Helping Horses: Riding with a Developmental Disorder

Photo courtesy of Sophie Baghdassarian

BY SOPHIE BAGHDASSARIAN

I tried a lot of different activities when I was younger, following my sister’s footsteps. With softball, I was able to release my pent-up emotions by hitting a ball while trying to run to each of the bases, and this taught me how to release my anger in appropriate ways. With soccer, I enjoyed moving my feet and kicking a soccer ball even if it meant staying by the goalie in defense, and learned the meaning of teamwork. Gymnastics gave me good reflexes which has helped me avoid getting stepped on or falling off the horse. Ballet taught me motivation and dedication.

But horseback riding was unlike any other sport. After every dance rehearsal and recital, all I wanted to do was shake out every bobby pin and wash the gel out of my hair.  After every soccer game, I changed out of my uniform as fast as I could and hopped in the shower. With every sport I tried I was excited when the day was over, but that was never true with horses.

I count the moments until I can ride and I sleep in my breeches and polo the night before every lesson and show. Thanks to horseback riding,  I was able to find where I belong even if it meant kicking a ball around until the time was right, and wearing a tutu for a little bit until I could find my place.

Horses became my greatest friends and best listeners.  Before horseback riding, I had not found my voice yet. I wasn’t able to make my own judgments. From the second I got in the saddle, slid my feet in the stirrups and picked up the reins, I was no longer able to hide in my room away from everything.

Photo courtesy of Sophie Baghdassarian

For the ten years I have been horseback riding, I have learned more lessons than I could have ever expected. Working in a barn has taught me how to pick myself up and get back in the saddle and brush off whatever is on my mind.  If I was told “No, you can’t do it” I got up again and kept going until I accomplished what I wanted.

Riding helped me believe in myself and to not let anyone bring my spirits down. Just reminding myself those lessons, I defied the odds placed upon me. I was a force to be reckoned with whether I was in the saddle or not.

The horses remind me that the heart you hold inside is within you, and you can never let it go. Riding helped me be true to myself and to break down the walls that held me back. This is really important, because some of those walls were very tall.

I have been diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder and ADHD, amongst other things, and socializing for me was not an easy battle because I struggled with picking up other’s social cues which led to me talking about myself and not giving others a chance to talk.  Despite the fact that my parents and siblings were very supportive, I knew I was different and perceived the world in a completely different way. My siblings tried to understand things that I said and did but at times they could not relate which added fire to my frustration.  It was as if we were in different worlds.  I felt left out, ignored, and knew I was different. I hated it.

I bottled up all the emotions and hid them pretty well. It wasn’t until I started horseback riding that I realized how special my differences made me.  The horses loved me for me and loved my uniqueness and differences, so I started to love them too. That once voiceless girl was no longer voiceless from the moment I sat in the saddle and picked up the reins.       

Photo courtesy of Sophie Baghdassarian

Horses help me feel connected to an animal that has a mind of its own. Horses are one of the greatest creatures to exist on this planet due to their healing power also, their tolerance towards many. This passion for horses became something I looked forward to every single day. Being around them gives me a sense of courage and bravery to not back down even if someone tells me to. The gift I received was finding my own voice and helping me with decision-making skills that would eventually come in handy as time went on as I learned how to speak my mind.

The barn is the second home for many, but to me, the barn has become a part of who I am, beyond anything a home can provide. It is an inseparable part of who I am and what I love and it is the thing I value most in this world. It became my place to clear my mind and focus on the horses and my passions,  not on what others are saying or doing. 

I’m no longer afraid of what others say about me, or if they’re going to like me for who I am. Horses have taught me to care for others, always being attentive to their non-verbal cues of when they need to be worked, fed, groomed, or let out to the paddock. I’ve grown more empathetic and caring and my heart has grown bigger, stronger, and fonder.

And unlike the sports I tried before, I’m no where close to stopping this incredible journey of the heart.

Sophie Baghdassarian competes on a show team for people with disabilities, and has been riding horses for 10+ years.

Brought to you by Summit Joint Performance:

Summit Joint Performance helps your horse feel and perform their very best. Whether your horse has an existing joint condition or you’d like to prevent problems in the future, our proprietary formulation of chondroitin sulfate promotes a healthy, thick synovial fluid, decreasing inflammation in the joints and improving the cushioning properties of the cartilage pads. This helps prevent the risk of early-onset joint pain and keep our partners feeling younger and staying competitive longer. By giving a single IM (intramuscular) injection of Summit Joint Performance® each month, we can help protect the joints that are being damaged by the activities that we (and they) love.