Nathanael’s mum had always had a love for horses and had a pony when she was a child. She had hoped Nathanael would experience the joy of horses. When Nathanael was 4 years old he was diagnosed with Autism and Severe Learning Difficulties, this meant he found social interaction and communication very difficult and had no understanding of danger. Nathanael attends a Special School and needs supervision 24 hours a day, his mum knew that this would mean Nathanael wouldn’t be able to go to a ‘normal’ riding school. She was aware of Riding for the Disabled and had heard that contact with horses could help children with Autism so she decided to try Avon Riding Centre.
2 and half years ago Nathanael came to the Centre for his assessment, he was too afraid to get on a horse but Kim, the Centre’s RDA Co-Ordinator, encouraged Nathanael to try the horse simulator. This gave Nathanael the opportunity to work through his anxieties around getting on a horse and with some further encouragement he managed to have a ride on the simulator. After a few lessons they were able to complete the ridden assessment and Nathanael had no concerns mounting a real horse! He was then able to begin weekly lessons.
Due to Nathanael’s Autism it is difficult for him to engage in what is happening around him. RDA lessons often involve games, these help to build strength and stability but also improve confidence and memory as well as making lessons fun! Nathanael’s mum was concerned about how he would engage in these but she needed had been, she couldn’t believe her eyes that he was playing, listening for the items he had to collect, picking them up and throwing them into the bucket. Nathanael’s condition does also make him quite loud and impatient at times, this was highlighted in his lessons at the beginning, protesting when the horse halted. The horse Nathanael was riding, Mr Big, and the coaches and side walkers were very patient and he now understands why they need to stop and start without issue. This has proved to be a good exercise in teaching Nathanael patience and has made him calmer overall after he has been horse riding.
Attending lessons at Avon Riding Centre has also been helpful in bringing Nathanael out of himself, not only taking part in the games but he also talks to Mr Big. Nathanael looks forward to attending events at the Centre and has become more aware of animals in general, becoming more engaged with the family dog wanting to smooth her and hold her lead when out walking.
Being able to ride has not only had a positive impact on Nathanael’s life but also his families as he is more engaged and calmer. They enjoy visiting the Centre together and have found additional value in meeting the volunteers, staff and other riders. Nathanael loves his weekly riding lessons and his favourite part is riding in the woods.
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