Several times a month we host special events at Horses for Hope, combining the atmosphere and experience of the stables with the talents of our two academies, The Hope Academy of Art and Music.
Our aim is to give special needs children, autistic, for example a new environment to which they are gradually introduced and allowed to discover at their own pace. One where they can paint, hear music, sing, dance as they wish, one where they can connect with Shano the squirrel, Oscar the dog, the doves and ducks and of course the horses. We give them options for expression outside of their daily routine.
When you consider that we are novices, extending ourselves to work alongside autistic children or those with Downs Syndrome is taking us also, into a new world, one where we too have to watch, be sensitive and learn. Today we share some of our experiences and discoveries.
“When Rahat our Downs kid came to us, although his verbal communication was minimal I connected to him so quickly as he is a natural with all our animals. It has been a different story with the autistic children, especially as each one is different.
From the first time that they came, we treated them like family members and served them in any way that we could. I sensed that they were checking us out as much as they were checking out the horses. I could see that they were looking to see whether we were kind considerate people or not. It was vital that we treated them as family, with gentleness, dignity and patience. I am particularly delighted to be able to contribute to making a difference in their lives and they are all adorable children. On the second visit, I noticed that they were more relaxed allowing us to be closer to them, to be in their space. Fear of Oscar was gone and Omad declared that Oscar is his best friend. Others in wheelchairs were terrified of the large horses on their first visit, but with consequent visits they drew closer and closer, desiring to touch them.
With all our groups we notice a common thread, one of both enthusiasm and excitement yet tangible fear, something that is particularly heightened with special needs children. Our aim is to keep their initial enthusiasm uppermost and gently draw them out of fear into an area which is comfortable to them. At the same time, we can not overlook the horses, we have to ensure that they are comfortable and at ease in order to respond well to our guests. We have a responsibility to ensure the best welfare and comfort for both human and animal.” - Shex Vagar
“When students, whether younger children or teens with autism visit us, they display great fear. I do see fascination but if I were to assess their fear level from zero to ten, it would be around eight plus, even if they denied that. Our horses are so special, I know that every reader will say that their horses are the most special, ours have very beloved personalities. I watch them, particularly Newroz and Destiny, bringing their heads close to try to comfort the child, to reassure them and help them relax. We never push the children to touch the horses, but after a period of observation or even listening to music whilst we groom the horses, or the foals walk around freely grazing, then without the need for words, they see how the horses interact with us, and we with them, they gain confidence and then want to touch them. We need to watch the children carefully, observe their body language, and also at times restrain their supervisors who push them to connect when they are not ready. I remember when Rahat, the Downs kiddie, first came to us, he was totally disconnected. He could not stay still, constantly moving from place to place. He was sullen and appeared to be depressed. Now he is at home, he runs to us, smiles, engages in conversation, and is alive. He is a child who likes his routine, he goes directly to Oscar who probably has gone to him, their love is mutual. Once he has connected with Oscar he goes from horse to horse touching, petting and insisting to ride. He is a natural on the back of a horse, calm, relaxed and confident. His family tell us that their relationship with him is changing due to the healing that he is gaining through the horses, and his newfound ability to connect and communicate with them. We used to spend hours to encourage Nawal to visit the stables, she was so hesitant, one minute she wanted, the next she changed her mind. Once we gave her time and space at the stables to discover and embrace this healing world for herself, we no longer needed to persuade her. She comes to us letting us know that she wants to visit. Notably, when she is with us, she puts her wheelchair to the side and does her utmost to walk. She has a dream to have wings and fly, when she rides the horses she is flying. We do not always know what to do, we have to stand back, and watch, be sensitive and see miracles happening. We are just there to facilitate the miracle.” - Daoud
“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
“The first time that I came to the stables I was terrified but on my second visit I decided to confront my fear of animals. I feel so triumphant and victorious. After numerous attempts, I reached a point where I could confidently touch one of the horses. The first time that I visited I was even more scared of Oscar, than the horses, so much so that Miss Lisa took him home. Then I decided to extend my efforts to include Oscar, I discovered that he is delightful and completely tranquil, a faithful friend who has caused me to fall in love with him. Music and art is yet another joy for me. I love singing although I never have the chance or reason to sing. The atmosphere of music and art is wonderful and captures my heart and mind. I am at peace. I am joyful. I conquer my fears, I make friends with the trainers, I make animal friends who understand and love me, I paint, and I sing…what could be better than that? From the moment I leave I am counting the days until I can return.” - Varihan
“Autism is part of my child, it is not everything he is. My child is much more than a diagnosis.”
“Wow! Spending time at the stables is the highlight of my life. I love the interaction with the animals who all have a relaxed and friendly disposition. I love Shano the squirrel who is always in the centre of everything that goes on. He makes me laugh, he is so funny, he and Oscar the dog understand me completely. It is amazing to feel such a strong and warm connection with animals.
I also love music. The musicians are great, they have become my friends, allowing me to play their instruments and join them in song. It is such a happy experience, I return to my home and carry the memories and good feelings with me…until the next time.”
“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”
“I do not like music. It bothers me. Although all the atmosphere is positive, the music ruins it for me. I am bothered and disturbed by the auditory stimulation of music. The musicians asked me why, but I have no answer. Maybe as I spend more time with the horses I will decide to examine why music disturbs me. Maybe I will not want to. I desire to ride a horse but something holds me back and I can not. I have developed a fondness for the grey horse and for Oscar the brown dog but I can not ride the horse. I am glad that everyone accepts that and they allow me to help in other areas of the stables. There are things that I would like to do but I feel restricted and I can not. Maybe that will change. Maybe not. I love dogs so much. I love Oscar more than any other dog. He and I are very best friends. You gave me a gift, that gift is Oscar. Then you asked me to choose a toy gift. I chose the dog so that I can remember Oscar when I am at home.” Omed
“There is a difference between our Hope Centre students and the special needs students. Our Hope Centre students come as prepared as possible for a new adventure, they come with excitement and ready to engage. The special needs kids arrive with closed, blank faces, they pull back and withdraw if we exceed their pace. I have noticed that their caretakers push them, even though we request that they stand back and allow us to help the children and monitor their progress, they push sometimes endangering the child. We have to continually do special training with their caretakers whom we understand are anxious to see the children progress but lack wisdom, knowledge of horses and do not read the children correctly. The students who come from the Hope Centre, come united, as they have shared experiences, shared activities, shared studies and yes, shared life experiences. The special needs kiddies lack cohesiveness. They are not friends with each other, each is locked in his own world. The equine experience begins the unlocking process and gives them a shared experience and hopefully something that they will be able to look forward to as a group. Of all the horses Newroz is continually the most sensitive to the children and really loves engaging with them and loving on them. I love being part of the process of healing and with every child I learn more, both from them and from our horses who are the most sensitive and wise horses ever.” - Barzan
“Autism is about having a pure heart and being very sensitive. It is about developing differently at a different pace and with a different leap.”
Natik, Director of the Hope Academy of Music
“Amera is very stuck, locked within her own world which is a valid world. Her caretakers do not know how to take care of her, and to provide the environment where she can find her special method of communication which will cause her to be less angry and frustrated.
We have done little with her with regard to the horses, it is too early, she needs her time not adults pressuring her. She appears to love music and was so happy to hold Radwan’s violin.
I would like to see us purchase cheap musical instruments for use with our special needs children, instruments which we are not afraid of damaging.
As Music Director I am very interested in developing our engagement with special needs children, providing them with a nonverbal form of communication.” - Natik
Ah! The horses! When you first dreamed of that land being able to nourish horses that can comfort the souls of a people, I loved the idea but thought that it would be a dream beyond hope. “But God” as the saying goes.
I know that as I watch the photos of Daoud, Barzan and Vagar beautifully loving and caring, not just for these lovely animals, but the timid ones who come to visit them, I rejoice. I have seen the horses and the men grow and flourish.
The dream became a reality through hard work, dedication and love. May they continue to change the lives and attitudes of all those who come to the stables for their own journey of healing. They will never regret the goodness and the joy that they sow into the lives of other less fortunate than themselves. I envy all three of them!!" AF, USA
This is written with sadness mingled with hope which we have embraced, as we continue to pray for the hurting, bleeding nations and people groups of this region.
Can you help?
Will you help us open up the world for this special group of children?