Horses have always been my happy place, so when Derby House offered us the chance of some Equine Assisted Therapy sessions as a family, I jumped at the chance.
I hoped that if nothing else, we could maybe get Max to a point where he'd be content to say hello to the horses in our local vicinity, instead of trying to drag me away from them before I got a chance to get a horse hug (horse hugs are *the best* thing ever!!).
I certainly didn't expect his behaviour to change to dramatically, or for him to get to the point that he'd actually run *to* his horse friends for cuddles!
But that's exactly what happened.
Max's very up and down behaviour has changed over the last 3 months, and the only difference in our lives in that time has been the inclusion of the EAP sessions (Equine Assisted Psychotherapy).
He is now much calmer and happier over all, both at home and at school, which means his focus and attention are at an all time high too. He's coming on leaps and bounds with his learning, and is putting in so much effort to his speech these days.
So lets start at the beginning... our first session with Hannah at Big Brown Horse.
I had already prompted Max for about 3 days previously, letting him know that at the weekend, we'd be going to a New Place to meet a lady called Hannah and her horses.
That got a firm "NO! I don't want!" each time, but as I stood my ground, at least he knew it was coming.
When we arrived on a cold and drizzly December day, Max again wasn't very happy. He'd have much rather been at home with his iPad than outside, especially somewhere he wasn't familiar with.
Still, I stayed resolute, and focused on keeping him relatively calm, while encouraging Zack that it was going to be great fun.
The first 20 minutes in the field, Max screamed his butt off.
He didn't want anywhere near the horses, and kept wandering up to the gate, trying to persuade me to let him leave.
Zack and I got introduced to the horses, and I was reassured not to worry, that Max couldn't get to anything that would harm him or anyone else - animals included!
Of course, every time Max started screaming and shouting again, I felt stressed. And every time I felt stressed, I'd feel the gorgeous little black Shetland pony nuzzling my hand, encouraging me to pat her, reminding me that everything was ok.
Once I relaxed, she would go back to her business of eating.
This continued throughout the sessions, along with the horses going up to check on Max every so often to make sure he was ok.
As soon as he told them "no I don't want!" they'd back away calmly and go back to what they were doing.
Once he realised he wasn't being asked to *do* anything, Max calmed down considerably, and started to enjoy running around the field, going up to have a nosey at the chicken coop at the top, and started to come over for high fives from all of us, even Hannah.
Zack and I got to learn how to put halters on the horses, along with brushing them, leading them around the field and, in my case, hugging them lots!
When the rain got heavier, we took our new friends along to the stable, as Max isn't keen on rain at all, and it was pretty cold what with it being December and all that!
This was when Max started to interact with the little Shetland.
I think he liked knowing that she couldn't come close to him unless he was next to her stall.
He started stroking her hair, and playing made up games with her, hiding and reappearing, and spraying her coat with an anti-fly spray (or something similar! Note- Hannah did say it was ok for him to do this, and we made sure he didn't spray it in her face) which he thought was the best fun!
By the time we left, he had gone from shouting and screaming that he DID NOT WANT, to playing with the smallest of the horses. I was chuffed to bits!
It wasn't until the next day I realised the extent of the effect our first session had on Max.
Normally after a "Different Day", Max is pretty unsettled. A sleepless night is guaranteed, and he tends to be really rambunctious the next day. However, he slept through the night, and was really chilled for the rest of the weekend.
The run up to our next session was met with excitement and high fives from Max, who looked forward to seeing Hannah and the horses this time. What a change!
And, as you can see from the photo above, Max was even happy to go up to the tallest of our new friends. No fear, no worry, no stress. He went straight up to her and gave her a cuddle, posed for a photo, and then proceeded to wander around between the horses with not a care in the world.
These days, when we go for a walk and visit our friends in the fields close by, Max doesn't cry or shout or try to pull me away.
He is happy to let me say hello to our friends, who come trotting over for scratches behind the ears and cuddles while leaning over the fence. My hopes have been realised, and so much more!
Previously I'd never have thought Equine Assisted Therapy would be something that would work for our family, though I had always hoped.
I have very much been proved wrong, and I couldn't be happier about it!