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Horsing Around

A boy with moderate autism adores his new horseback riding camp.

 

“Come on Justin, we’re going to horseback riding camp!” I say to the retreating back of my oldest child, in the hopes I’ll lure him away from his DVD player and get him into the car. He stops dead in his tracks and looks at me with a huge grin on his face, then makes a beeline for the door, the contraption he uses to view every Disney movie ever made completely forgotten.

I grab hold of the three huge bags necessary to sustain him for four hours every day this week, and follow closely behind him as he exits the house. He is gleeful as he enters the car, and I’m hoping he remains this way when he realizes we’re not going to the camp he’s been to for years, but the new one I showed him a few weeks ago. I strap him in and turn on the top 40 hits, and he’s immediately moving to the music, happy.

His momma’s hoping he stays that way.

We quickly reach our destination, and Justin looks a bit confused, but still happy with my plan. I have to grab his wrist tightly to keep him from running right into the barn, and with horses and cars as potential obstacles I keep close to him. He sees the woman who is going to care for him for the week and runs excitedly up to her, then turns and pushes me away.

I tell his lovely assistant that this unfortunately is a new method of communication we’re trying to extinguish (in Justin’s mind I imagine he’s thinking, “out with the old, in with the new”), and I follow behind them with gear in tow, as his aide has all she can handle with my impulsive son.

We sequester the items necessary for his survival (lunch, extra clothes, and a million juices and snacks) and I say goodbye to my boy, who gives me the briefest of glances, and looks to his “woman du jour” as if to say “what ya got for me?”. I remind his caretaker that my mom will pick him up today and walk toward my car, happy for Justin, and mostly relieved. There’s no guarantee he’ll like something new, and frankly camp is a luxury, not a guarantee like summer school.

I exhale, and realize just how much I want him to have some “typical” kid experiences in the summer, so that his childhood will mirror mine in just the slightest way. I throw a silent plea to the universe that the rest of his stay here is as successful as his first drop-off.

And a few days in, it still is.

He loves his new camp. Justin is thriving on new challenges, is learning grooming techniques that I hope he’ll carry with him to adulthood, and forging new connections with strangers. The word is he’s wonderful on the horses, shows a tepid reaction to arts and crafts (that hasn’t changed since toddlerhood), and has a smile for everyone.

On the second day of camp he even asked for his mommy for the first time ever on his iPad. Seems as if even I get something out of horse camp.

He’s got a few days left to go, but I’m confident we’ve discovered a new venue that will meet his needs, and make him happy to boot. I couldn’t be happier with the staff at Celtic Charms in Howell, NJ, who have been so kind and responsive to all of Justin’s needs as well as my concerns about attempting a new camp after so many years. They are a non-profit organization which serves individuals with physical and emotional disabilities, and their goal is to teach all components of horseback riding to their charges in a fun and safe atmosphere. Celtic Charms serves the needs of both individuals, and small groups.

Many thanks to all involved in making this program a success for Justin!

Celtic Charms Therapeutic Horse Farm

671 Fort Plains Road

Howell, NJ 07731

(732) 987-5333

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