“It means an affordable activity for my sweet boy. An activity that expands Owen’s world and helps his development. It means a safe place that I can take Owen where he is understood, loved and accepted. It means help and healing. It means my boy is going to get some horse lovin’. Thank you, Red Barn!” – Owen’s mom, Jennifer Ward
Owen has always been a joy to those who know him. He eagerly tries his hardest to please anyone and everyone that he can. However, he has struggled with change in the past. And while Owen is well-behaved, his social development lagged slightly behind his peers. He would display behaviors such as intentionally wearing his shoes on the wrong feet. It was not a defiant act, but instead for sensory stimulus; when the shoes were worn incorrectly, they applied additional pressure that helps those with Autism Spectrum Disorder feel more regulated and secure.
Owen has taken part in several different therapies to help with such challenges. However, therapy is expensive, and they didn’t provide Owen the assistance he needed beyond the clinical office setting. In the waiting room for one of these therapies, Owen’s mother found an alternative solution: The Red Barn.
After a bit of research, Owen’s mother determined The Red Barn was the ideal place for Owen to grow and to feel secure. She desperately wanted her son to feel the joy of bonding with animals and new people, and she knew this would open new feelings in Owen’s heart. Unfortunately, Owen’s family was already paying so much for other therapies that they could only afford for him to come to The Red Barn on a scholarship. It took more than two years on the waitlist, but eventually a space in the riding program opened up for Owen.
Since he began riding in June 2019, Owen has made incredible progress in many different ways. His core muscles have gotten much stronger, which improves his posture, coordination, and balance. Owen’s mom also noticed that her son no longer puts his shoes on the wrong feet. She mentioned this change in behavior to one of Owen’s therapists, and he responded that the change is likely due to Owen’s sensory input needs being met through riding and other activities at the barn.
Owen has also learned how to better accept change in his life from his time at the barn. During his first two riding terms, Owen exclusively rode Zeus and was not receptive to riding other horses. However, a new horse named Buzz finished his trial period training and was ready to step into The Red Barn’s riding program by January 2020. Sylvie, Owen’s instructor, determined that Buzz’s movement would be more beneficial both for developing Owen’s core muscles, and in being more flexible with the “go with the flow” nature of Owen’s lessons.
Owen quickly bonded with Buzz, and the transition went so smoothly that it surprised even his mom. Owen demonstrated his deep appreciation of his new friend by intentionally wearing Buzz Lightyear shirts to the barn. However, Owen would pointedly ignore Zeus whenever he walked past his pasture. His mom mentioned that Owen had trouble accepting when people he had been close to moved away or were unable to be around as frequently. He would ignore these friends and family members after they had been absent, which often strained those relationships. Sylvie and Owen’s mom discussed his detachment from Zeus, and brainstormed ways to help rebuild the relationship. They wanted Owen to understand that though he wasn’t currently riding Zeus, the horse with whom he first bonded was still his friend.
To help Owen reach this realization, Sylvie and Owen’s team of volunteers would make a big show of waving and speaking to Zeus with a fond, “Hello!” whenever they walked by him. They would also make sure to give two peppermint treats to horses at the end of Owen’s lesson. One went to Buzz of course, and for the first couple of weeks the other went to Buzz’s best equine friend, Woody. Sylvie explained that although Buzz and Woody weren’t currently spending time together, that Buzz would be happy knowing his best buddy was also getting a treat.
After those initial weeks, Sylvie started allowing Owen to choose who would get the other peppermint. He eventually chose to give Zeus the treat on two occasions. He also started waving with the rest of his team whenever they passed Zeus’s pasture, illustrating a regard for his former riding companion.
Owen’s mom is overjoyed with the progress her son is making. Yet she is happiest that Owen has a place where he can be himself and connect with animals and people, and that his instructors are always willing to listen to his needs and adjust to what best suits him. His mom says visiting the barn is “the favorite part of my week, driving to a place where people love my kid and it’s just peaceful. You couldn’t be in a more healing environment.”