As we all know, there are plenty of physical gains to be had through riding— strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, fine and gross motor skills, and more. And for each of the clients at Giant Steps Therapeutic Equestrian Center, located in Petaluma, California, the certified instructors set specific physical goals and measure progress. And that is important and impactful. The physical skills gained through riding can lead to a client holding a comb or spoon independently, transferring themselves to and from a wheelchair, or holding themselves more upright. 

But in reality, it’s the emotional gains that keep their clients coming back year after year. It’s the joy, freedom, and confidence they feel when they ride. It’s having their own sport, something to talk about at school. It’s about moving freely without using a wheelchair. It’s about the confidence that comes with controlling a half-ton animal when there are many aspects of their lives they cannot control. 

Maya, a client who has been riding with Giant Steps for five years, was able to return to classes in the spring, and it was a tremendous relief for her family. “2020 was one of the most trying years that Maya experienced—being locked down, unable to see her friends, attend school, be in the community—and not being able to participate in the one thing she looks forward to most of all, riding.” 

Now that she is back, Maya has resumed her physical goals of walking and trotting with minimal volunteer assistance, holding her reins in the proper position, and maintaining her balance. And her mom comes to watch every week. “It is sheer joy to watch her laugh, move, and steer Tiki through the cones with her body and arms,” she says. “Riding has brought excitement and joy back into Maya’s week. She talks about Wednesday’s lesson constantly. On Tuesday night, she barely sleeps. We feel so fortunate that she is back in the saddle!” 

Maya is non-verbal, but she certainly makes her thoughts known. When we first saw Maya back at the barn, she hit the “happy” button on her speech generating device repeatedly. And the team was happy to have her back.