Guest Writer Julia Donovan - Therapeutic Riding Center - Bryce Wins! -

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Bryce Wins!

By Julia Donovan

Tears were streaming down his face and he was visibly upset and disappointed because he didn’t win.  Bryce had been riding since he was three, and for the first time, he began to realize what being in a competition meant.  On the way to the show, Bryce repeated his mantra, “I am going to sit up tall, I am going to keep my heels down, I am going to try my hardest, I am going to win.” When he didn’t win, Bryce walked away not feeling proud of the second place ribbon he’d earned.  On the car ride home, Bryce proclaimed to his mother, “I am   never riding again.”  Teaching Bryce was always a challenge, not only because of his spinal muscular atrophy, which left him weak on one side, but because, at his young age, he already had a desperate drive to win. 

However, his riding lessons were crucial to his physical development.  When I first met Bryce he could not walk through our indoor arena without holding my hand; his inconsistent balance was compromised by the dirt footing. According to his mom, “During a three month hiatus from riding a few years ago, Bryce fell a lot more.   It seems impossible, but riding once a week really helps him.”  It was then that Wendy knew her son could never stop riding. 

In our weekly riding lesson, my students not only practice how to balance, how to trot, how to “walk-on” and how to “whoa,” but we also practice doing our best.  Most importantly, however, we practice cheering each other on.  In the past, Bryce would become quiet and introverted when he didn’t win.  So, we practiced.  Many of my volunteers were “guest judges” and if you displayed great sportsmanship, you got a sticker for the “star chart.” Bryce began earning a long row of blue stars for sportsmanship. 

Finally, the date of the horse show has arrived; my students are ready. Bryce is a bit nervous on Princeton, a horse he has not ridden in years.  I said, “Make sure you hold on because Princeton has a very bouncy trot.”  Bryce is quiet and contemplative; I know he is nervous so I squeeze his hand, reassure him and simply say, “Bryce, are you in there?” He giggles and smiles back at me.  At this moment, all I can do is stand outside the arena and watch.

Princeton’s lofty trot collapses Bryce’s upper body.  As he leans forward trying to regain his balance I see him pick up his hands and say, “Whoa.”  He steadies himself and talks to the horse – Princeton is a good listener.  Bryce completes the course, he has done his best steering and maneuvered all of the obstacles but what will happen this time if he doesn’t win?

All six students have finished their course and are lined up to receive their ribbons – to find out who was the best.  As Bryce received his second place ribbon, I could hear him saying, “Lachlan, Lachlan, Lachlan!” Bryce was calling over to the boy who had won the class to congratulate him.  Lachlan didn’t hear Bryce, but that didn’t seem to matter – I could tell Bryce was proud for him.  It was in that moment that Bryce learned a very important life lesson.

Each day Fieldstone Farm offers a place of achievement, a place to learn, and a place to grow – for both our students and our volunteers.  For Bryce, he has become more confident and more self-assured.  He no longer needs to hold my hand to walk and only the slightest trace of his limp remains.  With the help of riding, Bryce’s balance has improved.  He is no longer the seven year old who cries when he loses.  He is now the nine year old who celebrates all victories.  As his instructor, his compassion reminds me that he has truly excelled.  I think Bryce summed it up the best when he told his mom on the way home from his lesson one week, “Riding is the only place I don’t feel left out.”  And this year, Bryce is proud of his second place ribbon. 

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