Leaping the barriers
By Michael Hall
He said horses can sense what a person is thinking a mile away. "Horsesreflect back to you what you are to them. If you are nervous or unsure, the horse will sense it and you can't get near."
Dan removes such emotional barriers.
Laurie is the president of the Pegasus Communications Foundation, a registered non-profit society she helped start with other Maple Ridgeparents a year ago after witnessing the wonders Dan worked with Jacynthe,her daughter.
Jacynthe (pronounced Ja-ssant) will turn 16 in March. Her cognitive skills are developmentally delayed. She didn't learn to count to 100, ride a bike or run until she was 10 because it took that long, with much hard work and therapy, for both sides of her brain to co-ordinate. Even then, she hardly spoke. She didn't understand the meaning of the words her mother wasteaching her to read and pronounce.
"Every word was new to her. Even if she had just read it three words earlier, she had to sound it out again," Laurie said.
But Jacynthe loved horses. Laurie took her to the Pacific Riding for the Disabled Association (PRDA) stables in Maple Ridge about six years ago.There Jacynthe learned to care for and ride horses.
In August 1999, Val Crowe called Laurie. Val, who passed away from cancer last year, was organizing a clinic with Dan at the local stables andinvited Jacynthe to participate.
"Sure," Laurie said. "It sounds like fun."
She thought it would be nice for Jacynthe and do no harm. But she thoughtdifferent once Jacynthe entered the 60-foot ring.
It was a cool, sunny summer Saturday. Jacynthe didn't do well with strangers or around lots of people. She didn't know Dan. She was surrounded by an audience and a horse was roaming free, no halter or bridle, in thering.
"I've seen her frozen before," Laurie said. "I thought, 'what a waste of time.'" Laurie was disappointed. She didn't think Dan would be able to reach Jacynthe like he had the others before her. She worried that Jacynthe wouldn't have fun.
Then Dan got her to run the palms of her hands from the head of the quarter horse to its hind, not touching its chestnut hide but close enough to feel the electrical current along the curves of its back.
Dan looked into Jacynthe's brown eyes. At first they were blank. Then there was life. Curiosity.
It took 10 minutes, but "she was interested," Laurie said. In the next 50 minutes, Dan taught Jacynthe to command the horse, Rocky, using only her eyes and hand signals. She stood in the centre of the ring and by raising an arm and pointing a finger got Rocky to trot and canter.
She got him to come to her without speaking and to follow her around the ring. Jacynthe used to have a 10-second speech delay. If someone said 'hello' to her, it took her at least 10 seconds to comprehend the the greeting and respond.
When she left the ring after an hour with Dan, the delay was gone. Laurie didn't notice right away. Then her mother called and said that Jacynthe had phoned her the night after the clinic. That wasn't unusual. Jacynthe sometimes called her gramma. But that was the only person she would call. When she did in the past, Jacynthe would say 'hi' but little else other than 'yes' or 'no' to her gramma's questions.
But this time Jacynthe asked her gramma if it was convenient for her to talk. She was aware that it might not be a good time; that gramma might be busy.
The next day at the grocery store, Jacynthe wanted to push the cart and pick fruits and vegetables from the bins. She wanted to help.
This was different. This was good.
Laurie got excited. "All of a sudden she had a personality. You could tell she had some emotions."
Like happy or sad. Or love.
Jacynthe had never, on her own, told her mom that she loved her. Only 'I love you, too.'
But after several more sessions with Dan, Jacynthe walked up the stairs one night to the bathroom where Laurie was washing her face. She said good night, then, unprovoked, she spoke those three little words.
Jacynthe has been to 11 sessions, mostly in Chilliwack, with Dan. After each one, Laurie sees changes in her daughter.
Jacynthe recently learned long division and to add fractions without props, like a measuring cup and flour. She reads at a Grade 8 level now. She talks more and remembers more. She is more aware of what's happening around her. She rides her horse, Radar, once a week and goes to youth-group events on Friday nights.
Most significantly, she expresses herself. Not always with words, but actions - petting a horse, picking fruit, smiling.
"People used to think she was mentally handicapped," Laurie said. "Now they just think she's shy."
Laurie isn't sure if the changes in Jacynthe are all related to the intuitive method of communication she has learned from Dan, or if some are just natural maturation.
But before Laurie never considered the future. Now she looks forward to the coming days and what new changes they hold for Jacynthe and their relationship.
Laurie is thankful to Dan for that.
"He's given me a reason to believe that she will be able to live a productive adult life," Laurie said.
She wants others to believe, too, and will assist them through the Pegasus foundation.
The clinics are open to youth and adults with special needs, from cerebral palsy to autism to attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.
"Anyone with a comprehension of verbal commands can participate," Laurie said. She has inquired about working with the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows school district and the Justice Institute in New Westminster to help teenagers with learning disabilities and drug and alcohol problems, as well as those who display aggressive behavior.
Dan reaches them all. "There hasn't been somebody he hasn't been able to connect with," Laurie said. "He's made a difference with some very difficult kids."
They go into the ring with him and a 1,500-pound horse and come out ... "Happy," Jacynthe said.
For more information about the Pegasus foundation or future clinics, email email@example.com or call 463-1611.
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