Sunday, September 15, 2013

Allie and a Horse Named P.J.

Allie and Daddy meeting PJ March 2013
This entry really started back last March when we got the phone call that Allie's name was at the top of the waiting list for Special Equestrians.  We had been on the list for about 4 years. I had expected a call last fall, but knew it was just a matter of time. Plus, with her being so tiny and so spunky, I knew that the call would come when God knew Allie was ready and when Tim and I could handle it.  So, I didn't rush it. Plus, there was the scary idea of having to have a neck x-ray done before she could ride. 

March 2013 -Slight sign
of nervousness
I'm probably jumping ahead of you right now, so let me back up.  Special Equestrians is a horseback riding theraputic program for people of different abilities.  Their website has a great video that can explain and show you much better than I can so feel free to jump over and see what it is all about.  So, as you can see from the video - getting Allie into a program like this was really a no-brainer.  We just had to wait until a spot came open and pray that she would be ready at the same time. 

Nope. Not going to ride.
We also had to have her neck x-ray done.  This is because it is estimated that up to 15 % of individuals with Down syndrome have a misalignment of the cervical vertebrae C-1 and in the neck. This is called Atlantoaxial Instability. This can potentially cause injury if they participate in activities that hyperextend or radically flex the neck or the upper spine. So, for participation in activities like Horse Back Riding and Gymnastics, Soccer, etc, we had to have her neck x-rayed. We did this quick procedure last December - and I still am so proud of her! It was our first x-ray that she stood like a pro and even said "cheese" for the picture.  We were done before I knew it and I was so proud of her! (Earlier x-rays involved several people holding her down, lots of tears on all of our parts and exhaustion). 

I'll walk PJ
Great news came back days later that she did not have this condition and we are free to go forward with these type of activities. (Although, the mention of "gymnastics" still can cause her Daddy to get very worried).
So, in March, we went for our evaluation. Allie could not be encouraged to get on the sweet horse we met named, PJ.  She did enjoy brushing him, however, but sitting on him was out of the question. 

"Allie, this isn't how we ride a horse"
We had some scheduling issues arise, so we couldn't come back until the summer session began. Summer was a 4 week session. The first week it was like starting all over again. We enjoyed talking to PJ, but Allie refused to put on the helmet so we couldn't do much more that day. We went home and spent a week practicing with the helmet... we all wore it... we all talked about it and at our next visit to see PJ... Allie wore her helmet!! 

She came back from the trail
ride facing the right way!
As soon as we got there, I showed her how everyone has to wear a helmet or they can't ride the horses and she put her helmet on right away!  That visit she enjoyed brushing PJ and talking to PJ, but was ademently refusing to sit on PJ.  Week 3 we came back and she wore the helmet, brushed PJ and refused again to sit on poor PJ.  Her amazing teacher, Melinda, got on PJ and put Allie on her lap - however, Allie wanted to face Melinda and so, off they rode.  I swear we heard Allie crying the whole way, but we were thrilled when we saw them coming back and Allie was facing the right way and not crying at all!  

Kayley and Allie
The last week of the session neither Tim nor I could be there, but our friends, Sherry and Kayley took Allie to her class and I was thrilled when I got the phone call that "Allie was riding PJ!"  She did such a great job and they took so many wonderful pictures and videos of her riding a horse all by herself! 

Last week we began the fall session.  Again, I had a conflict and couldn't attend.  Tim was able to be there for only part of it, so Sherry and Kayley came to the rescue again. I was thrilled to hear that Allie got right on again!  Tim was a little concerned as he saw her waiting and was worried that they had her wait too long, but when it was her turn, she told Melinda "no" and proceeded to be allowed to be put on PJ. She had a great time as you can tell from these wonderful pictures.  Melinda was so proud of her!
Today was her second lesson of the season and I finally got to see Allie ride PJ all by herself!  At first, I worried, too.. she was waiting so patiently and I was afraid she wouldn't ride.

"Hi, Mom!"
Then, I saw her refusing. I saw her hugging Melinda in a clingy type of way. I worried if I'd ever be able to take her anywhere and she still be the girl determined to do things.  Sometimes when "Mommy" is around, I see behavior no one else sees. I worried I'd have to sneak in to these type of events for the rest of her childhood. 

But, she started the lesson by walking PJ into the ring and following instructions and next I knew she was on the horse doing a fantastic job! I found out later she wanted to ride the whole time, but it seems it may be a game now to make everyone wait.  Allie seems to like to be in charge and when she was a ready, then she said okay. 
Looking for Mom

Either way, she was riding the horse again and participating and learning and growing!! She had such a great time. She didn't want to get off the horse at all.

In Class
On a side note, after watching that video on their website, I must admit that her Kindergarten teacher/Aide (Mrs. Harper) asked me if something happened recently because this past Monday Allie seemed like a different girl. They all noticed it.  Coloring has not been something she has ever enjoyed. She has tolerated it when she had to - in pre-school it was for about 10 seconds.  At home - even less I think. 

Whoa, PJ.
But, at Kindergarten, she has to do it.  It is part of school. Every morning, they start their day off with coloring.  So, she would fein sickness (cough, cough, cough), she would literally hold her hand as if not a single muscle in her hand worked. The poor girl acted like she could barely hold a crayon. Then, when forced to color, she would scribble but her head and eyes would look everywhere but at the paper or crayon. (We have a bit of a drama queen).

Confidence shining through
Still, every colored item she brought home got a ton of praise and hung up in the kitchen, we talked, we praised we complimented.  I'm not sure what made Monday different.  Perhaps she realized Mrs. Harper was not going to give in and let her get away without coloring, or perhaps she realized she loves the praise (okay, she knows she loves the attention) or perhaps PJ taught her something that we will never understand. But, she sat at her desk on Monday morning and colored.  She has even started asking to color at home, she is coloring much better and staying attentive.

Mommy watches Allie go on the trail ride.
Today, we went to visit her Grandmother and I noticed there was significantly less running out of the room, acting silly, etc.  She has either hit a new milestone and gotten more mature quickly or more likely - a combination of all things.  She is learning so much in Kindergarten, she has discovered coloring is a lot of fun and she has learned to be a bit calmer when doing things... just like PJ. 

I'm so proud of Allie - and so is everyone else. I hope she will want to continue to ride horses for a very long time!

Melinda is signing to Allie how Proud she is of her!
I love her teacher!!

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