I don’t think I ever really thought about the importance of equine therapy before having a child that benefits from it. I’m sure some people think it is silly, but it really isn’t. It isn’t just a kid in a helmet on a horse. This is my Dax’s special thing. It is the one thing he gets to do that really keeps him smiling through the pain and hard times (brought on mostly by EDS).
It truly is special.
I’ll never forget one of Dax’s first days at therapy. Nell, the director, was teaching Dax some of the arm commands that she uses to tell the horses direction when walking the arena. She showed how she could make the horse go left around the arena or right around the arena just with a simple raise of her arm. She then pulled Dax into the arena with her and said, “Now, you try.” So, he did. He did the same arm movements, left or right, that Nell did. The horse didn’t budge. Dax tried again. Nothing. The horse just stood there. Then, she told Dax that he needed to bond with his horse, that horses respond with love and kindness just as people do. So, she told him to go talk to and love his horse. So, he did. He walked up, spoke gently to her, rubbed her forelock, and gave her a hug around her thick neck. The horse was so sweet and nuzzled into him. “Now,” Nell said. “Now, take a few steps forward.” Dax did. Then, the horse did. “Take a few more steps.” Dax did, and the horse did. Nell then said, “Now,..Now..you have bonded with your horse.” Every single step Dax took in any direction from that point on, the horse followed just a step behind. Any hand signal he gave, the horse complied. I don’t think I will ever forget that. I am sure he will not, either. It was an amazing lesson and moment.
Dax isn’t able to play organized sports. He doesn’t get to go to public school. He misses out on a LOT. This is his ONE thing. While Aden goes to baseball, basketball, football, practices, games, school awards ceremonies, PE, or just the playground, Dax is either stuck watching the event or at home with me (usually feeling pretty darn badly). He may get to play with other siblings at a baseball game or something, but that is about as far as it goes. His only other enjoyable and suitable exercise option is swimming, and we have yet to find an indoor pool warm enough to accommodate his inability to maintain body temperature in the cooler seasons.
Ehlers-Danlos is isolating. That’s all there is to it.
Because Dax cannot go to school, he is often alone with me (ol’ mom) during the hardest of months for him. Fall and winter is always the hardest. It is a combination of abundant germs and a poor immune system, lack of sunlight, the demands and stress of school days, and inability to keep constant exercise. This isn’t just a cyclic worsening phenomenon that Daxman experiences, it seems to be a fairly universal seasonal (or weather-related) EDS decline.
During the school season, he sits a lot in order to complete school work. His body has more pain due to sitting, not moving around constantly, writing makes his hands hurt, and he feels flu-like just about every day. His belly constantly hurts, and he gets grumpy from the constant fatigue, nausea, sharp pains, etc. His body cannot cope with the cold temperatures, and he can get downright miserable. These are problems that he continually lives with (amongst others), but certain weather and times-of-year are correlated with worsening. We are coming up on our 4th fall/winter since his decline, and I now know sort of what to expect. Can you imagine doing work or schoolwork or functioning while feeling ill every day?
Equine therapy at Divine Equine gets him up and out of the house. It gives him something to look forward to, with people who understand, and it makes him smile. He gets to be around other kids with a disability or chronic issue. He gets exercise by brushing, grooming, climbing onto, and riding a horse. (Horses are amazing creatures. They, alone, are special to be around). The therapy is something his body can do. He strengthens his core. He visits with the warm instructors and amazing volunteers, who are great people and encourage him and laugh with him. He plays games that require muscles and balance. He follows instructions from someone other than me. He listens. He is around people. He is outside. He has a wonderful time, every time. He gains confidence.
So, why does he do it year-round? For the same reasons. He builds muscle. He has FUN. It takes his mind off of feeling badly, and it prepares his little body and mind for whatever comes in the other less-optimal seasons. And, it is HIS thing. He deserves a thing.
When you feel badly every day and no one around you can physically see it, the world around you goes on as usual. Dax having fun is SO very important. Dax having something to look forward to, in the fresh air, with good people is SO important. One of the hardest components of EDS is the mental portion. It can really wear him out. I want to do my best to show him that we care for him very much and that he will be able to modify his life in a fulfilling way.
It isn’t always easy. Sometimes, it really wears him out. Sometimes, we drag out of the door.. and sometimes (very infrequently) he just cannot do it. He loves equine therapy. I love equine therapy for him (and I love being out and around people myself. Mom gets isolated too). It is worth it in so many ways.
If you have considered volunteering and haven’t found that cause that reaches out to you, I suggest you try it. The environment and people are something that will stick with you forever. Seeing the children and veterans that this service benefits light up is well worth the time. I really hope that Aden chooses to volunteer here one day.
Thank you SO very much to everyone who donated to Divine Equine on Dax’s behalf.
I hope you know how much it means to Dax and our family!