I make sure to dress in layers for warmth: wool socks in neoprene boots; thermal long johns and non-holey (but oh so holy) blue jeans; a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, and finally my frayed and wool-lined barn jacket. I grab a wool hat and gloves along with a tote bag holding a bottle of water, a Cliff bar, an apple, my driver's license and cellphone.
|yes, it IS cold outside!|
Tuesdays are my day to volunteer at HETRA: Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy. I help out on Thursdays as well with stall cleaning and turning out horses, but Tuesdays I am a sidewalker for therapy sessions. The mission of HETRA is "to improve the quality of life both physically and emotionally of adults and children with disabilities through equine assisted activities."
In my year of volunteering I have seen students arrive in wheelchairs and after months of intensive physical therapy, including the therapeutic riding sessions, they come to session using a walker. In the beginning, many will require the full physical support of two sidewalkers (a volunteer on each side of the horse assisting the rider) to stay in the saddle but as they grow stronger they advance to less support. They are able to ride with minimal assistance and often are controlling the horse. It is an exciting moment to watch people who perhaps cannot communicate verbally still speak to their horse. Normally dependent upon others, in that moment the rider and the horse are a team.
Several of the students I have assisted are living here from out of state. They are in town for intensive rehab therapy for spine or brain injuries, often staying months away from their families and the support of their local communities. As a mother, it is humbling to watch the parents who drop everything to rally around their child. The love, optimism and determination of both the student and their family members to do whatever it takes to foster healing, independence and strength brings me to my knees every week.
Over twenty years ago, I broke my neck and was confined to a halo brace for three months. At the time I was aware that my physical limitations would be short-lived, yet more daunting than the screws in my head were the dark emotions I battled every day. The strength of spirit and emotional fortitude I see in the students and their families has been a continual source of inspiration for me, especially as I worked through grieving of death of my mother.
Each week I arrive to volunteer, but I bring home far more than I offer. Love and generosity of spirit abound in the barn, spilling forth from all who participate. Each rider has a team of supporters, many volunteers. There is the person leading the horse, the therapist conducting the lesson, two sidewalkers and the horse.
|Star, a 21 year old palomino and mascot for HeartFull Living 2016|
Oh, the horses. After the student, they are the stars of the show. Incredibly well-trained they are equally patient and gentle. Surrounded by a huddle of people and carrying an often unbalanced rider, they focus upon their task. They can be goof-balls and chow hounds out in their pens, but in the arena they do their job. You can see they know they are doing important work and that they enjoy it.
|Leroy, an 11 year old Belgium/Haflinger "Mister Blue Eyes"|
As I prepare to dive into the conversation that is my HeartFull Living offering, it is this experience that fuels me. It is for the benefit of the horses that I dedicate the fruits of HeartFull Living (all monies are being donated to the care of the Hetra horses). The horses model Love in action as they support the students in their healing work. These horses have supported me in the journey of remembering myself Whole, Loved and in Love. They continually bring me back to the fire of Love I knew as a young child for horses and all that they represent: freedom, connection, individual power, and strength united with grace.
HeartFull Living begins February 14. I hope you will consider joining me in what always turns out to be a magical, juicy, rich conversation on the ways we support and spread Love and Loving throughout our world.