As we reflect back on our year … a lot has happened! We have grown and met new people; we have torn down and rebuilt; we have laughed and cried; but at the end of the day, I hope most of all that we have managed to make an impact on people’s lives. If you leave the barn a little happier, or a little more at peace with the world, our job here is done.

One student in particular has made an impact on me this year. Sharini’s family came to us looking for therapeutic riding lessons after her doctors recommended it. During her first lesson with us, none of us were sure if it would be a good fit for her. She couldn’t even look at the horse without crying, and touching was out of the option. Even getting the helmet on was an ordeal! After watching her big sister ride a couple of laps, Sharini rode Bunny around the ring once, and we called it a success.

The next few lessons were equally as tough, with little steps of progress made here and there. One of the volunteers had the great idea to tell Sharini she looked pretty in her helmet, and Sharini started putting her helmet on herself. Although she still cried, she started crying when we STOPPED walking, and we were able to ride for 20 or 30 minutes. A smile here and there made us determined to keep trying!

There are moments that stand out from every rider’s journey. For Sharini, I don’t often remember the specifics of every ride, but I remember flashes of joy: when Sharini said Bunny’s name for the first time (just a “Buh” and an “ee” sound); when she looked at one of the big horses in the barn and let them reach out to her without crying. The first time she laughed on Bunny and stopped crying because Bunny snorted, and that was the funniest thing in the world. When she steered Bunny and smiled so big and laughed because she did it by herself, then laughed more when she realized that she could ignore my instructions and make Bunny go somewhere Sharini wanted to go! Realizing that laying down on Bunny’s back felt wonderful. Using a brush to brush Bunny while she was riding, then the next lesson walking up to Bunny and wanting to brush her before she rode without any prompting. Standing up in the stirrups to post. Deciding to be brave and steer up and down the big hill. The first lesson she sat up without any back support and held the reins the entire time. When Sharini said a multi-syllabic word for the first time (Marshmallow!), and then progressed to spontaneously saying sentences, like the day when she walked into the barn and said without any prompting, “I don’t ride the big horses, I ride Bunny!”

With every rider, aside from basic safety, my first job is to figure out how to help them communicate with the horse. How do I help the rider realize that, not only can they tell the horse what to do and how they are feeling, but that the horse can do the same? One of the best things about horses is that this communication can often happen without words. Often, I will see a rider cry or act negatively in an attempt to communicate. But when the rider learns and understands that they can talk to the horse without words, it opens a whole new world.

Watching Sharini grow into these new skills—from being terrified of the horse to complete confidence, from communicating in vocalizations to full sentences, from waiting to be told what to do to making choices and being in charge of Bunny—was one of the best gifts I could have received this past year.

Helping someone else find their joy is what makes life worth it.

Sharini’s lessons this year were made possible in part by scholarship assistance through the ECHO Foundation. Personally, I delight in helping others and making an impact in someone’s life truly fulfills me—it’s why I became a therapeutic horseback riding instructor. I get to combine my passion for horses while assisting people.

Working with the ECHO Foundation here at Trinity Farm allows me to genuinely see and experience what a horse can do for a person. How interacting with this animal—who can so perfectly mirror our inner selves—can let a shy, scared girl grow into herself to be a more confident person. At its core, that’s exactly what the ECHO Foundation enables. ECHO is a 501(c)3 non-profit that seeks to enable individuals to experience the full breadth of horsemanship education, training, careers and skills building who could not otherwise afford to do so. ECHO supports the integration of therapeutic and typical riders in lesson programs, shows, camps, clinics and other equine assisted activities and therapies. From grants for therapeutic riding instructors to attend certifications or continuing education conferences, to scholarships for campers to attend horse camps, for riders for shows or lessons, or facility improvement grants to improve accessibility or purchase adaptive equipment.

Because of the work ECHO does, and the resounding impact it can have on just one person’s life, ECHO is an organization I am proud to support.

Give The Gift of Horses

ECHO’s mission lets everyone experience the positive power of the human-equine connection. Donations are used for a variety of things: camp scholarships, lesson scholarships, instructor certifications, equine care, show scholarships, and more.