AUTISM PARENTING MAGAZINE
Mommy, You Purple!
Written by Jill Mansor
“Mommy, you purple!” Her big brown eyes wide with joy, as she said the first phrase she had ever spoken. Up to this point, she expressed her “special language” and ironically colors. Today was the first time in her short life of yearning to communicate that she was able to utter what all thought was impossible.
It happened on an overcast, clouds burgeoning day with rain that Katie and her mom graced my farm, where a team of specialized therapists and I teach equine therapy to special needs children. Katie was autistic, a communication disorder that affects over one in six children in the United States. Katie was one of those children. Unfortunately, she had not met the typical milestones of most children, especially speech. She was significantly delayed. Her mother is a fierce advocate and always willing to try any therapy to unlock her child’s potential. She enrolled her child into a local advocacy group for autism that supported equine therapy and would pay for this therapy for any child that met the criteria. Katie qualified for weekly equine therapy sessions, and at two-years of age, she came to my farm for her weekly equine therapy sessions on our sweet pony, Quest. Quest was a broad-backed small brown pony that had large lovable brown eyes, and he loved teaching equine therapy even more than I did.
Like many children, she had a severe aversion to the riding helmets. She would vehemently cry every time that we put the specialized riding helmet on her head. Once she realized that a riding helmet meant a ride on her pony, she welcomed it and even grabbed her favorite, a pink helmet with a pony painted on its side. Her sensory issues were subsiding. She would also grab his mane or pet his soft velvety skin.
Everyone that worked with her knew that there was something special about Katie. Her eyes spoke volumes, and with certainty, we knew that she loved her weekly rides. We either had her ride bareback or used a surcingle, an apparatus that we would put around the pony that had two handles and a thick oversized moleskin blanket that covered his whole back. The soothing rhythm of Quest’s cadence would settle Katie into a quiet state where she would sometimes lie down and even fall asleep. There was no denying it, equine therapy was giving this child more than rest. To her mother’s surprise, she would leave the farm singing her ABC song, a first. Sometimes her babbling would reveal hidden words that no one knew she could say. It was hard to negate that there was an evident change in her demeanor after her cherished weekly rides on Quest.
The horse was healing this child into wholeness. During each session, her equine therapist would encourage Katie to speak. She would ask her to “kiss” to Quest when she wanted to walk. Katie had a receptive language but was unable to be expressive. It was apparent she could always understand what we were asking of her. At the end of the therapy session, her therapist would often tell Katie to point to parts of the horse, and she would locate each feature with a hundred percent accuracy. The clouds began to burst from their burden, and the rain started to fall lightly. Usually, the students don’t enjoy the rain, as it is generally sensory overload for these special children. Her therapist looked at her mother and asked if they should quit.
Her mother knew her daughter better than anyone else and said, “Can we keep going?”
They kept riding, and Katie was enjoying the rain and laughing with glee. Most equine therapy sessions are half-an-hour, but because Katie was having so much fun, the session was turning into hours.
Her therapist continued to ask Katie to identify parts of the pony. Then the therapist pointed to her mother. Her mother loved walking with her daughter during the many sessions at the farm, and she stood next to the pony.
“Who is this?” the therapist asked Katie.
Admittedly, the therapist was surprised by her question because they would usually ask her to point to her mother, not identify who she was.
Within seconds she shouted with vigor, “Mommy, you purple!” She laughed because she discerned that her voice was monumental because everyone had gaping mouths.
It had not registered in our hollow minds that Katie had just spoken and identified her mother, who had just dyed her hair a vibrant purple.
Baffled, the therapist asked again, thinking that maybe it was a fluke.
“Who is this?” This time she lifted her voice with excitement. We all waited for Katie to speak.
Katie started to laugh, hysterically, “Mommy, you purple!”
That was the beginning of the unlocking of a little child to the world of speech. Today, Katie tells her mom that she loves her. She now asks for her pony when she wants to ride. When the weather is cold and equine therapy is suspended, Katie will try to ride her family’s large dogs. Before she climbs on, she grabs her mother’s motorcycle helmet. She draws pictures of her pony complete with a little girl who has a helmet on. Her life is full of hope because the key of promise started with a sweet little pony at my farm, Raise Your Dreams.
GUIDEPOSTS MAGAZINE JULY/AUGUST ISSUE 2019
When I founded Raise Your Dreams Farm, I thought I was following God's plan, providing equine therapy for people of all ages and physical situations. People with epilepsy, catastrophic injuries, autism- anyone could benefit from interacting with the horses, who are gentle, sensitive creatures.
Then everything went wrong.
God, I need a miracle, I thought one morning as I cleaned the stable. The stalls were nearly empty. One horse was at a New Bolton Center fighting for his life from a catastrophic illness. A sick horse would be terrible at any time, but right now, it was a disaster. I had already lost one horse to heart failure. Another horse had been struck down by lightning. Only one horse remained for all of my classes: a pony not big enough to carry my larger students. Without at least one full-size horse, I could not give lessons, couldn't earn money, couldn't pay my bills. But even if I could find a suitable horse, I had no money to buy one.
I tried to concentrate on my chores, but my mind kept returning to my problems. Finally, I got down on my knees. "Heavenly Father, this is your farm," I said. "If it is your will that I help these children, I need a horse now!"
My prayer seemed impossible, even to me. But what else could I do?
I went back to the house to make some lunch. There I found a message on my answering machine from an unknown number. Probably someone wanting to book a lesson, I thought.
"I have been wanting to call you for months now," the woman said when I called her back. "My husband left me. I need to get rid of my horse." She dissolved into tears. "I'm sorry for crying. I can't take care of Jus'Dandy anymore, and I was told your farm is beautiful, and you offer equine therapy. I think this is where my horse is meant to be."
It turned out she was right. "I don't usually believe in this kind of thing," Jus Dandy's owner confessed when she officially donated her elegant chestnut horse to us. "But I feel like God orchestrated this."
"Oh, it is a total God thing," I assured her. He had answered two prayers wrapped into one!
From Secret Rider to Horse Whisperer By Jill Mansor for Reminisce Magazine
Dad asked his question as casually as possible. "Jill, do you want to go to the market? It was hard for me to contain my excitement because I knew what he really meant. He was speaking to me in our code; a trip to the "market" translated as a "ride a pony."
Dad and I had invented the code so my mother wouldn't worry. As a nurse at one of the largest children's hospital in the country, Mom had seen so many young patients hurt in riding accidents that we knew she'd never agree to her daughter getting on a horse, let alone taking riding lessons.
But my dad knew that riding a horse wa all I lived for, and he encouraged it in tiny ways. On car drives, he'd pullover and lure horses in pastures to the fence with a carrot so I could pet their soft noses. I dreamed of someday owning my own horse.
We lived only about 1 1/2 miles from a broken-down farm that rented horses and ponies for one-hour rides. That first visit they brought out a little golden pony for me. The poor thing was old and sway-backed with patches of mud on his body and brambles in his tail, but to me, he was a majestic steed.
For one stolen hour, I could ride off into the sunset astride a pony. It was all the therapy I needed. That night I went to bed full of anticipation for our next trip to the "market."
Dad and I went on many more shopping adventures, never coming home with groceries-and Mom never asked about them. Perhaps she knew all along where we really were.
The bond I shared with the horses on those rides shaped my life. I am now a certified riding instructor and own a horse farm, where I provide equine therapy for special needs children and adults.
When I bought my first horse, Raise Your Dreams, it was at one of the lowest points of my life. Yet I found he needed me as much as I needed him. Today, my horses lift my students' spirits as my first horse lifted mine. That's why I named my farm after him.
Jill Mansor passes on her love of horses at Raise Your Dreams Farm in southern New Jersey.
Nonprofit Helps Disabled Students- SNJ Today
PILESGROVE, N.J. -
Six years ago, New Jersey became the 14th state in the country to join Employment First, which is a policy that encourages and promotes employment for those with disabilities.
A century before New Jersey officials took the step to benefit those in need of extra assistance, representatives with Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health were already paving the way to make a difference.
Officials with the nonprofit are on a mission to help unlock the potential in those who may have emotional, behavioral, or cognitive differences.
“For a long time, they didn’t really get lots of opportunities to do different things," said Heather Janci, vocational coordinator, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health New Jersey. "Devereux is such a fantastic company and they really allow them to continue to spread their wings and try things they never thought they would try."
Well, it’s fun learning how to train the horses and stuff.
Those things include horseback riding and helping to take care of the Raise Your Dreams Farm in Pilesgrove.
“Devereux is willing to always, always think outside of the box," said Jill Mansor, owner of Raise Your Dreams Farm. "When you’re doing equine therapy, obviously there’s a lot of risks to it.”
Mansor said that the benefits outweigh the risks. Those benefits include learning job-building skills, among many others things.
“It teaches the client to listen and follow directions," said Mansor. "And ... it helps them to monitor their behavior because the horse will actually kinda mimic their behavior as well, so it gives them that feedback."
“Some of the guys were a little apprehensive when they first started — they had never been around horses before," said Janci. "It was something they had never done. It’s part of the experience.
"It’s [also] part of new things and overcoming fears and learning to trust things they had never experienced.”
Even though they’re still overcoming obstacles, the program directors cater to their strengths so they can gain experience for the future.
“Well, it’s fun learning how to train the horses and stuff," said Rich Wooding, of Cape May Courthouse, one of Devereux's clients.
“We really try to provide them with a wide variety of activities," said Janci. "[And] to find things they are truly passionate about so that when they do find employment it’s something they truly enjoy and they’re more likely to stay and [be] very successful."
According to studies, hiring those with disabilities increases workforce morale.
For more information go to devereux.org or raiseyourdreamsfarm.com.
Mansor Teaches Equine Therapy at Her Farm By Venise Grossmann
At 3:30 a.m. Jill Mansor rises and begins her day in prayer. She offers gratitude to God for allowing her to achieve her dream of teaching riding lessons on her own farm. Then she walks to the barn to feed her eight horses and ponies—Milkshake, Buttons, Brutus, Hershey, Chicken Nugget, Chessy, Pumpkin, and Quest. She lays the hay on the ground in sections and places grain in their feed bins. After wishing her special friends a blessed day, she makes the drive to West Deptford High School where she works as a special education teacher.
During her 27-year teaching career, Mansor has had the opportunity to learn many strategies in working with students with physical and mental challenges. After school and on Saturdays, she brings her master-level experience to her riding ring. Eleven years ago, she began teaching riding lessons on her 12-acre farm in Woodstown, New Jersey—Raise your Dreams Farm, and she is now considered an expert in equine therapy.
Mansor began riding after graduating from college. After training with Olympic coach Richard Uhlmann twenty years ago, she became a certified riding instructor. She knew her path was to teach when many people began approaching her and asking her for lessons. Mansor began teaching at various farms and then took the initiative to buy one of her own.
She now offers English, Western, Dressage, Hunter, Vaulting, and Cross Country lessons from Tuesday to Saturday for beginner to advanced students. While Mansor teaches many of her own lessons, she also employs six instructors. Her clients include adults and children, many of whom have physical, mental, social and emotional challenges.
“One in five people in the United States have a disability,” says Mansor, “so there’s a real need for various alternatives for therapy.” In fact, the American Physical Therapy Association and the American Therapy Association endorse utilizing equine therapy.
Equine therapy is the use of the horse and its movement to provide exercise to children and adults. “It has proven to be highly effective in encouraging children to talk, walk, focus, strengthen the core, balance, increase their locus of control, spatial awareness and so much more,” said Mansor.
The Salem County Center for Autism has endorsed Mansor’s farm for equine therapy for their autistic students. Since many of these children have sensory issues, Mansor utilizes a variety of strategies. For instance, she may have the child lie across the horse and just enjoy the connection to him.
The students also gain core strength by sitting on the horse. As he moves, his gait (the rhythmic rocking) relaxes the students’ back, hips and muscles. As a result, the students become stronger and more flexible and increase their muscle tone and physical stamina.
As a result of equine therapy their social interactions and relationships improve as they interact with the horse. Since a horse responds to a person’s behavior, if the student is loud or aggressive, the animal will become fearful. Consequently, the student learns that his behavior impacts another being. They also learn that when they respond to the horse in a soothing manner, he will respond in kind.
“I derive so much pleasure in knowing that the students are able to transfer this knowledge to their every day lives and relationships,” says Mansor.
Also, because a horse’s natural gait continually throws a student off balance, he must constantly adjust to the horse, which improves a student’s posture and balance.
“As a student continues with the therapy, his confidence, strength, flexibility and coordination improve,” says Mansor.
Treating the horses with respect is essential, Mansor says. “To develop great horsemanship skills, the rider must understand that the skills begin on the ground.” For example, if the student is anxious, the horse will become anxious so she teaches them to concentrate on their breathing and body language.
Other skills she teaches include how to lead, feed, groom, clean tack, and general care for a horse.
Mansor feels that the most important reward is that the students have fun. “When I see my students smile during a lesson, I know that I am putting my energies into a worthwhile cause,” says Mansor.
She has many success stories. “I work with children who have never walked or talked or ridden a bike, and now they walk, talk and ride a bike. Their school teachers are noticing a difference in their ability to focus in the classroom because a horse teaches the ultimate lesson- to work in harmony with others.”
Another triumphant case is when she had an autistic child who suffered from sensory problems who is now able to enjoy walking and being on the beach.
Other children who were not able to make friends and struggled with self-esteem have gained confidence.
Each of her lessons is planned so that it meets the student’s individual needs and goals. “The goals are established by the student, parent, teacher, behaviorist, occupational therapist and physical therapist,” says Mansor. “Equine therapy works because it takes the brain and gives it order.”
Mansor believes that her students are learning to create a perfect harmony and partnership with the horse or pony. “We accomplish this by incorporating all of the aids to communicate with the horse-- utilizing the eyes, voice, hands, feet and legs,” says Mansor.
One of Mansor’s 75-year-old clients has also seen the benefits of equine therapy. At one point she had so little flexibility that she couldn’t step off a curb because it was so painful. “Now her flexibility is so improved that she feels like she is in her fifties, and the greatest part is that she is no longer in pain,” says Mansor.
According to Mansor, those who are best served by equine therapy are children and adults who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, pervasive personality disorder, autism, cognitive deficiencies, cerebral palsy, arthritis, social disorders, emotional disorders, self-esteem issues and juvenile delinquents.
Mansor holds competitions for her students at her farm where the participants can earn ribbons and prizes. Her students also complete at local shows including Gloucester County 4-H.
Because Mansor provides a nurturing environment, many of these children end up volunteering at the farm as side walkers or junior riding instructors.
Her work as an equine therapist has been featured on the 700 Club, an international Christian TV show, and on Rowan radio.
Venise Grossmann is an English teacher at West Deptford High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Motorcycle-Crash Victim Rebuilds Life- Don Woods
Tom Worl has never quite recovered from the accident in 1995 when a drunk driver hit his motorcycle.
Now, thanks to help from a horse named Pumpkin at Raise Your Dreams Farm, he’s starting to get his life back.
It was Labor Day in Lake Tahoe, Calif., and Worl was riding his souped-up cafe racer. He had only been on the West Coast for three months, having moved there from South Jersey for a computer technician's job.
After the accident, he was laid up in a hospital for a year with a shattered hip, broken back and broken neck.
Worl came back to New Jersey and was eventually able to get around again with assistance from a walker.
“They thought I would have to use a walker my whole life,” said Worl, 43, of Swedesboro. “Now, I don’t use a walker.”
He wasn’t truly able to heal until he started equine therapy at Raise Your Dreams Farm in Pilesgrove.
Worl speaks each word deliberately and fumbles on some of the more complicated syllables but, when he talks about his therapy horse Pumpkin, you can hear the excitement in his voice.
“I take good care of him and he takes good care of me,” Worl said.
Pumpkin is a 15-year-old American Quarter Horse with soft, brown fur and a slow gait.
Worl was frustrated with Pumpkin when they first met a year ago because Pumpkin would not budge whenever he tried to go for a ride.
“When this horse starts to trust you and you get to be in better balance, this horse is going to move,” said Jill Mansor, owner and operator of Raise Your Dreams Farm, which practices equine therapy.
Worl’s balance was so bad that he had trouble on any uneven surface — with even grass giving him a hard time.
Eventually, though, he and Pumpkin began to get familiar with each other and the trotting began.
Pumpkin has helped me in so many aspects of my life
“Now, it’s like riding a different horse,” Worl said.
“Because you’re a different rider,” Mansor retorted.
Mansor, a special education teacher in West Deptford, has operated Raise Your Dreams Farm for almost 12 years, mostly using equine therapy to help special-needs children.
“It encompasses everything,” Mansor said, who became certified in equine therapy in the 1980s.
She was a volunteer at first but eventually opened up her own farm, where she helps more than a dozen children and a handful of adults a week.
By riding the horse, according to Mansor, the person builds physical strength in their hips, their core and legs. It also helps with balance and the ability of the rider to focus.
“Equine therapy is like a miracle worker,” she said.
Mansor first heard about Worl in the summer of 2012, when his aunt contacted her about horse therapy.
“He shared his story with me and I was blown away,” she said. “Of course, I’ll work with you.”
They’ve been riding ever since — taking time off during the winter — and building up Worl’s strength to allow him to walk uninhibited.
When they first started, Worl was surrounded by handlers in case he fell. He was only able to start riding by himself a few months ago.
“Pumpkin is not going to let anything bad happen to him,” Mansor said. “I know that sounds corny, but it’s true.”
Worl follows the same routine at the farm. He pulls up in his truck, greeted by Mansor’s two Great Pyrenees — named Snowball and Frosty. They are very large dogs with white fur who seem to have more in common with polar bears than sheepdogs.
He then goes over to greet Pumpkin, their relationship a far cry compared to when they first met.
“Pumpkin comes over all the time and says hello,” Worl said.
The horse, of course, doesn’t really say hello, Worl clarifies, but simply picks his head up and trots happily to him.
Before any riding occurs, Mansor leads a small prayer.
“We always pray for protection,” Mansor said. “I just ask God to take control of it, protect every rider who’s here, keep each one safe. And every rider — no matter who they are — we start with prayer.”
Ever since his accident, Worl admitted to blaming God for a lot of things. Going to Raise Your Dreams, though, healed his spirituality along with his body.
“He’s now a big part of my life so it’s good that I came here because He’s a big part of this farm’s life,” Worl said.
Worl’s life has vastly improved since he started his equine therapy.
His balance has improved to such a degree that he regularly goes on bicycle rides — up to 90 miles a week, he estimates.
And all of it was thanks to Mansor and a horse named Pumpkin.
“Pumpkin has helped me in so many aspects of my life,” Worl said. “He makes me do everything just a little bit better.”