Zoom Autism Magazine Issue 7 - Page 12

ZOOM IN Horses Changed My Life BY Anita Lesko I fell in love with horses at the age of four after my parents took me for rides on a pony. For twenty-five cents, you would be led around the track six times on the pony of your choice. Lots of quarters were spent as no one could get me off that pony. That became the Sunday ritual – take Anita to the pony track and spend half the day there! Never hearing the word Asperger’s until age fifty, then getting diagnosed, I obviously never had any Early Intervention. Actually, I did, only I didn’t know it at the time. The love of pony rides turned into an obsession with horses. As I got older, I desperately wanted riding lessons and a horse of my own. My parents couldn’t afford either of those. That didn’t stop me. When I was twelve, I became a working student at a big stable near my home in New Jersey. I earned riding time and lessons by mucking out stalls, painting fences, picking rocks out of the pastures, and cleaning saddles. The more I worked, the more time I got on the horses. My dream was to jump horses over big fences in competition. I spent every summer, weekend, and holiday at the stable. Horses were my life. And they were also my therapy. They got me out of my shell, interacting with people, learning how to work, learning how to take instruction from others, and dramatically improving my coordination. I began working my way up the ladder of riding skills. Of course, part of getting on a horse is the possibility of unintentionally coming off the horse! I can still remember the first fall I sustained. The horse had decided that he was enjoying the cold weather, took a 12 ZOOM Autism through Many Lenses leap into the air and started bucking. Off I went, splattering on the ground. No injuries, just an unexpected experience. I got up, dusted myself off, and we then went over to retrieve the horse who was standing nearby looking bewildered! I got back on, only this time I focused more intently on my position in the saddle, and I gripped my legs more tightly against the horse’s sides. Of course I was scared to get back on, but I did it. It was a learning experience — one of many! I continued the lessons and mucking out stalls, and eventually I reached my dream – riding in a jumping competition. I was a working student from age twelve to twenty-one. It all changed my life. All the skills I learned during those years empowered me to have the skills necessary for life and definitely for my career as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. It also built my self-confidence. I was a little lost soul when I first started out, but then I blossomed into what I am today. When I see a horse, I get tears in my eyes as they all have a very special place in my heart. I purchased my first horse at the age of twentynine, after graduating from Columbia University with my Master’s in Nurse Anesthesia. The day I received the letter congratulating me that I passed my Board exam, I was on a mission to finally get my very own horse. That, for sure, was one of the highlights of my life. I used to take him to ride in clinics at the United States Equestrian Team’s Olympic Training Center in Gladstone, New Jersey. Although I no longer ride, I still have horses, “ Horses were my life. And they were also my therapy. They got me out of my shell, interacting with people, learning how to work, learning how to take instruction from others, and dramatically improving my coordination. ” ZOOM Autism through Many Lenses 13