1. It was the beginning of February in chilly Menomonee Falls, Wisc., when Lindsay Thompson prepared for her first riding lesson with horse trainer Rachel Devita-Anderson.
2. “She wouldn’t even look at you,” Rachel said, recalling Lindsay’s first lesson, “she refused to talk and she would hide behind her mom.”
Having grown up with Asperger’s syndrome, Lindsay struggles physically, emotionally, and socially. Though, around horses, things come naturally to her.
3. Lindsay’s social issues are her greatest challenge. Eye contact, communication, affection, and trust are extremely difficult for her.
There were even times when Lindsay felt that she couldn’t trust her own parents. Through her relationship with horses, Lindsay has been able to start overcoming these struggles.
4. Throughout grade school Lindsay was bullied by her classmates for being “quirky.”
Lindsay told her mother that “she’s known for a long time that she’s very different from other kids and that’s why she gets strange looks, but she’s OK with that.”
5. One afternoon during a lesson with Lindsay, Rachel pulled out an angry 6-year-old quarter horse named Joleen.
Joleen was infamous for her explosive, unpredictable behavior. Her wild personality once sent Rachel to the hospital with a traumatic head injury and a few broken ribs.
6. Around Lindsay, Joleen was remarkably different. The horse lowered her head and yawned, a sign of relaxation and trust.
After that initial meeting, it was clear that Joleen had picked Lindsay, just as Lindsay picked Joleen.
7. With Rachel’s guidance, Lindsay and Joleen made amazing progress.
Lindsay’s balance and motor skills improved along with her confidence. Soon enough, Lindsay was ready to step in the show ring. However, there weren’t any classes for autistic children to compete in.
8. Autistic riders were deemed “unsafe” by the 4-H horse curriculum, but Rachel fought for therapeutic classes to be introduced for Lindsay.
Rachel was the first person to break through and start a 4-H group to open therapeutic classes to all special needs children.
9. With this amazing opportunity, Lindsay and Joleen were ready to take on the Racine County Fair.
Lindsay was nervous, flapping her hands and mumbling before the show began. With the support of Rachel and Joleen, Lindsay was able to pull it together in the ring.
10. We’re in this together,” Rachel said to Lindsay in the ring. “It’s you, me and Joleen. We are here for you, just like you are here for us.”
11. Joleen and Lindsay took home three first-place blue ribbons at the fair.
The judge was “very impressed” with Lindsay’s efforts, and she was asked to represent therapeutic classes at the Wisconsin State Horse Expo.