I remember the first time I got on a horse. I was two years old and we were watching a friend of the family ride. My mom agreed to let me take a short ride around the arena with the friend and that was it! I was horse crazy. From then on, I drove my parents insane begging for a horse. Whenever I saw a horse, I would beg even harder.
When I was four years old,my life as I know it now began. I have Selective Mutism. This is a rare childhood disorder in which children stop speaking in certain social situations, many times at around the age of four. I spoke normally to my parents, my brother and certain other people, but was silent at school and in social situations. I went days, weeks, months without a sound at school. At most, I might quietly whisper to a friend.
Often, children with Selective Mutism will not speak in the presence of others; even to a person they normally talk to. There is a lot of whispering in ears, so that others cannot hear. We have normal or above average IQs and usually no speech pathology. The most important factor in this disorder is, we cannot speak. We do not do this purposely or willfully, it feels impossible to speak. As you can imagine, many children are blamed, punished and traumatized, especially at school. The disorder is believed to be anxiety related and treatment is difficult, but not impossible. We have so much more to learn.
My parents searched for a cure. At that time, we did not even have a name for what I had. I suffered silently through school until I was ten years old when one in a long string of psychologists had an idea. Having discussed his plan with my parents beforehand, one day in my therapy session I was asked by the psychologist what I wanted more than anything in the world. He explained that I was going to be given an opportunity to work for what I wanted. I couldn’t believe my good luck, but I could not answer. I just stood there struggling to verbalize what I wanted more than anything else in the world. Finally, I was permitted to whisper the answer in my mother’s ear. “A horse,” was all I could say.
I was to get a pony, but before we could even start looking, I had to live up to my end of the bargain. I had to try to talk. I had a chart of weekly tasks I had to accomplish. I had to answer the phone five times per week, something I had never done before. I had to make five phone calls to my friends. I had to say one word to my teacher at school and the list went on. For a child with Selective Mutism, saying one word to someone can be like climbing Mount Everest.
I did everything that was asked of me and the day came when my parents found a local riding stable that had the perfect pony. His name was Sequoia, a strong little chestnut with some roaning and a tiny white spot on his rump. He was perfect, of course, and I fell in love immediately. We boarded him at the riding stable and I began taking lessons. I wanted to be the best I could be and I swelled with pride every time I got on Sequoia. It truly was a dream come true. I learned to brush him, saddle him, pick his hooves out. Each week I could not wait for Saturday and my lesson, then my free time with my Sequoia. When I was in Sequoia’s presence, I forgot all about my problems and felt strong and secure.
As I see it, horses are silent too, but they are fast, powerful and free at the same time. Horses give me the strength I lack. They give me a reason to push myself, when I can find no other. Horses have been part of my life for well over twenty years now, all the while helping me deal with an isolating, frightening disorder. When things get difficult, as they still sometimes do, I go to my horses. With them, I can be silent, but I can hold my head up and have dignity and freedom. By connecting with them, I have learned to embrace what I was once shunned for and I found my voice.
I am a fully participating member of society these days. My horses and I made it through a master’s degree and then law school. I am a practicing attorney, I even make court appearances. I may have made it otherwise, but I’m not sure. I feel I owe my life to the horse and I try to give it back to them every day. I am fortunate that I can look out my back door and see my beautiful horses looking back at me. I am so grateful that I get to watch them run in their mountain pasture every day. I hope I never stop learning from them. They have given me the best gift I could ever imagine, my life.