Center just outside of Manhattan Kansas. I heard about Hope Ranch through a volunteer group e-mail I received in November. It talked about the mission of Hope Ranch: to provide a therapeutic equine program designed for individuals with a wide range of physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities who can benefit from therapeutic riding and other equine activities.
Two of my passions are 1) working with children, and 2) horses! What a perfect match! Upon my return to K-State, I decided to complete the Hope Ranch Volunteer application and training. This Monday was my first official lesson—this is where I met Alex.
My first thought was “WOW! How is this boy going to stay on a horse?” We had no special saddle that I had seen, just your typical western style. Despite my original thought of concern, once Alex opened his mouth infusing the air with his words of joy, I knew we would find a way.
It ended up that another girl and I stood on either side of Alex the entire lesson, supporting the trunk of his body and legs. When Alex first got on the horse (named Pepsi) he was extremely nervous, dizzy, and uncertain. After some persuasion, he let us take him into the arena to walk around. After the first lap his face went from frightened to complete and utter enjoyment! The longer the lesson went the more he talked, the more positive he was, and the more he was able to support himself in the saddle verses the other girl and me.
“Mom, we are going to do this everyday right?” Alex asked his mom. When she told him only on Mondays, his response was “No, everyday please.” Following Alex’s lesson, I wished him goodbye and told him I’d be seeing him EVERY Monday! He smiled and said “Don’t be late!”
---FYI, I wasn’t late, but apparently I look like the un-timely type
This Monday was by far the most rewarding day of my semester thus far. There was a point during the lesson where I almost started crying. It wasn’t that I pitied Alex for his disability. No, rather the desire to cry came from hearing him laugh and seeing his face light up. That sheer happiness he experienced in those 45 minutes was one of the most rewarding sights my eyes have ever been blessed to see. It was as if for those few minutes, he could forget about everything and just enjoy the moment of actually riding a horse!
Alex is an amazing young boy. There is no doubt that his parents have played a large role in that as well. After meeting Alex’s mom, Rebecca, and dad, Ryan, I could tell why he was such an optimistic person. The care, support, and strong faith that his parents exhibited proved to be the reason Alex has been as successful as he is. I can’t imagine the constant challenges his parents face, and yet they see the “bigger picture.” Their family is blessed to have Alex in their lives. That is what is important.
This experience has been one way I have gotten outside my comfort zone. I have had little to no experience working with disabled children. Hope Ranch has challenged me to stretch my leadership techniques for a new type of constituent. Yes, I may be nervous at times. However, in the end, the reward is much greater than any discomfort you may face along the way.
Alex is an amazing young boy that I look forward to spending every Monday with. I would have never met him if I hadn’t have chosen to try something new, something “uncomfortable.” If there is one challenge I would give you, this week seek out an area you can grow yourself that pushes your norm.
There are too many experiences in life to stay stagnate. Get uncomfortable, and trust me...it will be worth it.