Once a year, I help out at a two-week ranch retreat for adults suffering from brain injuries. I started out volunteering for after-hour riding privileges, but this retreat fills my soul up so completely that by the time it's over I feel I should be paying for the privilege of being there. I’ve seen such miraculous transformations that it's easily the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.
Often, these campers enter the riding arena in fear and trembling. Some of them act like two-year olds who are terrified of dogs. But there are no dogs here, just gentle, serene horses. Bomb-proof, empathetic, miracle-worker horses.
Some of the campers are in wheelchairs, wearing bibs to catch their drool. Some of them sob, some scream, and some seem oblivious.
One at a time, they are assisted up on the mounting ramp to courageously commence on the ride of their lives. Even though the ramp brings their hips level to the horse’s saddle, they often lack muscle control and even with a helper on either side, it is a struggle to get them situated comfortably. The well-trained horse waits patiently and calmly. Once the adult is seated and the horse walks slowly out, the rocking motion seems to activate an osmosis that causes the calm demeanor of the horse to be absorbed by its rider. We quickly form a parade of horses sharing with happy campers what normalcy feels like.
After we lead them on a trail ride, we come back to cool down in the arena and we always ask the riders if they’re stiff from riding and need to get off.
The last day of the retreat, the lady whose horse I was leading sighed happily, “No, I NEVER want to get off.” I know the feeling. There’s no place I’d rather be than on the back of one of our sweet horses. Second to that would be leading one of our sweet horses with a sweet, appreciative, transformed rider on his back.