Posts Tagged ‘Riding on the Autism Spectrum’

Click the image above to watch the TODAY feature about what horses can do for children with autism.

Click the image above to watch the TODAY feature about what horses can do for children with autism.


“Isaiah Forte, 9, flashes a brilliant smile from the horse he’s riding,” writes TODAY contributor Linda Carroll in the show’s November 12th feature story that shares how horses can help children with autism. “Diagnosed at 2 with autism, Forte for years had difficulty communicating and connecting with others. But then the little boy met a smallish chestnut mare at the HorseAbility Center for Equine Facilitated Programs in Westbury, N.Y., and everything started to change.

“‘We struggled to find a breakthrough,’ Isaiah’s dad, Rick Forte, told TODAY, tears welling up in his eyes. ‘HorseAbility . . . really gave him confidence. That, to me, was like his coming out party. That was awesome.’”

In RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM, French riding instructor Claudine Pelletier-Milet shares countless stories on this subject—her own anecdotal evidence—of how horses can be the means to forming and nurturing lines of communication while encouraging a healthy and natural evolution of self in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

“Children learn that they can exert control over their pony,” writes Pelletier-Milet in RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM. “This gives them the idea of ‘otherness’…at the same time they see that the pony responds to language just as they do…They also understand that they can be a little afraid of the pony and similarly, the pony is a little afraid of them…they have to learn to treat the pony as they want the pony to treat them.

Click image to order.

Click image to order.

“The pony holds them safely in the saddle; it rocks them comfortingly; it carries them along faster than they could move on their own legs…Their head is higher than their parents’, and this gives them a new feeling of independence and power…They have to learn about cooperation, give and take, and caring for an animal.

“The pony is the means for autistic children to develop contact with their body, their feelings, their emotions—and with other people.”

You can download a free excerpt from RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM or order your copy by CLICKING HERE.

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Claudine Pelletier-Milet, author of RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM, with Rupert Isaacson, author of THE HORSE BOY.

Claudine Pelletier-Milet, author of RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM, with Rupert Isaacson, author of THE HORSE BOY.

“On one occasion, Steven was as usual carried away with the thrill of riding,” Claudine Pelletier-Milet writes in her book RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM. “He leaped off without losing his balance and in the most agile way. He rushed up to his mother, crying out, ‘Mom!’ and they hugged each other. His mother later told me that this was the first time she had experienced such a fond embrace.”

It seemed only a matter of time before Claudine had a chance to meet and work with Rupert Isaacson, author of the international bestselling book The Horse Boy, which tells the story of his and his wife’s journey across Mongolia on horseback to find healing for their son and for themselves as a family after their son, Rowan, was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. Rupert recounts how something extraordinary happened when Rowan encountered a neighbor’s horse—a new, profound calm fell over him. Rupert saw that his distant, unreachable son had a real connection with the horse, and when he began riding with Rowan, his son began to improve remarkably.

Claudine and Steven, one of her students.

Claudine and Steven, one of her students.

For years, Claudine, a French riding instructor, has been using equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) to form and nurture lines of communication while encouraging a healthy and natural evolution of self in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Rupert read her book RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM and arranged to meet with her in France to discuss their common experiences, her methods, and his own Horse Boy Method, which is now being taught around the world in order to better help children with ASD. Astoundingly, today one child for every 88 born, and one boy for every 58, will be diagnosed as on the autism spectrum.

“We don’t try to teach riding as they do in regular therapeutic riding barns because autistic kids learn differently, so our program is tailored to that,” Rupert says in the December 2012 article “The Horse Boy Method” in Dressage Today magazine. “We are not an equestrian center. If a kid emerges as a rider, we go with it, otherwise we hope that we and our horses can serve them in the best way we can.”

Similarly, Claudine simply strives to use horses as a conduit to learning to exist in our loud, tactile, “real world,” which every day presents the autistic child with challenges.

“The pony carries them, rocks them, favors the acceptance of physical contact, and understands their efforts at communication,” writes Claudine in RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM. “It helps them build up an image of themselves by causing their posture to rectify itself, and it gives them free lessons in sensory awareness with its smells, sights, and sounds. It opens them to the real world.”



The experiences both Rupert and Claudine have shared in their books, and continue to share in their work with children and with other teachers, can go a long way to giving families and caregivers great hope for every autistic child’s future.

As always, it is the horse that gives us what we need to be strong, grow as individuals, and care for one another.

RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM is available from the TSB online bookstore.




Read the December 2012  article about Rupert Isaacson and the Horse Boy Method in Dressage Today by clicking on the image below:

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In April, National Autism Awareness Month, Trafalgar Square Books was pleased to release RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM, a new book that chronicles one riding teacher’s experiences using equine-assisted activities and therapy to instill confidence and promote independence in children with autism spectrum disorders.

RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM was originally published in the French language, but we at TSB felt the author’s inspirational stories of the challenges and joys she experiences in her work with children and ponies worth sharing. We hope it can serve as one more window through which we can begin to understand the autistic individual and what helps him or her develop a sense of self and learn to communicate with others.

The cover of the English edition of RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM features a wonderful photo taken by Kenan Cooper of a young man named Matthew, on a lovely horse, with his arms outstretched and a huge smile on his face. Matt began riding horses when he was four years old. But until then, Matt spent most of his time on the floor, lying on the couch, or in bed. He did not have the core strength to stay in an upright position. He could not kick, catch, or throw a ball—all simple things that many parents watch their small children do with ease.

When Matt began riding at Wings & Hooves Therapeutic Riding, Inc, of East Kingston, New Hampshire, “I began to witness a miracle unfold,” says Matt’s grandmother. “The riding brought such inner peace to Matthew. He went home happy and so proud of what he did with his horse each day. Over time, he sat up straight for longer and longer periods on horseback, and today, his instructor and side-walkers tell me Matt sits up for the entire lesson. The benefits of his therapeutic riding are immeasurable. For one hour a week, it is just Matt and his horse—a creature who in no way judges him, but supports him in mind, body, and spirit.”

The horse Matt is riding on the cover of RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM is Khlassic, an Arabian gelding who left behind his successful career showing in halter and hunter-pleasure classes to help new riders at Wings & Hooves (www.wingsandhooves.org), become GREAT riders, full of confidence and ready to do anything to which they set their mind.

“While the benefits of therapeutic riding and horsemanship activities have been medically documented, statistics alone cannot fully describe the true value of this service,” explains Karen Cuneo, founder and lead instructor of Wings & Hooves. “The look of confidence, pride, and achievement on a student’s face when they have successfully completed a task on horseback is the most profound measure of its value. The skills gained and abilities discovered at Wings & Hooves enrich life-skill development in each of our students. Such life skills are important, not only to the student and his or her family today, but the future and the greater good of community.”

Karen was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus at the age of 20, and has received three subsequent kidney transplants, so she has experienced firsthand the powerful, healing nature of the horse.

At Wings & Hooves Therapeutic Riding, Inc, children and adults discover how working with horses can help them surmount all manner of personal challenges.

“Throughout my illnesses and recovery periods,” she says, “I realized that when I was with my horses and riding, I didn’t think about anything else but the horse I was with—not work, not life, not my illness or the circumstances surrounding the illness…my vision was then very clear: I wanted to share the magic of the horse with others facing their own personal challenges—whatever they may be. As I say to my riders, ‘Your eyes are the horse’s eyes’…your horse sees, feels, and reacts through you…they are a mirror of you. People of all ages can comprehend this, and the trust, bond, and relaxation begins.”

Wings & Hooves Therapeutic Riding, Inc, provides therapeutic horseback instruction to children and adults with physical, emotional, and developmental challenges. You can find out more about instruction, special events, and opportunities to volunteer on their website www.wingsandhooves.org.


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