How do you describe a rider like Luke? His impish smile, his sense of humor, his serious, quiet moments…actually, he is a very typical 9-year-old boy. But he is autistic and when he rides at Little Bit, he lets us, his volunteers, into his world. He has opened up to us and shared his world with us. In return, we have taught him about horses, and riding, and control.
Two weeks ago, I was able to teach Luke to lead his horse on his own. In the past, I stood between him and his steed, J.R. Luke would take jaunty steps, lag behind or run ahead. That Thursday night, however, I handed him the lead rope and coiled it carefully in his hand. With his other small hand on the lead, I gave him the control. He walked with J.R., matching his steps and stride.
Luke has learned a lot about control since he started riding at Little Bit. He used to need reassurance that he would see mom or dad after class-depending on who brought him-as the ritual would begin each week:
“Go see mama? Go see mama?” he would ask with concern, as his eyes darted from his instructor and back and forth to his side walkers.
“Mama later, Luke,” Andrea, his side walker, would reply in her calming voice.
Sometimes, he would get pretty upset and agitated at the idea that mom or dad was not at his side at that moment. As time passed though, he would mimic the whole conversation, reassuring himself that all was OK in his world. “Go see mama”!…Mama later!” He would recite over and over.
I have volunteered at Little Bit for over ten years, and worked with many riders and volunteers. This rider has provided staying power. Luke has brought three of us volunteers together as “Team Luke.” I usually lead, and Andrea and Michelle work as side walkers. We are actually in danger of losing our volunteer jobs as Luke masters his riding skills and refines his balance. He is taking control.
I think that is what has been so special about Luke. He is so charming that his three volunteers keep coming back for him, season after season. We have all formed a bond that will be broken by the very fact that he learning and progressing each week. That is the good news and the bad news all rolled together! We have seen the progress and the great work his instructors do with him. Our goal is for Luke to have full control of his horse. He will get there; sooner than later. In the meantime, however, he highlights the week for me, Andrea, and Michelle.
We are looking forward to summer session, as that is the last time we will be together as the “team.” Michelle will head off to college in the fall. And Luke will probably not need side walkers by the end of this next session. But for now, I will treasure the trail rides, the obstacle courses, and the warm up sessions of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” He has touched our lives and in turn, we hope we have touched his!
A special thanks goes out to Helene, Andrea, and Michelle for making beautiful memories for me.
For information go to this link: http://www.littlebit.org/