When Joseph Bauer felt the first tinge of sciatic pain, little did he know all the great things that pain would lead to. Bauer, along with Dr. Reginald Renaud, were subsequently the founders of an organization that brought horses and the ill together for the intent of ameliorating human suffering. It was the beginning of an organization called CARD. The acronym CARD stands for the Community Association for Riders with Disabilities, and this organization is about to celebrate its first 50 years of healing.
CARD has attracted significant attention over the years. Princess Anne, for example, visited its new facility in 1979 and at that time donated a horse named “Chuck”. But the healing that has happened since then and which continues to happen today has nothing to do with any royal thaumaturgic touch as conceived of in the middle ages. The healing has everything to do with the horses and volunteers that welcome everyone into their hearts and their horse facilities in North York, Ontario, situated within Metropolitan Toronto.
Sunshine simply pours into the lives of the disabled in very special moments spent in this very special place. It is a not-for-profit organization dependent upon donations to continue to achieve the almost magical results that happen there. CARD will, excitingly, be one of the organizations that will benefit from donations to Le Tour de Jeffrey/Freedom to Move Journey. As you will see, it is a wonderful place for part of those donations to go!
A PLACE WHERE THE SUN ALWAYS SHINES!
The sunshine is largely the result of the therapeutic relationship that is established between individuals, largely children, who are learning to live and grow despite having the challenge of physical or mental disabilities, and their horses. The very word therapeutic is an interesting one, its meaning suggesting to me the possibility of not only a healing of the body but also one of the mind.
These children bring along with them a variety of mental and physical challenges. The horses at CARD carry children, for example, with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome, Acquired Head Injury, Multiple Sclerosis, Amputations/Physical Deformities and Sensory Impairments, to list just a few. We will speak of children here because they (seem to) make up a majority of the participants, but please remember that the mandate of CARD includes everyone, and is inclusive of adults with disabilities. Disabled adults need and receive the care of CARD too.
While the horses are unequivocally central to the therapeutic relationship with the children, the sunshine also shines in from the love that surrounds these children by the volunteers who help them onto the horses, walk alongside them to make sure they are safe, encourage them, interact with them and ultimately make a human connection to complement the connection made between horse and child. Indeed, the horse-child connection would not happen without the organization and its volunteers and staff. We need to remember both parts of the equation in trying to understand the healing and growth that happens here.
THE BREWING OF MAGIC...
From one perspective, the essence of the idea is that there seems to be a special, specific and direct physical benefit from riding a horse. An amazing idea just on its own merit. A significant part of this physical benefit derives from the fact that when you sit on a horse the rider’s back naturally takes on the form or shape of a healthy walking posture. The other physical factor arises from the nature of the horse’s movement. The four legs hit the ground in an organized fashion, but each leg hits the ground independently. Contrast this with the way a dog will run, with its two front legs synchronized, as are the back legs. This four-part rhythm of the horse’s movement is highly therapeutic for the rider. The physical benefits of riding include increased balance and coordination, improved muscle tone and the mobilization of joints.
But the “magic” of the relationship between rider and horse only begins there. For example, there are children who come to CARD who are non-verbal autistic and yet manage to say their first words while seated on a horse. The words “walk on” are said to the horse to direct it to begin walking after the rider has been properly mounted. Reflect for a moment on the fact that the words “walk on” have been uttered as the first words of a non-verbal autistic child. Imagine. Imagine if you were the parent of a child whose voice you had never heard until this moment when the child is riding a horse! Can we ascribe such an achievement to the gait of the horse? It would seem to my mind that such an achievement is somehow the result of the entire event, tied to the naturalness of the physical connection with the horse, its large magnificent posture, the strength of its back upon which the child sits, and the love of everyone around that child that makes the moment possible. And what a special horse it must be to gently carry a disabled child on its back! As if knowing, somehow, in some way, that it has a role to play in the healing of a disability, trying to put something right, make something better.
A similar thing happens when a child who is confined to a wheelchair is placed onto a horse and is thereby given the occasion of sharing the horse’s movement. The staff and volunteers at CARD have witnessed a child arrive in a wheelchair and with time the finding of his or her legs to walk. I am sure no one would claim for the horse total responsibility for such a feat. At the same time, I doubt anyone would choose to ignore or minimize the contribution of the horse to such an achievement.
Jeffrey has, as an individual with a physical disability, a special interest in CARD. But one certainly does not have to have a disability to appreciate the love, magic, and transformations that happen there. In the weeks ahead we look forward to learning a little bit more about CARD and those who find themselves on either side of the healing that happens there.
We are excited to announce that one of the RSE Bloggers, Doug Allen will be following along, writing, and sharing Jeffrey's journey with us all along the way!
Why Douglas Allen?
Douglas Allen has known Jeffrey for almost three years now! Over that time he has been deeply impressed and encouraged by Jeffrey’s growth as an individual, one who has the courage to recognize and surmount his challenges. Doug is excited to have been invited to chronicle Jeffrey’s progress as he prepares for and embarks on his tour across Canada and honored to follow first-hand his friend Jeffrey, on the "Free to Move" journey.