Luke’s Story

My name is Lenora and I am an intervener/caregiver for a young boy named Luke.  An intervener is what Anne Sullivan was to Helen Keller. Back then, Anne was referred to as Helen’s teacher and like with Anne and Helen, I am Luke’s link to the world around him. Luke is a ten-year-old boy and Luke is deafblind. Luke has no vision and about 60dB hearing with his hearing aids in.

Deafblindness is an “information gathering” disability and without intervention or a link to the outside world, children with Deafblindness often end up isolated and withdrawn into their own little worlds and rarely come out to experience all that is available with just a little information and a lot of trust. A person with Deafblindness must be able to trust the person they are with for that information link to connect and flow back and forth. The reason I am giving all this information about Deafblindness, is so that you may have an understanding into just how amazing the horseback riding therapy can be.

Luke was once that child, curled up, rocking and isolated from the outside world around him. I have been in Luke’s life since he was about 18months old and he has lived with my family and me for the past year and a half, receiving 24-7 intervention and life’s experiential learning. We have had a miraculous learning curve together and the curve is still definitely heading straight up!

At one time Luke would not venture outside, touch soft cuddly animals (real or toys), or explore beyond the rooms of a familiar house. After pre-school and then on to public school, Luke began a new journey of both needing to trust  others along with learning that the world is much bigger and has far more interesting things in it than he previously knew about or even imagined.

One of those things was animals. Although Luke may have fleetingly and even accidentally, touched a cat or a dog, he really was not interested in what they were about. In grade one, Luke went to a farm on a field trip, climbed a fence to pet a calf…and liked it! We caught it on film and it was fantastic. The following  summer we went downtown and he patted a horse from the horse and buggy tours and although not too keen, he did like the idea that I had to lift him up to pet the horse. The concept of ‘big’ gained new meaning.

By the time Luke was in grade three, he had tried many new things and yet something was missing….and in the winter of 2006 we learned what that was.  Horseback riding!

Luke’s introduction to the world of horses, large barns, safety belts, helmets and boots went surprisingly well. He was not able to wear the helmet he brought with him…and he got over that. He did get to wear his new gumboots and squish in the mud…he thought that was funny. The smells were overwhelmingly wonderful from the hay to the tack room and even the manure! It is great to find a place that can come back instantly to your olfactory memory like a barn with horses, you can tell where you are as soon as the car door opens…and Luke did just that!

Luke had only begun speaking five months before coming to horseback riding and within his first three   lessons; he could name his horse and the day of the week that his lesson was on.  He began stringing    together sentences like; “On Wednesday go horseback riding” and “Ride on Faensi” and “Walk on”. He even could name his side walkers! All of these wonderful experiences and I have not even gotten to the part where he is actually on the horse yet!  Amazing!

On to the horse…well that was an entire orientation and mobility lesson in itself. From going up the ramp, to where to place his cane, stand and wait, lift your right leg over etc. Luke has learned so much more about directional clues by  using left and right, forward and behind…all of these terms crucial to him for safety and survival in that big world he is learning to enjoy so much. For a blind person, let alone someone who is Deafblind, a sense of direction is imperative for the ability to locate where you are within relation to other people and/or places and it is esteem building and allows for independence and choice.

Physically riding the horse has given Luke a sense of wonder about the size of the  animal that a horse is, helps with his posture and has allowed him to make more sense of his usable hearing. In the beginning, Luke used an FM system to connect the side walker’s voice directly into his ears, thus eliminating the background sounds of the other riders and the instructor’s voice. He could not discern who was talking to him back then. The disadvantage of the FM system is that he does not get any information about the other people and horses in the barn, and where everyone is in relation to him. In recent weeks, Luke has gone without the FM system and relied only on his ability to focus on his side walkers voice and is doing it successfully. Yet another incredible skill that Luke can use to gain more independence in the world.

The volunteer side walkers are fantastic! The program could not run without them and they are so attentive to each individual riders need and are amazingly patient and accommodating. They have gained Luke’s trust. Very impressive.

“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

 Helen Keller 1880-1968

With gratitude,

Lenora Spencer

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