The following is a college essay by Tessa Biggs from Square Peg in California, USA
Yesterday’s first session was with J, an eight-year-old non-verbal boy. I helped him onto the horse and he smacked on the head – hard.
Fortunately, this was not my first rodeo.
I work at Square Peg, an equine based program for people with autism and related neuropsychological challenges. Things are different here. Acceptance is central to the ideology of Square Peg, and the key to preserving the dignity of the individual. My job is to understand that J was communicating sensory overload in the only way people listen to someone with few words.
I started here as a 13-year-old volunteer caring for Square Peg’s horses. They’re injured and re-purposed racehorses. They are also “square pegs.”
Over the years I progressed to working with kids. We sang, hiked, and kayaked, and rode. We caught garter snakes, and slid down manure piles.
Now, as a Square Peg instructor, I model acceptance, play, and joy. My job is to follow the interest of the child. It could mean running around the corral pretending we are horses, it might mean staging an epic light saber battle on horseback. Acceptance and delight are the order of the day – all days. It is the groundwork for self-determination.
For the families, learning that there is one place where their child isn’t just tolerated, he’s celebrated creates a context for relaxation, a glimmer of hope, and a chance to connect with other families. Finally, they don’t feel isolated.
Children find peace in the physical connection pressing their cheek against a warm, kind horse twenty times their size. Those who struggle to speak have breakthrough moments of communication.
As for J – gradually, the rocking of the horse and the stillness of the trees and the absence of blame soothed his cortisol-soaked brain. Fifteen minutes later with his face tilted up to the sunshine, he smiled at me. He started the ride by hitting my hand – at the end he kissed it.
Tuesday, December 3 2019 is Giving Tuesday. Square Peg has received the largest single year grant opportunity. ALL donations committed by December 31, 2019 will be matched up to $75,000. Please help us make best use of this matching grant. Your support means the world to us and to the families and the animals we serve.