What a Girl on a Horse Taught Me About Adults with Disabilities

 Pattrick Ryan sits atop a horse at Healing Strides of Virginia in Boones Mill, VA

Pattrick Ryan sits atop a horse at Healing Strides of Virginia in Boones Mill, VA

What a Girl on a Horse Taught Me About Adults with Disabilities

by Michelle L. Belton, CDP, CAEd


I recently accompanied Pattrick, a young adult client of mine with disabilities, to a therapeutic horse back riding program called Healing Strides of VA. I can't pretend to understand what Pattrick, age 35 from a large area of New York, could possibly get out of riding a horse. He does not possess the country state of mind that I would have pegged for liking barn animals at all!

We showed up, him in shiny basketball shorts, new bright-colored tennis shoes, and an over-sized tie-dyed t-shirt and me wearing my best-placating smile. Due to his malformed ankles and feet from birth and bone abnormalities of his back, he brought an extra walking cane for stability. His large focal glasses rimmed in safety rubber to combat partial blindness looked almost like horse jockey glasses.

I have been a Companion and friend to this young man for several years and was more nervous about this new activity than he. I know the challenges of accommodating activities to his capabilities and how much I search to integrate him into normal life and daily chores.

I looked around at the other clients of the program. Of course, I am searching for those that are, "worse off" in abilities and trying to assuage my hesitancy about this situation. I see a very young lady, possibly middle to late teens, controlling her motorized wheelchair over into the mounting area near a horse. She's very slight of build with long braids. I can hear her bantering in a small but excited voice with the therapy instructors.

Then in one strong swoop, the therapy instructor picked up this young woman out of her chair and placed her in the saddle of the horse. The instructor began to buckle and strap her upright to an adaptive backboard that was attached to the saddle. Then she handed her the reins.

I couldn't quit watching at this point. I had made many assumptions as to the young woman's physical limitations and her disabilities. I had weakened her abilities to almost a scene of pity in my head.

I watched her take the reins in her hands and command the horse to walk. It listened. The two started through the stall gate out into the riding ring. I was enthralled. She sat up so tall and her legs were bouncing in perfect rhythm on either side of the horse. She was in charge of this huge animal of several hundred pounds when she couldn't have weighed 100 pounds herself!

An awareness came over me as if I had been hit with a lightning bolt. I was watching a very capable person ride this horse. I wasn't watching a disabled person ride this horse. If I had never seen her motorized wheelchair, I would never have made any assumptions other than, "look at this young woman with the pretty braids riding that horse”.

 Companion Home Care Inc client Pattrick Ryan posing on horseback at Healing Strides of VA

Companion Home Care Inc client Pattrick Ryan posing on horseback at Healing Strides of VA

About Companion Home Care Inc: 

Companion Home Care is a senior home health care, adult care, and child care provider based in Roanoke, VA. Our motto is to provide a "better class of companion for a better quality of life". We accomplish this by hiring the best, most qualified caregivers, and using our knowledge and experience to craft a personalized home care plan for our clients, then match clients with the perfect caregiver based on client needs, personality, and skills required.

Our caregivers help seniors age gracefully, cope with Alzheimer's, dementia, and illnesses, and enjoy healthy and happy lives from the comfort of their own homes. In addition to senior home health care, we also provide Roanoke home care for adults and children with disabilities, traumatic brain injury and diseases, physical injuries, and special needs in Roanoke, Salem, Vinton, Christiansburg, Blacksburg, Smith Mountain Lake, Moneta, Bedford, and surrounding areas of southwest Virginia.

Companion Home Care Inc
424 Campbell Ave SW
Roanoke, VA 24016
(540) 981-2255