“Calm, collected, reliable, and trustworthy no matter what the circumstance. These are the words we hear over and over again when describing Moe. Why does a calm and reliable horse matter for a rider? Francisco’s story illustrates what can happen when we face our challenges with a guide like Moe.

Francisco is 14 years old, diagnosed with autism and blindness. Autism is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities. Try to imagine accomplishing daily activities without being able to engage one of your five senses in addition to having challenges with sensory processing. Imagine how scary and frustrating that might be. To get through each day, Francisco had to learn how to be bold, courageous, and curious. But when Francisco first started riding, his choices at the barn were not based in courage or confidence. Instead, he made unsafe choices for his horse, volunteers, instructor, and himself. We had reached a crossroads where we needed to find a way to help him positively and safely engage in lessons.

[Read more: Hugs for Horses uses the power of horses to change the lives of children with disabilities]

[Read more: Learning dressage helps one rider with autism and cerebral palsy establish success and confidence in all aspects of his life.]

When our team [at Agape Therapeutic Riding] joined with his compassionate and committed mentor and volunteer and put our heads together to figure out how to help Francisco, and we realized he needed a challenge. He needed to be pushed to problem-solve how to accomplish tasks, which would then give him more confidence and courage.

Enter Moe. We paired Francisco with calm and collected Moe. For a young man who is craving a challenge and learning how to make positive choices that lead to success, a horse that is going to remain calm regardless of any chaos that comes helps create an environment that is safe and predictable.

The first challenge was to put a halter on Moe without assistance. After that, he learned how to lead Moe independently by using his neck as a guide and listening to our voices. Once this was accomplished, he re-entered the group lesson in the arena. He kept progressing through the various challenges we presented to him. He even began to groom and tack his horse independently. Independently y’all! Remember, this is a young man who is blind and diagnosed with autism.

Moe’s calm demeanor allowed Francisco to navigate this new world of independence with horses. Every week, Francisco worked hard to build trust with Moe and his volunteers. Finally, with a trusting relationship established between Francisco and his team, the day came for him to ride. Moe stepped up again and helped this young man gain his confidence in the saddle, and was calm anytime Francisco was overstimulated and needed redirection.

Recently, we noticed that his behavior was declining again, and he wasn’t making good choices. Did Francisco need a new challenge? Would he find it scary or would his new-found confidence transfer to unfamiliar experiences? There was only one way to find out: try. A few weeks ago his instructor had Francisco ride Porschea–a much more animated horse—bareback.

What happened next is truly remarkable. Francisco rose to the challenge and not only rode Porschea bareback; he rode completely independent! Despite his diagnosis, despite lack of sight, despite his past choices, he accomplished something most adults never experience.

If it weren’t for Moe’s patient and reliable spirit, Francisco may never have been able to gain the courage and confidence that enabled him to grow in ways no one ever dreamed possible. Moe extended trust to Francisco before he earned it. Moe created a space that was safe for Francisco to figure out how to navigate different situations. It took effort and practice for Francisco to accomplish each milestone. But Moe believed in him and extended patience and presence, over and over so that Francisco could succeed.” —Christy S.

[Read more happy horse stories: Stories of Hope]

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