We had our first riding session at Erik's Ranch on Thursday in Belle Plaine, about 25 miles outside the Twin Cities. I was nervous for it because we are a week into the downward titration off Arbaclofen, and the boys are both exhibiting more anxiety.
The people at Erik's Ranch, though, are amazing with kids with autism. I can say that after only one visit, because Zack gave them quite the challenge.
AJ was nervous, for sure, but AJ only fought back mildly when the trainers and assistants helped him up on the horse. He whined for the first 20 minutes or so but then was relatively okay. He never lost his fear - his voice shook when he'd look at me and holler "bye, mom!" and he was very teary. But when I held up the camera he gave me a tiny smile and said "Cheese!"
Zack took a little longer to adjust. I sat on a bench with him, and struggled to hold him as he struggled to escape me and pinch and kick anyone within reach. Sedan walked right up to us - the lovely, gentle, friendly horse Zack was going to ride. He seemed very calm and curious about us. I petted his nose and told Zack "See, gentle."
Zack reach out tentatively and sort of smack-petted the horse. I yanked him away before he could hurt Sedan.
See, Zack was petrified. And I held him, forcefully, in close proximity to the horse. I was trying to get him acclimated, but this is what Zack does, when he feels petrified and threatened. He lashes out defensively. It doesn't seem like reasonable behavior to others because everyone knows horses are gentle and harmless, right? But try and imagine Zack's terror. In his mind, that horse might as well have been a rabid hyena.
Another trainer was right there with us, and we chatted a little, while I wrestled with Zack, and he fought to escape me. For a moment he was still, and the trainer and the woman holding the horse's bridle and I all looked away, over toward where AJ was riding.
"Look, Zack! AJ is riding! He's doing it, and he's having fun, look!"
And Zack twisted in my arms, threw his leg into the air, and swiftly kicked that horse right in the nose.
I grabbed him. He never actually got away from me. Well, one leg did.
Sedan jumped back several steps, snorted, and stomped a little. The woman holding his bridle talked to him and comforted him, and he was fine. Just startled.
But oh, goodness.
Then one of the lead therapists, who had been walking with AJ, came over and took charge. A couple of them took Zack for a walk, to get his nervous energy out and take a little break.
When they came back, they asked me to wait outside the barn while they got Zack up on the horse, and I happily and quickly obliged. Because in school and at therapy, through one of those I-can-see-you-but-you-can't-see-me windows, I've seen just how great the boys can do once I leave the room.
For some reason when I'm there, they are all "oh help me, I can't do it alone, I'm scared and need my mommy!" But as soon as I'm gone they are all "fine, now that she's gone I can stop putting on the show, so let's get down to business."
And Zack rode the horse that just a few minutes earlier he'd kicked in the face.
He rode for a few minutes and then said he wanted to get down, and they helped him down and went for another walk. Oh and by the way, when I say they went for a walk, I mean, they went for a jog-skip-bounce. Because Zack hardly ever just walks.
And then they got him up there and he rode the horse, again.
And this is why I have to say, Erik's Ranch has the most wonderful and amazing people working there. We will be going every Thursday through the summer, and hopefully by the end, they'll be riding the horses enthusiastically. Instead of with unbridled panic and terror.