Dancing in the Rain: A Horse’s Journey of Learning and Joy

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For Her, Horses Unlocked A Whole New World. She now wants to give back to her neighborhood

If you want a stable friendship, get a horse. – Unknown.

I have spent my whole life seated, ever since I was four years old. I was paralyzed from the chest down in a vehicle accident. Back in 1979, the idea of nationally required automotive safety seats was still a long way off. I have to live my life differently because of my disability. I was taught at a young age that I had to discover my strengths and act fearlessly on them.

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The author poses for a quick snapshot on Maxi, her Tennessee Walking Horse mare. Courtesy of Leslie Ostrander

I had a long-standing ambition of riding a horse. But other physical obstacles stood in the way. My family was my support system; in the end, we got together in a nearby stable. Using components from an abandoned wheelchair, my husband altered a Western saddle for me.

A newfound sensation of freedom came over me the first time I got into the saddle of a wonderful Tennessee Walking Horse mare and gripped the reins. My body was stirred by the mare’s soft, rhythmic walking stride, which was akin to a human’s movement. It was the closest I had gotten to walking as an adult, physically speaking. Riding a horse also opened my eyes to fresh perspectives. I was feeling a greater degree of experience with the world for the first time. There was no separating me and my hubby!

It only took me one ride to become hooked. I started to have more balance and flexibility after a few rides. My family and friends gave me the chance to go on a real trail ride, instead of just putting me on a horse and riding across an arena. Additionally, I learned how to properly saddle and bridle a horse, mount and dismount, and other fundamental horse care techniques. And like every other rider, I had to take care of my equipment.

To put it another way, I developed my bond with horses naturally via actual ranch labor. In fact, working with horses has become such a fulfilling experience for me that I now want to assist others in gaining the same benefits from equine-assisted therapy.

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Research has shown that anybody dealing with a physical, mental, or behavioral handicap may benefit particularly from horseback riding. Oddly enough, it all stems back to those beautiful horse motions. They provide riders the ability to move in three dimensions: side to side, up and down, and forward and backward. This intricate movement simultaneously activates the rider’s muscles, brain, and nerves, producing amazing effects.

Additionally, engaging in equestrian activities both within and outside of a therapeutic context enhances social well-being (confidence, mobility, independence), emotional functioning (concentration, self-awareness, empathy), and physical functionality (balance, strength, coordination).

An absolute wealth of advantages! And for that reason, I’m determined to create my own 501(3)c—a therapeutic riding center—here in my hometown in eastern Georgia.

“Life’s not about waiting for the storms to pass…it’s about learning to dance in the rain” is one of my favorite sayings by Vivian Green. Putting disabled persons in saddles gives them a renewed feeling of independence and inspires them to take charge of their lives and succeed.

Leslie Ostrander, her husband, their two teenage boys, and two horses who were saved all reside in Fortson, Georgia. Her aspirations to establish an adapted riding facility in her community have also given her a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm.