A magical location with the most amazing people, who perform miracles daily and make dreams come true.
The work that the Horse Boy Foundation does with autistic children and, just as importantly, their whole family is well documented. The spectacular results this committed group has achieved with so many families not only left me speechless at the pure joy every child expressed in their own unique way but the honest, heartfelt invitation to become part of a mutual support network left me moved to the core of my soul.
The invitation extends past those affected by autism; to vulnerable individuals, to young offenders, to anyone with a will to contribute and in October 2013 to me. Wrestling with stress, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety and depression, needing to make some fundamental changes to my life, I was privileged to spend 3 weeks at New Trails, the Texan home of Horse Boy, and be the beneficiary of their expansion into personal development.
A classic overachiever, believing professional success was the only way to personal security and happiness, I had isolated myself. When I became too distraught to continue working in the office and I was told to take a minimum of 6 weeks off, my fear failure and of losing any kind of future became completely overwhelming. As I started to bring the fatigue under control and become a little physically fitter I knew I had to get some structure back into my life and find a reason to interact with people again. However having always believed “if you don’t go to school, you can’t go out to play”, and being effectively banned from going back to work, I had no concept of how to start living again rather than simply surviving.
A string of coincidences and chances, some may call Fate, found me accepting that invitation. It may not have been a trek across Mongolia with an autistic child to find a culture that may no longer exist, but for a girl that no longer trusted her own judgement or her own ability to function, that struggled to connect with lifelong friends let alone make new ones and who had given up on any dream of a worthwhile future, getting on that transatlantic flight was terrifying and liberating in equal measures.
From the moment the plane touched down everything was a personal challenge; a trust exercise; and an emotional journey. I hadn’t even been there a day when I blew 2 tires on my hire car going over a railroad crossing, sat in the pitch black on a deserted road with no emergency recovery on the hire car, I had to let go of my extreme self sufficient ideology and ask for help. And help came. The following day, my first ride on the Horse Boy ranch, I was given a wild-caught Mustang and less than five minutes later having not got out of walk, in a dressage saddle without tendon boots or a back protector, I was jumping combinations of cross country fences up to 3’3 on natural woodland groundcover. Each riding lesson asked me to trust my own mental and physical abilities, to trust that I was worthy of getting onto these beautiful and extremely highly schooled animals, to trust that I was worth the investment from exceptionally skilled, knowledgeable and companionate instructors. By the end of the 3 weeks I had experienced piaffe, passage, lavade, flying changes, tempe changes, all beyond my wildest dreams of my ability and most importantly learnt that not only can I trust myself but by asking others for help you can accomplish more. At New Trails admitting weaknesses, limitations and fears is rewarded with the support to achieve rather than pounced upon and exploited – and if this can be achieved with high school dressage, a notoriously back stabbing discipline, then just imagine the possibilities.
Even greater than the challenge to my inner demons, was the test of my belief that I had to be whole before I could be part of something bigger. Couple that with my total acceptance of the very modern western concept of only ever being able to rely on yourself, the Horse Boy Tribe concept was something I longed for, and was terrified of, in equal and conflicting measures. New Trails however gave me the perfect way to experience the possibilities this way of life offers and see the benefits first hand without having to overcome all my fears in advance. Families arrived, often after long and taxing journeys, to be greeted by friends who had no judgment, who understood the challenges the world presented to children on the spectrum, who were happy to help the child, the sibling and the parents and carers and the relief was palpable. On almost every occasion, due to the support and structures offered by Horse Boy I could not tell which where the children on the spectrum and which were the siblings. And equally, I can assure you the children had no idea how much they were learning. Being around the children taught me so much about being in the moment, to not tarnish that by clinging to fears or preconceptions and to not suppress the emotional response to pleasure or pain so that you don’t constantly add to your own emotional baggage. It’s difficult with only words not to paint an almost Disney-like sugar sweet oasis and by doing so to take something away from the reality. The power of Horse Boy is because of the reality and the realism coupled with huge amounts of compassion; telling the constructive truth builds everyone’s ability, preventing people setting themselves up to fail and strengthening the bond between tribesmen in a way that sugar coating things will never achieve.
The ultimate aim of the Horse Boy Foundation, through its sensory environment, speech therapy and kinetic learning, is to teach self advocacy to those who were once locked within themselves, however self advocacy is just as important against the overwhelming inner voices of doubt, fear and self-criticism. In those things, the population in need is even greater than those touched by autism, and this may be for you, like it was for me, the key to starting the journey to a real, exciting and rewarding future.