Participant Stories

Max – Riding High through Tall Timbers


Max has always loved horses.  But we never appreciated just how much until a trip overseas when he walked up to a friend’s Friesian horse and tried to hug her. Not only did he have no fear of her reaction, he also wanted to get on which was not possible at the time. Friesians are VERY big.  That’s when I knew Max needed to ride.

Before Max started it was made clear that he needed to be safe and a helmet was needed. No amount of persuasion would get that hat on until he realised that no helmet meant no riding. Max hates anything on his head except his headphones. I was expecting a fight and got a small struggle but his father got in on with Max’s begrudging acceptance. That was the first hurdle.

Then next was actually getting Max on the horse. No matter how much you plan and the social stories you show, the actual act of mounting a horse is daunting. You are handing control over to another being and in this case, one that could not communicate any better than Max. I wasn’t expecting Max to ride on his first lesson, but with the kind encouragement of the team and Woody he got there. Woody helped Max realise the purpose of the saddle and got comfortable to the point he was ready to try within minutes of getting off Woody.

The progress we saw with Max and his confidence was amazing.  Each session saw him no longer needing the assistance of either of his parents to get on the horse. His trust in his coach and the helpers had grown as well as in his horse. He straddled the horse and was ready to get on with the program.

One issue we did have with Max was his wanting to get off the horse and collapse on the ground next to the horse’s hooves as part of the “drama”. To Max, he thought he was being funny and it was his way of engaging with his team. But it was dangerous. By the end of the program Max no longer fell on the ground and he no longer did this in public places with other carers. He learned it was a game that was not appropriate and not necessarily safe.

Max learned so much. He has a natural seat and improved beyond my wildest hopes. He engaged in the activities without fuss. He listened to his coach and even tried to talk or use hand signals to let others know he was listening. What was a wonderful discovery was our learning the extent of Max’s empathy for his fellow riders. One boy had fallen from his horse. Though he was fine, Max would not leave the premises until he was confident the boy was ok and even followed him to his car and watched the family drive away. Only then was he prepared to go home. Max kept an eye out for his fellow rider for the remainder of the program.

I feel Max got a lot from RDA Tall Timbers.  His excitement about going riding helped prompt him to use his AAC device to communicate that he knew where he was going and what he was going to do. He went from a boy resentful of his helmet and terrified of getting onto a horse to being able to mount a horse, hold his seat and join in the program with his peers. The fact he was capable of going on a walk around the property on his last lesson showed us just how far he had come. He was happy and confident in his abilities. He was a young man on a ticket to ride.

Francesca Glozier (Max’s mum)