I've been asked to put my perspective as a volunteer for REINS into words. To me it feels like trying to catch the wind! Words... how does one capture the ecstasy and exhilaration beaming on the face of a wheelchair-bound child who is set free as he mounts his four-legged angel for the first time? The power and energy of the horse beneath him surging through every fiber of his very being; providing a sense of freedom and independence he's never had in his short, complicated life... Words... how can simple letters combined to form sentences describe a Mama's heart reflected through the joy-filled tears cascading down her face, clearly moved as she witnesses the transformation in her child after only a few weeks of participation in REINS. Her hopes and dreams for him becoming a reality… Words... seem too trite to relay the devotion of volunteers who carve out time from their busy lives, especially during our short Wisconsin summers, to be that guiding hand and calming voice to the rider, or the one readying the horses for lessons and caring for after, or managing lesson props, or coordinating volunteers; often enduring uncomfortably hot and humid conditions to do so… Words... how can they be scripted to portray the unbelievably talented instructor and her creative, gentle, and kind manner as she guides her special charges thru lessons that are fun and challenging; that on the surface are about the intricacies of riding a horse, but underlying they are intentionally crafted to improve the physical, emotional and cognitive abilities of the tender souls in her care... Words... aren’t big enough to wrap around the dedication of the Board members and how they tirelessly work behind the scenes, sacrificing their time and resources to manage the REINS program. They spend countless hours geared toward making continuous annual improvements for all involved, as well as addressing long-term issues to guarantee that this opportunity will be available for future generations… Words... how can mere prose describe the heart of REINS – the donors who graciously and generously provide the resources necessary to keep the program alive and kickin’! Very often the term donation is equated to monetary funding, which is extremely important, but donations to REINS are as diverse as providing a facility, horses, equipment, bedding, feed; every facet needed to provide a first-class experience for participants and volunteers… Words... here they are, frail as they may be, but hopefully they’ve provided some insight into the power of the REINS program and how it changes the lives of those involved, one stride at a time…
My name is Kristin Peterson, and my daughter Emily has been a part of the REINS program for the last three years. Like my husband, myself, and Emily's twin sister, Erin, Emily has Achondroplasia Dwarfism. Emily, along with her twin sister, were born 3 1/2 months early due to Twin-to-Twin Transfusion. Both girls spent five months in three different NICUs in Milwaukee. Between the two girls, Emily always had the greatest struggle. Emily was on the highest frequency ventilator for the first two months of her life. She was then able to move to CPAP and later nasal cannula for oxygen. Emily also needed a feeding tube at the age of four months because she couldn't breathe and eat at the same time. Both Emily and her sister came home on oxygen and feeding tubes. Two weeks after Emily came home from the NICU, she began having seizures. She was rushed to Children's Hospital, and she had to be put back on a ventilator until they could get the seizures under control. It was then determined that Emily had Epilepsy. At this time, it was also determined that the right side of Emily's brain was malformed causing issues with balance, sensory skills, and retaining information. Once Emily returned home from the hospital the second time, she started OT, PT, and Speech through Birth-Three. She continued these therapies when she entered school, and she still has all three therapies twice a week at school as well as an additional OT session outside of school once a week through Rehab Resources. Emily also needs a one-on-one aide at her school due to her sensory and balance issues. Emily still has many appointments at Children's Hospital. Luckily, her seizures have been under control with medication, but her EEGs are still quite abnormal. In addition to Neurology, Emily also sees Pulmonology and Development at Children's. Emily is an incredibly kind, loving little girl. Now eight-years-old, she loves music. She worships Phillip Phillips and anything related to American Idol. She loves playing with her sister, and she takes very good care of all of her dolls from her dollhouse. She also enjoys being a part of her Girl Scout troop and church choir. In any activity that Emily is a part of, though, she is always different from the other children in that she needs one-on-one assistance. At Girl Scouts, I must be there with her at all times. In church, a teenager is always there to help her. At school, she needs a one-on-one aide at all times. While Emily enjoys all of these activities, I don't think she's given the same sense of belonging as she does with REINS. At REINS, Emily is like everyone else. Everyone needs assistance, and that is ok. Emily is able to form a bond with her horse, and her horse loves her unconditionally. The activities at REINS are specially designed for Emily's needs so that she can work on her balance, attention, sensory, and social skills. REINS has also given Emily tremendous self-confidence and joy. This is the one activity that she has all for her own. No longer is she left behind the group, but she is able to participate in a physical activity that not only strengthens her muscles, but her heart as well. Our family has loved being a part of REINS, and we feel so fortunate to have REINS in our life. We look forward to seeing Emily grow in the program, and we hope that many more individuals can benefit from all that REINS has to offer.
Being a volunteer for the Reins program has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Working side by side with amazing staff and other volunteers as a team to enable riders to experience the many benefits of horseback riding was incredible and fulfilling. Although there were so many magical moments, one stays with me always. Alaric, who is a volunteer and rider, asked if I could help him catch a barn cat to pet. I did and Alaric and “Rocky”the barn cat had an instant connection. Alaric, Rocky and I were walking back to feed the cats and Alaric says “I am going to call Rocky my friend. If we called everyone friend, we could all walk together..just like we are now.” I agreed, and melted. You are so right, Alaric..if we called each other friend, we could all walk together. I have since joined the Board of Directors and am excited to continue to be a part of this incredible program.
My son Nate, who is 36 years old, was given the toughest journey of his life on October 10, 2007. He was in a horrific car accident resulting in traumatic brain injury (TBI). His life will never be the same again. He was unable to walk, talk or do any daily activities and had to have 24/7 care. His journey has been hard and frustrating, but still rewarding. He had a tremendous amount of physical therapy and occupational therapy and by 2012, Nate was walking with assistance. Reins has played an important part in his recovery. The growth of the Reins program has provided Nate and other riders with expert equestrian instructors and wonderful caring volunteers. The pairing of rider/volunteer sidewalker is perfect. Every rider has their own personality and the sidewalkers are great for encouragement and praise which really makes the rider feel good. The curriculum is well organized, with a variety of exercises which truly makes Nate happy when riding. There is a strong sense of safety felt by Nate. Reins is thriving and has made and continues to make improvements to the program. I thank Reins for affording not only my son, but others in need of this vital therapy, making their lives happier and healthier. Thank you.