Sometimes, God surprises us by giving an Autistic boy who had nothing but fear for His glorious creatures a new best friend: a gentle pony named PJ.
It’s was sunny Saturday morning as my stretch my eyes open after a long slumber. As I awoke, I heard the patter of tiny squirrel paws playfully darting back-and-forth across our humble roof. I was pleased, knowing my furry four-legged friends enjoyed my home as much as I did.
On this warm spring day, April and I took Shamus to visit a ranch for his very first pony ride. We hoped it would help him improve his fine and gross motor skills, learn to love and bond with a living creature, and, most of all, overcome his fear of animals. Hopefully, the encounter would be positive and Shamus would ride the creature each week as part of this ongoing therapy program.
Shamus, unlike most little boys, was afraid of dogs. Perhaps that’s normal for younger children, but Shamus was almost five. Even small dogs terrified him. We visited my brother last summer, whose charming cabin in the Idaho wilderness is a menagerie of cats and dogs. We tried our best to keep the scampering canines away from Shamus, but with the numerous two and four-legged creatures and the constant chaos, it was a difficult task. Shamus would just have to manage. He did, somehow.
Before we left for the ranch, April showed Shamus pictures of horses. “What’s that, Shamus?” Shed ask, pointing to a picture. “Horsie”, Shamus would answer. “What we are going to see today, Shamus?” she’d ask again. The answer was the same, “Horsie”.
Driving to the ranch was absolutely delightful. Although we barrelled down an interstate, it seemed like a quaint country road, with the sparse traffic, green rolling hills, and nearby mountains topped by giant redwood trees with a touch of coastal fog kissing the peaks. The ranch was just as picturesque, with a panoramic view of rolling green pastures and stately oak and sycamore trees. Whenever a horse passed our van, April would ask Shamus to turn his head and announce what he saw. The answer was of course, “Horsie”.
Soon, it came time for Shamus to meet the pony. “This is PJ”, the trainer said, introducing us to the creature and encouraging us to touch him. PJ was a gentle and patient pony, and being the ripe old age of 25, was quite laid-back as well. With all the hands stroking his tan colored hair, caressing his ears, and touching his nose, he was an extremely calm beast. He loved the attention and had a natural affinity for young children.
In a strange sort of way, he seemed to truly appreciate his important role in assisting special children like my little boy. We encouraged Shamus to pet the pony’s soft hair and fluffy white mane. Even I enjoyed rubbing his soft, silky coat. Living most of my life in the suburbs, petting a pony was a rare opportunity.
When it came time to mount the animal, however, Shamus resisted. The Monster called Autism reared its ugly head, and my special little boy transformed from a sweet gentle boy to a fighting maniac in a mere moment. For such a little boy, he sure can fight and is quite strong for his small body. He can certainly be stubborn sometimes (not unlike his father ).
After much cajoling and sweet assurances, however, Shamus eventually calmed down enough to allow PJ to carry him around the pen. Once Shamus became comfortable with the pony, he was happy. Actually, he was more than happy. He was ecstatic. As PJ and Shamus marched around the pen, April said to me See, he’s smiling. I looked, and sure enough, he was. He had a giant, playful grin on his face and a magical sparkle in his eye that melted my heart. He seemed like a different kid not the unruly, struggling 4-year-old that resisted mounting the animal just a few minutes earlier. That radiant glow never left his face.
In watching this sight, I realized that Shamus gave this creature the greatest gift of all: his unconditional love and trust and PJ cherished this. The beast walked proud and tall, knowing that because of his gentleness and compassion, he was able to gain the confidence of a very special boy. As far as PJ was concerned, he was a magnificent stallion carrying the noblest prince through the gates of a glorious kingdom.
But alas, even life’s most memorable moments must eventually come to an end. When it came time to dismount, Shamus stubbornness returned. He loved the pony so much, he didn’t want to leave. “Say bye-bye to PJ”, I told him. “I want ride PJ”, he would repeat over and over. “Next time”, we would reply, as we pulled him off the pony.
As we drove home through the green, rural countryside, Shamus repeated endlessly “I want ride PJ, I want ride PJ, I want ride PJ”, his chatter was almost nonstop. To most parents, it would be a major annoyance, but not to this proud Dad. It was music to my ears. My little Autistic boy, who was terrified of even the smallest dogs, had a new best friend a gentle pony named PJ.
By Patrick Paulitz
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.