Saturday, March 19, 2011

John Laughs

I volunteer at a therapeutic riding center. I've done this for years and have witnessed many heartwarming moments. This week brought another such moment. During a hippotherapy session (physical therapy on a horse) John laughed. He belted out a deep, extended belly laugh, several times. His laughter made us all laugh.

As a volunteer I am not privy to any information about the clients. I don't know John's case history. But I do know that John is probably in his 50's. He does not talk, but makes some sounds. He is basically confined to a wheelchair because he can not flatten his feet. The tendons have tightened and his toe point would make a ballerina jealous!

When John began riding a year ago he had very little core strength and found it difficult to sit upright and to keep his head upright. The helmet irritated John and he would often reach up and angrily wrest it off his head and toss it to the ground. That meant that he would have to be dismounted immediately. We think that John understands the 'No Helmet - No Ride' thing because on other occasions he has thrown off the helmet in order to end his day! They do say actions speak louder than words!! During his first sessions he tired quickly and often had to be taken off within 15 minutes. It is hard work to sit up on a moving horse when you have been in a wheelchair for a long time. One of the great things about horseback riding for handicapped people is that the movement of the horse accurately mimics the movement of a human walking, pushing your hips in the same way they would move if you walked. This forces your upper body to use muscles that you would be using if you could walk. The brain also gets to process the movement from visual feedback.

John riding Gold

John has come a long way in a year. John loves riding. It still takes two men fabulous volunteers to lift John up to the saddle, but John has begun to help lift his leg over the pommel once he is seated. John sits up independently in the saddle. He has begun to center himself when instructed. He holds his head up and looks around. Sometimes he turns his head to look at something in response to the therapist's instructions. But, by far the greatest reward is to hear that infectious laugh!


  1. Now that he is used to it, riding a horse must be one of the most positive highlights in his life. So great that you volunteer in this program.

  2. These programs are wonderful - good for you for volunteering - and so great to see how important the horses can be for the people who ride them.

  3. That story makes my soul smile !

  4. I used to work at a therapeutic riding center. Everyone there knew about kids and folks with disabilities, but I was the horse person. I loved it!

  5. there is a hippotherapy center near us and since i'm unemployed, i wanted to volunteer there.

    it turns out that since this is germany, even to volunteer you need a 3 year training certificate.

    and i have several years' experience in health care! (CNA with disabled people)

    nice *sigh*

  6. it is a great post, thanks for sharing, and it reminds me that practically the only time i have good posture is when i'm on a horse. i spend way too much time hunched over a laptop.

    i need to get riding regularly again.

  7. wonderful! horses can sometimes work their magic on people who need it.
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  8. What a heartwarming story; amazing how horses can draw us in and change us - and how their impact on John's life can change us too.
    John's laugh must have been more precious than a 1000 words; words can be contrived, but a belly laugh - that comes from unrestrained glee from a soul experiencing delight.
    Bless you Cyndi! Thank you for the story.


  9. Great story. Horses are magical.


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