By Oona Zeigler, Halleck Creek Volunteer
It's dark out as I stand munching a bite of toast, waiting at the end of the drive for a lone pair of headlights to zip down the street. It's Saturday morning, it's cold and I'm still waking up; but where my friend and I are going, it's worth it all the way. As we arrive, the horses are nothing but dark specks on the pasture. One horse runs. Before long, almost twenty horses are running past us, looking free, happy, and wild.
As we're brushing the horses, the silence is shattered by the arrival of a bunch of kids, all excited, and I know it's time to start the rides. I see a little boy wearing a helmet covered with ducks. It's Spencer, three-years-old, Halleck Creek's youngest rider. I usually ride double with him, Spencer in the saddle and me, riding bareback behind, supporting him. When I started riding with Spencer last year, his trunk would not hold him for the whole ride, but over time, he has been gaining strength and confidence.
Spencer and I ride Kaliki, a beautiful painted mare, into the arena where the riders are listening to announcements about upcoming events at the ranch. I tell Spencer little jokes to keep him alert. Spencer is wide awake now and smiling. When the ride is over, Spencer's Dad is eager to know how he did. With a big smile, I tell him that Spencer sat up by himself for the whole ride – he didn't lean on me once!
Before I began volunteering at Halleck Creek, I imagined I would be helping riders with difficulties, but I never imagined what they might offer me in return. As time has passed, I have realized that they have as much to offer me as I do them. My experience with these riders has changed the way I look at disabled people. They are not just people you try to look past as if they were invisible, but real children and adults who need to be appreciated for who they are. Just like everyone else, they have voices that want to be heard.
People often ask me if I come to Halleck Creek to fulfill a community service requirement. When I tell them that my school doesn't have a community service requirement, they say, "You mean, all the time you spend here doesn't count for anything?" My answer to that is always the same: A love for horses drew me to Halleck Creek three years ago, but I stay drawn by my love for the people I am getting to know. The hours I spend here go towards nothing except my ear-to-ear smile throughout the day and an excited eagerness to come back next week.