My youngest son Graham (age 6) has severe emotional and behavioral problems that may be due to early onset bipolar disorder. Regardless of the “label” or diagnosis, Graham’s world is certainly a very troubled place as he struggles with symptoms of both mania and depression, with constant shifting between rage and despair. As a result, Graham is so rarely “at peace”; instead, he switches between manic, anxious, confused, irrational, remorseful, irritable, angry, physically aggressive and verbally abusive. Nonetheless, we know, underneath it all, there is the “real” Graham, an incredibly loving and sensitive little person that is perceptive, clever, energetic … and best of all … HAPPY. For many years, we have been on a quest to understand the basis of Graham’s problems and how best to serve him therapeutically. We first learned about the program at NCTRC via his occupational therapy group. I think the biggest revelation for me was that NCTRC serves those with both psychological and physical challenges. Years ago I had heard about the benefits of assisted horseback riding for people with physical limitations so it had never occurred to me that Graham would be a candidate for this type of therapy. Once I understood the mission of NCTRC, I factored in Graham’s love of animals and thought it would be a great match for him. Graham started riding at NCTRC in the fall of 2013. Although I so desperately wanted him to connect with this activity, you never know what will happen with a volatile child that has difficulty with transitions and can be reluctant to attempt new tasks. Well, now I know I shouldn’t have worried because Graham took on this challenge with ease and confidence. He is so serious and focused when he is in the saddle, I can hardly believe he is the same person. I am at a loss to define the exact magic formula for this transformation, but my guess is: (patient and gentle horses) + (patient and gentle instructors) + (fun and supportive volunteer side-walkers) + (friends to ride along with) + (trotting) + (barn cats and barn swallows) + (peaceful and beautiful countryside) + (cowboy boots) = calm and happy Graham. No other activity seems to have this type of soothing power, allowing him to be attentive and cooperative throughout the entire session. He has completed two “semesters” of therapy and very much looks forward to coming each week. And you better believe we will be back next year!! He has been asking to sign up already. I believe Graham has developed a special sense of achievement working with horses, since not all kids (regardless of ability) have access to riding. He is very proud to tell people about his riding experience, listing the names of all the horses and barn cats, and how he earned ribbons at the annual horse show. Our family is *so* grateful that Graham has had the opportunity to be part of this unique program, one that seems to touch him very deeply and profoundly. The NCTRC has ABSOLUTELY fulfilled our family’s deepest desire for Graham to have something special in his world … the special thing he CAN do, the special thing he can rely on to bring him joy, even in the shadow of his deepest troubles. We will be forever grateful for the volunteers, staff, and donors of NCTRC.
I have been on the Board of Directors of NCTRC for about 2 years now, and have been continually amazed by the quality of work the organization does and the effect it has on the lives of its participants. NCTRC is a great demonstration of what a talented and dedicated group of individuals can accomplish to improve the lives of others. Seeing children and adults with physical or mental challenges giddy with excitement and pushing their own limits is truly an awe-inspiring experience. The connection between horses and people that NCTRC fosters is clearly therapeutic and is a huge positive in the lives of people with some major challenges.
I first became affiliated with the NCTRC back in the fall of 2009 through a friend of mine who is a current board member. My company offers service volunteer grants to any organization that employees support, so I had asked her how I could help out. She told me they were looking for some volunteers to help spruce up the place, so I got together around 20 of my co-workers and headed out to Clearwind farm to paint the interior of the farmhouse. When we first got out there I couldn't believe how nice the facilities were! Over the course of a couple of days we had finished painting, and I had gone back to my normal life.
The next week I got a call from Robin Barefoot, who is the current head of the board, thanking me for helping out and inviting me out to actually come see one of the sessions. I accepted her offer and came out there one afternoon to see what therapeutic riding was all about. What I saw changed me- there is no way that you could look at the look of joy on those kids faces and not feel your heart melt a bit. Talking with the parents of these children who have been dealt a bad hand in life was even more eye opening. They all told me how much the programs offered by NCTRC had helped the development of their kids and the effects they had seen in their motor skills, balance, and general demeanor and attitude. I went home that day knowing I had seen something truly amazing.
I proceeded to help out the planning for a fundraising event that spring centered around the Preakness, and after that I received another follow up call from Robin asking If I would be interested in joining the board. I have done and continue to do a lot of work with the Special Olympics of North Carolina (interesting aside, the volunteer coordinator for the SONC who I worked with is actually Dot Kohlbach, who was one fo the orginal founders of the NCTRC back in 1977- small world!) so I'm pretty passionate about enriching the lives of people who have developmental disabilities. I'm not a horse person at all , but I know what I had seen was something special and that I wanted to be a part of it. I accepted her offer and joined in the summer of 2010. In the last two years, I have seen the organization grow and evolve in ways I would have never thought possible in such a short amount of time. It has become a sustainable, strategically guided organization that really makes a difference in hundreds of children's lives in the greater Triangle area.