My name is Natasha. I would like to share a little bit about my daughter and how we discovered Cloud Dancers. I am the mom of two little girls; Merida(4), and Natalan(6). My girls are both adventure loving, thrill seeking, outgoing, amazing little girls. Even at young ages, they love to travel and explore the outdoors. They are the best of friends and do everything together. Well, almost everything…
Natalan can’t physically do everything her sister does. It is heartwarming to watch them play together as Merida has learned to adapt her play just as Natalan has so that they can play together. She holds her hand, and helps her up when she falls down. You see Natalan has a very rare genetic disorder called Joubert Syndrome. She was given a 0% chance to live before she was ever born. She is now 6 years old and is the happiest kid I know. She is God’s miracle, a small piece of heaven on earth. If you’ve met her, you’ve felt the happiness she exuberates. By looking at her smile you would find it hard to believe that Joubert has affected all areas of her life. She needs assistance to walk, assistance to stand, and to communicate. She is nonverbal, but her personality speaks very loud for her. Natalan is a free spirit and is living life the way she wants. She finds happiness in small things like seeing pretty flowers, the wind blowing in her hair, and hearing animal sounds. She is a big animal lover. She finds joy in the things that most people take for granted.
As she is learning to adapt and navigate through this life with her disability, she is finding different ways to communicate. The older she gets, the more she is able to express herself and the more I learn about her. A couple months ago, I realized that her favorite animal of all was horses. When she sees or hears them she gets so excited and it’s obvious that they’re her favorite. I heard her laughing one day and walked in to see what all the fuss was about. A movie with horses was playing and Natalan had both hands on the television, bouncing up and down as if she was riding the horse herself. I had never see her do anything like that before and honestly I was shocked. It was almost as if she knew how to ride a horse, although she had never rode one before. Later that day, I mentioned to my husband about how she reacted to the horses on the television, and he suggested that maybe we get her into some kind of “horse therapy”.
I thought this was a great idea. I have always strived to allow her as many opportunities as possible and give her the best life I can. I had vaguely heard about programs for special need children and horses but had no clue where to begin. Although I thought it was a great idea, if I am honest, I was intimidated and scared. In fact, I was very hesitant at first. As most special needs parents know there is a lot of anxiety involved when it comes to doing new things with our kiddos. We often worry about how they will react to something new, or how the people around them will respond, or if the people will know how to interact with them. There are endless worries that only parents of special need children can understand, but just like many times before I pushed my feelings aside and took a leap of faith for the sake of my daughter, and I am so glad I did.
After doing a quick google search, I came across Cloud Dancers (which I thought was such a cool name). I found the application and got started on it right away. I was surprised at how fast I got a response. Not too long after, Natalan and I set off to meet some incredibly amazing people. The first day was the evaluation. During the evaluation we met Karen (instructor) and Louisa who sat down with us and simply wanted to get to know us. They allowed me to tell our story and didn’t judge me when I shed a few tears. In fact, I think they may have shed some tears themselves. I instantly felt connected to them and they made me feel welcome. Finally, Natalan got to meet Snoopy (a beautiful horse). Her excitement was undeniable, and everyone there witnessed something special that day.
One of my goals for Natalan was for her to simply touch the horse without having sensory overload. That may not seem like a big goal to most people, but to me it was a very realistic goal for her. A goal for myself was to relax and trust that the instructor and volunteers would keep her safe as she had never been on a horse. She struggles with certain textures and I was unsure of how she would react. Karen and the team of volunteers were so patient and careful with her. They instantly gained my trust. Their competence was evident, and I am happy to say that Natalan did amazing her first day.
We are now in our 2nd session at Cloud Dancers. I get overwhelmed with emotion when I think about what this program has done for my daughter. In addition to increasing her physical strength, balance, and coordination, I have witnessed her confidence grow for the first time in her life. It means everything to me to see her enjoying something other than regular therapy. Although I am thankful she has received outside therapies such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy, this horsemanship therapeutic therapy is far more than that. This is something that isn’t trying to teach her how to do things like other people, it teaches her that it’s okay to be herself. She can be herself and still have fun and do things she enjoys, and that to me is incomparable.
Natalan goes to horse therapy every week now. It’s something she and I both enjoy. She enjoys the horses and the wonderful instructor and volunteers, and I enjoy watching her smile and do something that I thought was impossible. She may not be able to run and play like most kids, but she is able to do something that brings her so much joy. I am forever grateful to the people that make this possible for Natalan. I can’t express how thankful I am to the ones that take time out of their lives to make her life better. This program has changed her life and I am so glad that I found Cloud Dancers!