Participant Stories

Jared’s Journey

I am so excited to be able to share Jared’s journey at RDA with you and I’d like to give you a little bit of background about Jared and what led us to become part of the amazing programs at RDA Tall Timbers Centre.

Jared was born on the 1st of October 2008 and will proudly tell you he is now almost 14 years old.  We knew Jared had some unusual heart activity before he was born, however, it all came to light when he made his grand entrance into this world.  With a heart rate of over 250 beats per minute, Jared was very lethargic and just wanted to sleep. The doctor described it to be like you’re running a marathon but not actually going anywhere. He was also fairly small for a full-term baby at just 2.4kg (or 5 pounds, 3 ounces).

It was a very stressful time initially while the doctors decided how to manage this wildly fast heart rate, as well as answer the bigger question which was why was it happening in the first place? Further scans and ECG’s showed Jared had a couple of other issues going on.  He had SVT which was the fast heart rate. ASD and VSD, these both refer to holes in different parts of the heart and finally pulmonary stenosis which is a condition caused by blockage to blood flow from the right ventricle to the pulmonary artery. Surgery was the only way to rectify three of the conditions and medication was needed for the SVT. Jared couldn’t have the surgery right away as he was so small and as the surgeon explained to us, Jared’s heart was only the size of his little fist, which was tiny and would make surgery that little bit trickier. Jared was 3 months old when he finally had his 6-hour operation, and he was still pretty small at only 3kg (or 6 pounds 6 ounces)! Further tests determined that Jared has a chromosome deletion, the official term is an 8p23 deletion. It is quite rare and all we were told at the time, was that the part of the chromosome he was missing is responsible for heart development, hence the issues there, but from what they understood of this defect is that it also carries learning and developmental genes. All we could do was tick the boxes as he grew and reached his milestones. Some of those milestones, the gross motor skills such as sitting, crawling, and walking, all happened later than “normal”. Then fast forward to preschool and the learning and fine motor delays started to become evident. When Jared reached school that was when the frustration and behavioral difficulties kicked in.

I can’t remember how we found out about RDA, but as soon as I looked into it, I knew it would be something Jared would enjoy and benefit from greatly. He has a love of animals and has always wanted to live on a farm.  He was 6 years old when he started coming to Tall Timbers. Michelle was his first coach on a Saturday morning in a small group riding program, and the first horse, or I should say pony, Jared had the pleasure of riding and working with was the amazing Chocolate. Funnily enough this is also Jared’s favourite food!

These earlier sessions over the coming months would see Jared’s confidence grow, his ability to follow directions began to improve, his core strength and balance also developed further. This program sure beat your traditional physical therapy session in some boring office in a big building! You only have to look around you now to know why RDA is so beneficial in so many ways. And with the more recent inclusion of Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy in their programs, I can’t think of a better place for our special kids and young adults to practice their therapies.

As Jared grew, the need for a bigger horse meant it was time for a change. Enter Buddy, and Hannibal and his new coach Sophie. Over the coming years Jared worked with this trio, and his balance, coordination and communication continued to develop. Jared participated in mounted games and dressage events, and he even had the privilege of riding at the Sydney Royal Easter Show one year. The confidence and experiences he had gained to this point were mind blowing.  I know I would have been petrified doing what Jared did in front of a crowd at the Easter Show, but he was incredible. I will never forget when at the start of Jared’s ride, Hannibal didn’t want to “walk on”, or even face the right direction for that matter! But Jared didn’t panic. He put the skills he had learned over the time into practice and was patient while he gave Hannibal a couple of extra squeezes with his legs, gently pulled on the reins, and encouraged him to start walking through the obstacles. That alone showed me how far he had come.

Sadly, Chocolate, Buddy and Hannibal are all no longer here, but how these 3 horses helped to shape Jared to this point is worth noting. They were incredible animals in their own right, and I know they are still greatly missed to this day by the team here at Tall Timbers. As we all know, things change over time, and Jared began to not enjoy being ON the horse so much, especially in summertime when he wasn’t allowed to drop the reins in the middle of a session (even though he did a few times) to swat at the flies, and his sensory issues meant there was no way he would tolerate a fly net over his helmet and face, and insect repellent was definitely a no go.

All of the coaches here have this perfect balance of firmness, fun, and learning that they bring to each participants’ journey. I mention firmness, because speaking from our experience, Jared could definitely be stubborn if he was asked to do something he didn’t really want to do or didn’t think he would like. But with kind firmness, and some clever negotiating, Sophie always managed to get Jared back on task.

Sophie talked to us about changing tact a bit, so Jared could still enjoy the benefits of working with and around the horses but not in the same capacity as he had been previously. A few years ago, he began participating in groundwork sessions. Now I briefly mentioned about Jared’s sensory issues, well I thought groundwork might push him over the edge! Surely shovelling manure wasn’t going to sit well with him. Never did I think that it would become an activity he actually CHOOSES to do today!  The groundwork sessions are such a great insight for the participants to understand that it’s not just about riding a horse. There is so much more responsibility that comes with it. Horses need to be groomed, have their hooves picked clean, they need food and water, their yards need cleaning and yes, that means shovelling manure, as well as cleaning and caring for the equipment used, plus so much more. Without realising, because it doesn’t feel like work, Jared is gaining extra skills from his sessions every week. The activities and jobs that he does around the property, involve developing his fine and gross motor skills, his problem solving and regulation skills, as well as his resilience.

Jared personally, has now reached the point where he has been attending RDA as a participant for almost 8 years, with a couple of small breaks over that time.  And just recently Sophie asked us if Jared would like to move into a volunteer role. It’s an exciting move for Jared and means that the progress he has made and the learning he has achieved can now be given back to RDA in this new role. We are excited to join all of the wonderful volunteers who give their time to the Centre and continue being a part of this wonderful organisation with this new opportunity.

I hope what I have shared with you all has shown how RDA is so much more than just riding horses. We have definitely learned that ourselves over the years and will be forever grateful to have found Tall Timbers.

Kate (Jared’s Mum)