Long before Nora was diagnosed with SPD she had a love of animals. Her first love was birds and for a solid 6 months every trip to the library required another fact book on a type of bird. For parents of young children you know that we spend a great amount of time reading and let me tell you there is nothing dryer to read than a non fiction book about birds. However, the bird books led to long walks in the woods birdwatching with her dollar store binoculars and my camera.
When Nora was 4 we welcomed our golden retriever Buddy into our family. From the very beginning these two had a bond and spent many hours playing together. I would often find the two of them snuggled up on the girls mini couch together watching tv, looking at books, or sharing a bowl of Cheerios. I once caught the two of them under a fort of blankets in which Nora held a dog treat in one hand and nail polish brush in another. Yes this 80lb dog sat there patiently waiting (and drooling) for his treat while he had his nails (and pretty much his entire paw) painted in bright pink nail polish. This, of course, led to a discussion on why we don’t paint dogs nails and me spending the rest of the afternoon removing said nail polish.
When Nora was in the 5th grade, which was a couple of years after she was diagnosed, we began to see a decline in her self-esteem. Her world was becoming increasing louder and busier as the demands in the classroom increased as did the class size. That same year an acquaintance who had a couple of horses asked if our girls were interesting in coming over and riding her horses. We jumped at the chance to spend an afternoon a week with horses. The girls loved hanging out in the barn and riding the horses in what was a very informal setting. Nora especially seemed to really connect with the horses and found a passion for herself.
We moved the summer between grade 5 and 6 so that fall once we were settle Nora began taking formal riding lessons. We watched her thrive! Riding gave her so much confidence and self-assurance in a way that we had never seen before. The summer between grade 6 and 7 we moved again to Comox, B.C. and Nora began a riding program through the Comox Valley Therapeutic Riding Society. It was a 6 week-long program in which she learned a lot about how our mind and body are connected with the horse. If we are tense and having a bad day then that can affect the horse. They gave her techniques on mindfulness and being in the moment with the animal. She then joined a vaulting program at the CVRS, which she loved. Watching her stand on a moving horse was amazing and somewhat hard on my heart. At the same time she began weekly lessons at stable where she learned how to ride english style. The coaches at Sprout Meadows also taught her about horsemanship and she learned how to care for her horse. That year Nora grew tremendously as a rider and as a person. We watched her self-confidence blossom and her connect with horses in a beautiful way. She had found her passion so that during the times when this world overwhelmed her she had something to look forward too.
This past year we moved again…..there is a pattern but last one honestly! It was hard for Nora to leave the Comox Valley. Although we lived in town, my parents had 6 acres of land in which Nora spent a lot of time at. It was also hard for her to leave Sprout Meadows behind because she found a place that gave her peace. After arriving in Ottawa we searched for a place Nora could ride at. We tried many different stables that were all amazing but Nora was just not connecting. Then I heard of this place called Stillwater Stables. The owner uses the Parelli method to teaching. The Parelli method is basically natural horsemanship in which you use behavioral psychology. You are taught how to communicate with your horse using language, love, and leadership. To say that Nora fell in love with this method would be an understatement. It is so different from anything she had ever done before and although she really missed jumping she had found something wonderful. The upside also for Nora is she gets to spend a large portion of her summer back on Vancouver Island where she can ride at Sprout Meadows. So she gets the best of both worlds of horses!
Nora’s connection with the horses she rides is beautiful. We watch her with is thousand pound animal and she is so calm and peaceful. When she rides it is like no one else is around her. Even after the hardest week she will wake up Saturday morning and head out with a smile on her face. Living everyday in a world that overwhelms you can be draining on our mind and body. Nora says that when she is near a horse it helps her to restore balance.
Not every child with SPD will make connections with animals. The trick will always be finding what helps to restore their balance. I have found that for most children with SPD it is something natural or in nature. Activities that are outside seem to work best and for many children they are solitary activities. Not that they have to be alone but activities in which you are working on your own goal. Like running, biking, cross-country skiing, horse back riding, or hiking. I do highly recommend trying therapeutic riding for children with SPD. In larger centers there will be a therapeutic riding association and for smaller areas it will be something you will have to work harder to find. They offer amazing programs and our older two daughters have volunteered in the program out west. They, like Nora, learned a great deal and found volunteering theraputic also.
As for our horse loving girl she will continue to ride, learn, and grow!!
Comox Valley Therapeutic Riding Society http://www.cvtrs.com
Sprout Meadows http://www.sproutmeadows.com
Stillwater Stables http://stillwaterstables.ca