Sunday, October 12, 2008

Spreading Some Sunshine

Saturday night marked the annual "Hoedown" at REINS, also known as "The Happiest Place in the World". I have written about REINS previously, as it is the place we take both J and Baby C for horseback riding.
REINS has one simple requirement for its riders - that they experience a disability. For this reason, our middle son T has not been able to participate. No matter, as he is well known around there for his wit and shiny attitude, and loves to go as much as his older brother. His younger brother is not yet quite sure what to make of the place, but his most recent session went just a bit more smoothly that the prior ones.

It was our great pleasure this year (my company, my family) to donate the fresh flower arrangements for all of the guest tables at the Hoedown. I am fortunate enough to be in a leadership role in a company that is in the business of wholesale fresh flower distribution, and it occurred to me that providing bright, cheery flowers for the all-important, annual fund-raising event is one way that we can give back after all the wonderful experiences we have had there over the years. So for a few days leading into the event, several of my employees who have arrangement-design experience, led by their wonderful manager Leticia, prepared two different designs - one for the expensive "Sponsorship" tables, and another, smaller design for the other tables. Keep in mind that this is an all-outdoor event, western-themed, with an Autumn twist due to its occurring on October, complete with a riding demonstration by some of the students/participants. After having spent that Saturday morning working, I hopped in the big ol' work truck - loaded with fresh flower arrangements - and drove it over to the site of the event, which is right on the grounds of REINS.
With the help of Kaitlyn and Jessica - two lovely ladies who have not only taught J to ride horses but also have helped J and T with swimming lessons over two summers, and have generally become dear friends to our family - we placed all of the floral arrangements on the tables.
I must admit, they did add a certain amount of charm to the whole event.

Flowers aside, the main event of the Hoedown is the riding demonstration. I'll tell you, once the demonstration is underway, there is rarely a dry eye in the place. The lengths that some of these riders go to in order to participate here(not just for the Hoedown, but every week, all year long) is just ... inspirational.
The first rider provided a fascinating counterpoint for our family, in particular. You see, during this rider's introduction, it was mentioned that the youngest rider is under two and the oldest rider is 93 years old! Of course, the "under two" rider is our own son, Baby C. The oldest is Millie, who also has the challenge of Scoliosis. At 93, Millie is the epitome of inspiration for all us young whippersnappers who feel a little bit beat up after a long day of raising kids or conducting business.

The next rider prompted Debbie, the emcee of the riding demonstration and owner/operator of REINS, to bring us all the way back from age 93 to age 5. In spirit, anyway. This rider suffers from Progeria, and her body is already experiencing many of the physically degenerative characteristics that typical people might undergo in their 50's. And there she was, with she and her supporters encouraging her horse to a lengthy trot to finish her part of the demo. And what a great moment to experience the synergy created by an engaged audience and a rider who is so genuinely and rightfully proud of her achievement.

I realize that Hippotherapy (the benefits of riding horseback) lacks any data to support its use as a "remedy" for what ails people. We can talk about core strength and balance, we can observe the bond that develops between some horses and riders. We can call the riding routines "life skills" or "positive reinforcement". All that is predictably clinical, despite the decidedly non-clinical setting, and utterly belies our lack of imagination in understanding what really happens at REINS.
This is a community. No one gives a darn about disabilities here. Nobody is trying to cure anyone of anything. I don't think "warrior mothers" like Jenny McCarthy would find very fertile ground here for convincing people that autism is some sort of tragic circumstance. Everyone loves horses here, as well as people who may not be just like themselves. Work gets done. Funds are raised, without a lot of pomp and circumstance but with the help of the local community. Young, angst-ridden adolescent volunteers who harbor the thought of complaining about the heat and the dust are silenced by self-comparisons to people who have much more than today's climatic conditions to worry about. Adults and children alike find a deep-seated thrill in their mundane tete-a-tetes with their equine compatriots.

Even Dads who are feeling pinched by the responsibilities of raising three sons and trying to navigate a business through a difficult economic climate find reasons here to spread some Sunshine!


Liz Ditz said...

Steve, thanks for sharing the pictures & your family's experience.

Actually, I believe that there is a pretty robust literature on hippotherapy & cerebral palsy. Just not so much on autism. (Hint, hint, graduate students in OT and PT.)

Niksmom said...

Steve, this is such a great post; it really hit me on a visceral level today. We are trying to find a program for Nik to get into and aren't having much luck so far.

This post strengthens my resolve, though. And the flowers are not only gorgeous but, I imagine, they must have made everyone and everthing feel so special. Nice touch. :)

Jen said...

Wow- that post makes me jealous on a couple of different levels!

I love flowers, but fortunately only seem to be able to grow herbs, veggies and wildflowers without killing them completely :-)

And that is a fantastic setup for the equestrian program- I am SO jealous of that! I helped teach riding for the "disabled" for a while before I had my kids, and it was a fantastic experience for someone who had never known anyone with a "disability". I'm pretty sure that there has been some research done on the benefits, but I'll double-check through my files and see what I can find. We used to have to keep fairly extensive records on each rider and the minute improvements that we saw each week (as well as obvious things like- "hates black horses). For someone who didn't have a clue about disabilities then I was amazed to see just how quickly most of the clients responded, and the sense of confidence it gave them.

My son has done riding at a nice facility for a few years on and off much (he's not that keen on horses at the moment so he's taking a break), and I still hope that some day my girls will be able to go.

I am SO jealous of that facility though- I know what I'm doing if I win two lotteries :-)