Submitted by mother of CTRA rider Rebecca
CTRA has changed our lives.
This is a rather broad, sweeping statement to make, but it is, in fact, true. Our daughter Rebecca was born 9 weeks early, and very fast, in a very high-risk situation, as she and her twin shared a placenta, and the probability of damage & death to one, two, or all three of us was uncomfortably high. She didn't develop at the same rate of 'reaching milestones' as her sister, and by 6 months, we were aware that something was 'different' about our little girl. By the time she was two, she was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy - spastic diplegia. 'They' told us that she would most likely spend her life in a wheelchair. As the shock wore off and the weeks passed, the reality of how our lives would be far different than we imagined began to sink in, and the uphill climb of doctor's appointments, referrals, specialists, therapists etc. took over (not to mention a crash-course in new medical vocabulary!) as we nursed and cared for our tiny little twin daughters.
When the girls were three, we moved back home to the Cowichan Valley from London, England, where they were born. We had finally just begun to understand how the system in the UK worked, and Rebecca was just beginning to learn how to balance in her AFOs with the use of a walker, and here we were, in a brand new situation, with a whole new system to learn. It was mind boggling, simply the forms and the people, and all of the extra things to learn... and then we were introduced to CTRA. Well, re-introduced with a vested interest. Rebecca's Oma had been involved with CTRA for years, and was really excited for her time there to be of use to her new grandchild. Therapeutic Riding is THE TOP therapy for children with the type of CP that Rebecca has: she was just four years old when she first met Jane, and Margaret, and Danni... and Ember. The sight of our tiny little wobbly girl on top of this enormous powerful animal, and not even in a saddle, just on a thick sheepskin, was a bit alarming to my maternal heart! But the staff and volunteers were kind, gentle, PATIENT, encouraging and informative: they taught us how to warm up her muscles on the 'ram' in the tack room before each lesson; they helped us to understand how each exercise was designed to help a particular area of struggle; they cheered her victories, and encouraged her to 'try again' each time she didn't quite get it. And as we watched, and the weeks became months, we saw something astonishing begin to happen: she became able to sit up straighter and straighter. Her breath wasn't so laboured. She was able to reach for things - and get them! - at home (including her sister's hair when cross with her!) - The following spring, we were astonished and overcome to watch her leave her walker behind and take her first few independent steps by herself!
The week-after-week exercise, combined with regular visits to her lovely "Silliotherapist" (physio!), Bonnie, was working her core, and making her strong. The week-after-week support, encouragement, and belief supplied by her instructor(s), as well as the volunteers who led and sidewalked the horse during every lesson: rain or shine, wind, damp, cold... they were there. Investing in our daughter. Giving Rebecca hope. Helping her to reach for the full potential of the amazing person that from the beginning she was created to be.
Rebecca is now nine-and-a-half years old. She still has 'Sam', her walker: he lives in the supply cupboard at school, and is so seldom used that he was forgotten there at the end of grade 3, and only looked for in August - and then to be used in the building of a fort in the back yard. Becsy walks by herself. She is perpetually surrounded by friends at school. She is the co-ordinator for games for the younger children at recess, a student leader. Two years ago, at a friend's birthday party, she climbed a 60-foot rock wall at an indoor climbing venue in Nanaimo, cheered on not only by all her classmates and parents, but by all the staff and general public who were there at the time. Her victories are embraced and celebrated by all who know her, and even those who have only just met her. Earlier this autumn, at another birthday party, she completed the Monkido course at the Wildplay Elements Park. It took the rest of the kids there about 20 - 30 mins to complete the course. Rebecca persevered and after 2 1/2 hours came down from the last challenge: the park was closed, the children hadn't been allowed up on the course for over an hour... but again, she finished to the rousing cheers of all the other children, as well as the Wildplay staff, who had stayed on in a volunteer capacity to ensure that she could finish. A couple of weeks ago, Rebecca - the girl who 'would probably spend her life in a wheelchair' - won a participation ribbon at the School District 68 Cross Country Meet - walking most of the 1.6 km course - and running, actually RUNNING - the last 100m to the finish line.
This may all seem unrelated, until you put it together with an observation by a friend of ours in the UK, when we were there visiting last summer. Emma is a member of the church we attended in London, and is also a Physiotherapist. Ironically, had we stayed in England, Emma would have been assigned to Rebecca, as we were living in her catchment area. We all walked into church the first Sunday after we arrived. All four of us walked in. Rebecca was nearly eight. Conversation stopped, and nearly all eyes turned towards our family - walking slowly, so that Rebecca could keep up, but walking steadily nonetheless. And then most eyes got all misty as Rebecca stood there, on her own, and Emma came up, wide-eyed in amazement: "This is Rebecca???" She was incredulous. She stood back and looked at her, then slowly walked around her, as Rebecca, following Emma with her head, beamed. Emma's first comment after her perusal was "She rides, doesn't she?". Emma went on to tell us that she has three other clients, of an age with Rebecca, and with remarkably similar diagnoses. None of them are walking, let alone running.
If it wasn't for CTRA, the staff and volunteers there - their knowledge and their hearts - I honestly don't know how things would stand with Rebecca. Or if she'd be standing. What I do know is that because of CTRA, we have a vibrant girl, full of excitement about horses, and with a goal of one day riding on the Canadian Paralympic team. CTRA is giving her belief in herself, teaching her discipline and perseverence, and filling her heart with encouragement and love.
- Michelle Lieffertz (2012)