And the List Goes On.

Often I sit down to write and the words pour out in a flurry of clacking keys, my fingers barely keeping up with everything I’d like to say.  Inspired by a morning hippotherapy session, or profound progress in adaptive riding, I begin to compose sentences before even sitting down at my desk.  But there are also days where my creativity can’t live up to the subject at hand, and I sit in front of a blank screen hoping for my muse to mosey by.

Jackie andNCEFT is built upon the strength of volunteers and despite no fewer than four attempts at writing a thank you note, I couldn’t hit on a point of view that did justice to the people who make our job possible.  I first tried to describe their otherworldly flexibility; a willingness to accept inclement weather, last minute requests, and a schedule that can only be described as dynamic.  However, “tractability” is hardly our volunteers’ most admirable trait, and focusing on that alone discounts many other noteworthy qualities.

My next idea was inspired by a Buddhist concept called “mudita,” the idea of unselfish joy.  While NCEFT has yet to tout itself as a Buddhist retreat, there are countless examples of mudita at work within our gates.   We sometimes talk about the sacrifices volunteers make, about their selflessness and capacity for giving.  What we give less recognition to is their ability to experience vicarious happiness.  They give of themselves not to be rewarded directly, but to find reward in the happiness they give to others.  As I tried to flesh out this perspective I found myself frustrated.  How do I get across the degree to which our volunteers give; of their time, their energy, their love.  Exclamation points, all caps, and italics can only go so far towards infusing written words with the emotion behind them.  OUR VOLUNTEERS ARE IRREPLACABLE!!!

So, thank you.  We can’t begin to list all the qualities that make volunteers so special, but we can express our deepest gratitude for bringing those qualities to our organization.  With your help we touch the lives of countless children and adults.  There may only be a single week dedicated to volunteers, but know that every minute you spend with us is a minute in which you are appreciated.

The World’s Best Caffeine

I often speak as the collective voice of NCEFT, piecing together disparate voices and experiences to form one linear story.   Sometimes though, I need to tell a story as myself, and this happens to be just such a moment.

IMG_0012As an adaptive riding instructor I spend the better part of my afternoon trying to engage children in work disguised as games.  Tempting as it may sound to play like a 9 year old, in reality it’s exhausting to be that enthusiastic, that effusive, for more than a short period of time.  Intimidating as my schedule seems at 8am with the sun barely risen, the day passes more quickly than expected, aided by moments that serve to energize.

Each week like clockwork she’s there, a midafternoon boost to see me through the rest of the day.  Her session starts by walking hand-in-hand through the arena gate; she’ll hold it until we reach the top of the mounting block, her attention then turning to the bay pony waiting nearby.  I count to three with my fingers held up and then she’s on, throwing her leg over the pony’s back and settling into the saddle.  She looks at me and I shrug, miming confusion, “What should we do?”  She pats the saddle and places her hand on her chest.  Go, please.

I could list all the gains she’s made—the new signs she’s learning, how she’ll hold the reins and pull up to whoa—but she’s much more than validation of my work.  When we’re standing still she’ll often turn to me and pause with a smile on her face, holding that ever elusive eye contact for what seems like ages.  In that moment she emerges from the periphery of being and makes a connection, “I see you” her eyes say.

Those moments are better than any can of Red Bull or espresso shot.  They fill you up, contentedness working its way from the inside-out.  I know everyone at NCEFT, from therapists to volunteers, have similar experiences of fulfillment.  Next week I’ll go back to telling their stories, passing on the moments of joy we work so hard to help create.

What’s Outside Counts Too

Our facility is fundamentally positive.  Without forethought or planning we look past life expectancies, prognoses, and symptoms.  However, reality sometimes reaches in and shouts for our attention.  Last year we shared the story of a little girl fighting for her future (https://nceftspeaks.wordpress.com/2012/07/24/be-worthy/).

She’s been missing lately, consumed with treatments and doctor’s appointments, too tired to climb aboard her horse.    Last week her name reappeared on the schedule, stars and hearts decorating the margins around her appointment time.  Just after lunch we heard the car door slam, feet barely touching the driveway as she ran for the office door.  She breathlessly hugged each of us before dashing off to find her helmet.

She seems so real, so present and full of life that it’s hard to believe she’s anything but perfectly healthy.  For a moment we can’t suspend reality and it instead pushes forward full bore, chugging its way down a seemingly immovable track.  Then we serpentine and figure eight.  She sits sideways and backwards, and finally picks up the reins, steering her horse in a cloverleaf around orange traffic cones.  By the time she dismounts and hugs her horse goodbye you’ve found it again.  The ability to see a little girl for what she truly is and not the challenges she’s facing.

Our job at NCEFT is to bring about change.  Whether physical, cognitive, or emotional, we work each session not to cure but to help.  We aren’t treating Down syndrome, Autism, or muscular dystrophy.  We’re helping people, children and adults who are more than medical charts, little girls who love horses and will fight tooth and nail to be strong enough to climb the mounting block each week.

NCEFT needs your votes!

Over the years you’ve seen so many of our wonderful moments captured on film.  Several of these moments are now representing NCEFT in a competition that could secure funds for our therapeutic programs.  Please consider giving a minute of your time and voting for our non-profit.

Instructions:

Click here to open our entry page

– Click “Vote Now” to cast your vote

*You can vote once every 24 hours throughout the competition (February 18th-25th)

Thanks for your continued support!

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Wisdom from Winnie

Winnie the Pooh is rarely recognized as a sage advisor, but while digging through pages of quotes on “love” it became evident his sentiments apply beyond the Garanimals crowd.

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

Zane & Bev Small His words, or more accurately the words of author A.A. Milne, cut through the saccharine sweetness of Valentine’s Day and remind us of its true purpose: expressing love for those who make our lives worth living.  Romantic, familial, or friendly, it weaves itself into every nook and cranny, impressing upon us the importance of connections.  So pervasive is its reach that we sometimes overlook its very presence, failing to notice the small ways in which it shows its face.

Love is the horse that leaves his breakfast to find you at his gate, softly snorting into the palms of your hand as if to say hello.  Love is the spontaneous hug of a child who’s pushed past her fears and ridden without help.  Love is barn dogs who run to meet you, stickers shared from the mailbox, sisters holding hands, and grandparents who tirelessly give encouragement from our viewing deck.

Jack_&_StormyThough we try to express our love with chalky pastel candies and construction paper hearts, the most poignant declaration is the least obtrusive.  Our therapy horses offer steady shoulders to lean on while students learn two-point and calmly accept heads on their rumps when children lay down.  They tolerate balls being thrown and countless butterfly clips in their manes.  Every day they show their love by simply being there for the children and adults who need them.  At NCEFT each hand that reaches out can be sure of them, and of us, a family of volunteers, staff, and donors just waiting to share the love.

Push

There’s a fine balance between patient and student, between therapy and riding.  Being an instructor is a lesson in balance, and much like the horses we utilize, our perception is dynamic.  We walk into the arena with a preconception of our student’s ability based on their diagnosis; a summary of symptoms, contraindications, and prognoses.  Expectations can then be modified to accommodate so called disabilities.  There.  That’s the moment where student becomes patient, and consequently where we have the ability to do the most good.

IMG_0014For the past few weeks a rider and horse have been reshaping our perceptions.  Gone is the “adaptive”, leaving only “riding” to represent her work in the arena.  There are no games, no colored scarves, or Simon Says.  Instead she performs intricate patterns, guiding her horse through a series of movements often beyond the grasp of able-bodied riders.  And she’s told no, or not good enough, do it again.  We push.  We ask for more, as much as she can give.  Then the moment comes when the horse softens and the stars align while she sits the trot with more poise than you thought possible.

IMG_0048You spin around, looking for witnesses to the harmony.  “Did you see that?” We help her out of her wheelchair and onto a horse and there the accommodations end.  Somewhere between the mounting block and the arena gate she goes from patient to student, on the back of the horse she becomes a woman complete.

2013: A Year in Review

Some of us have begun to pack away Holiday décor, while others are content to let the season linger a bit longer.  In either case, the year has quickly drawn to a close, giving us the opportunity to look back on what has been a wonderful 12 months.

IMG_0025In January NCEFT launched our inaugural “Heroes and Horsemanship” program.  Groups of veterans recovering from PTSD and TBIs spent 8 weeks learning the basics of horsemanship and riding in preparation for hitting the open range of Sun Valley, Idaho.   Offered at no cost to the twelve participants, the program added up to nearly 200 hours of adaptive horsemanship over its 8-week span.   Word quickly spread through the VA, and we’re happy to say the program is still going strong with special veterans’ lessons running on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

154764_438494959499026_129655497049642_2017113_1292455402_nIn April we joined the rest of the country in celebrating National Volunteer Week.  Hundreds of NCEFT volunteers donate countless hours each year by sidewalking, assisting at special events, helping in the barn, and completing a host of other tasks essential to NCEFT’s operations.  Without their tireless support and enthusiasm each week we’d be entirely unable to make such a positive impact in the lives of so many.

Silver and Bonnie share a hug

By May we’d decided to begin the search for a draft horse to fill the colossal shoes left by our late driving horse Sunny.  Bonnie, NCEFT’s therapeutic driving instructor, scoured the country for a horse that fit our long list of criteria.  Quiet, hard-working, patient, strong, careful, generous, you name the positive adjective and there’s a good chance it’s a requirement of a therapy horse.  After careful consideration we made the big decision, and Jack joined the family in June.

Students pose with Ben before sidewalking for a Hippotherapy session

Students pose with Ben before sidewalking for a Hippotherapy session

While we frequently host visiting students and therapists, it’s less common for those visitors to hail from other countries.  In July we welcomed four students from Korea National Sport University (KNSU).  Winners of the Global Challenge travelling grant, they choose to study Hippotherapy after having volunteered as sidewalkers in Korea.

IMG_0047By September Jack had settled in at NCEFT and quickly stepped up to the task of therapeutic driving horse.  He not only put in his first official lesson within weeks of arriving, but also made a guest appearance at the Wounded Warriors Polo Benefit.

332217_539961099352411_2138505011_oOf course September also includes our annual Heroes and Horses Gala.  We raised the funds that allow us to continue pursuing new opportunities to help an ever-widening group of patients.  Gala guests helped care for our therapy horses, sponsored the programs serving our wounded servicemen, built the scholarships helping those for whom the cost of therapy outstretches their resources.

pathIn October we put some of those funds to use, making our facility more accessible and comfortable.  The handicapped parking area and outdoor mounting ramp were both covered to keep patients dry year-round.  We added a paved walkway up to the viewing area, and leveled the once steep entrance to the covered arena.  Each upgrade has been well received, especially with all the rain and mud that have been hanging around Woodside.

Santa (2)Our last big event of the year is always our annual Family Holiday Party.  We love being able to offer parents and children an opportunity to be themselves and enjoy the holidays.  Jack offered carriage rides, Sebastian brought Santa, and the Woodside Fire Department let kids sit shotgun in their iconic red fire truck.

With fridges stuffed to overflowing and leftover cookies stashed in every room, we called a close to the final session of the year.  Our horses are now enjoying a few weeks of turn-out and downtime as staff put the finishing touches on next year’s calendar.  We’d like to thank everyone who made NCEFT’s 2012 possible.  The warmth of generosity and outpouring of support in year-end giving was a welcome respite from the cold, rainy days of December.  It won’t be long before grooming buckets come out, mud is brushed off, and our arena once again becomes a busy, noisy, wonderful place of horses, hope, and healing.

Zane & Bev Small

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