Rowen Sanders, UK – Oaks First Camp

We are a family of 3 – myself, my husband and our 4 year old son, Oak, who has autism. We went on our first horse boy camp in Oct 09 and I’m not exagerating when I say it actually changed our lives!

We were a little doubtful about attending at first: we didn’t know what to expect or whether Oak would enjoy the experience, but we finally decided that we should ‘go for it’, and see what happened. We felt that not to go would lead to ‘what ifs’ and we would always be wondering.

We arrived at the camp and after having a walk around the farm and meeting the 4 horses, Stella, Katie, Lucy and Taffy, we settled in the barn, where a fire was lit and seemed to never go out for all the time we were there! Oak was quite happy, playing with the various toys there.

The other families arrived and we all said hi, apart from Oak, who carried on ‘being busy’. That was until the arrival of Ruby! Ruby (aged 8) and her family walked into the barn, Oak looked up and put down his toys and marched confidently over to her. He stroked the side of her face then grabbed her hand and that was it – love at first sight! And a real magical moment for us to see him make contact with a new person!

On our first ride out across the moors, that afternoon, everyone took turns in riding the horses. The beauty of the moors was breathtaking and we appreciated our good fortune to be in that place at that point in time, surrounded by genuinely good people and beautiful horses, taking it all in their stride.

For the previous week and a half, Oak had started to say a few words: yeh, no and horsey. Now he was coming out with word after word, and interacting with all the staff and other children. He said:
turkeys, ducks, horsey, doggie, quack, draw, arrow, ruby, yes, no, two (following on from me saying one) and

Another big moment for us was when he called Ruby by her name. Up until this point, only animals and trains had names: if you asked him where mummy was or someone like Sara, his response was blank and nonplussed.

Over the next few days, we all took turns to have a bare back ride, play games on the horses and most importantly – have fun!
I learned so much about horses: they are beautiful creatures and have the highest respect for their choice to befriend us humans and help quietly heal our very souls!

The kids all got on really well and Oak was into visiting everyones tents and yurts, completely oblivious to the usual socail rules about waiting to be invited! Luckily, no one seemed to mind, everyone understanding where he was coming from and it gave us all an opportunity to chat to the other families. (We think Oak will become a great social networker when he is older – especially with his winning smile!) To be able to talk to people who know and feel and understand what life is like with autism is like a big barrier being removed, that is usually there with other people.

Since that experience, we went on another camp in Scotland and had a wonderful time yet again, with huge leaps in Oaks development once more, such as recognising and naming numbers and shapes and learning the concept of share. He also felt comfortable being with other people and asked them for items such as ‘toast-marmite’ and ‘juice’. Meeting and spending time with others who know ‘your world’ is refreshing and a relief. I’m not saying that this is the key to every childs autism, but I do think that the camps enable part of the healing process for the family as a unit.

We will always treasure our time at the camps and are thankful that our family journey took us down that road – together.
Our lives were touched by something magical on these adventures – whether it be the horses, the riding, the relaxed nature of the group, the caring staff, the quality time spent with each other as a family, the surroundings, our personal achievements, the total understanding resonating towards each other or a combination of all this and much more.


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