There is nothing that prepares an autism parent for the dark days when nothing you can say or do makes a difference to your upset child. M had three bad days out of four this week at school – thank goodness it was a short week! – and it was heartbreaking to see her actually come out in tears one day. There was a series of very small events that triggered the upsets, and one case of what the school call teasing and I call bullying, but Wednesday and Thursday especially were pretty awful. Suffice to say I really don’t even want to go into details, but I used up a lot of energy on keeping her cuddled and stopping her bolting and/or taking out her anger and hurt in violence. Thankfully on Friday afternoon she came out in good spirits.
So I was a little concerned that a birthday party nearly 50 miles away at a stables might not be the best way to start the weekend. M was missing her dancing class for this, something which only ever happens in times of illness (so rarely) and both M and B were invited. Part of me was concerned that although she wanted to go to the party that the change in routine would upset here. All I knew was they weren’t to wear party clothes (a given I would have thought considering it was a stables) and that all the children were guaranteed a ride. I duly packed a lunch for B after ringing to check the available food, standard party fare which he can’t eat due to his severe food intolerances, and we headed off.
The party was from 11 am till 2 pm and not a second was wasted. After the party girl introduced her friends to each other and they were kitted out with hats (and boots if necessary; seriously people why would you send your kid to a stables with nice white trainers? I sent mine in wellies) they were led off to meet and greet the ponies. It is a very hands-on stable, and all the children are encouraged to get in there with petting and grooming straight away. M is highly anxious about anything new but we do holiday on a farm with a lot of horses so I know she likes them, and more importantly wouldn’t have a problem with the sensory side i.e. the strong aroma! Both got stuck in with curry combs and brushes. The very gentle and patient pony was gleaming!
Then they were led into a paddock and helped to mount their ponies for a half hour hack. B needed some help as he was on a larger pony but M was on almost before I could help her up. It must be instinctive as she has only been around the field on a friend’s Shetland pony and that was about three years ago. B went on a donkey ride as a wee toddler and screamed the whole time so I was more than a little nervous about what he would think when his pony started moving.
Well! I needn’t have been. I went along on the hack as a walker and I really didn’t need to apart from being able to take some nice shots. Both children did acknowledge me, but they were so calm and happy it was just wonderful. More than half of the dozen children at the party have an autism spectrum condition but it was really difficult right then to pinpoint who they might have been – all the kids were enjoying themselves. Personally I’ve always thought horses are magical animals and this bore out my theory.
The rest of the party was some free play, decorating and plaiting the ponies (yes you read that right, you can decorate a pony – with sponges and special glitter paint), a lovely meal upstairs in a sort of barn, which was beautifully managed and catered by staff, then the option of more free play in the wee play park or face painting and nail varnishing before the lighting of the candles and singing to the birthday girl.
I found out that the cost of this per child was £25, which sounds a lot when you invite a lot of children but for three whole hours and including a half hour hack I thought was extremely good value. It is a long way to go but we don’t have stables nearby so I am already thinking about taking all the kids for a return visit in the summer holidays.
Both children had an amazing time and there was only once that M needed some quiet time away from other people, and then she just wandered off to the quiet end of the yard. We popped into a supermarket on the way home to pick up a few items and then they were happy to sit exhausted until I got them home and into a big foamy bath to soak away the grime.
M has asked twice so far to see my photos, and she is aware than the ponies made her feel happy and relaxed, so I predict more horsey adventures in the future.