As soon as you get to the barn, GallopNYC starts their magic. They say “hi.”

What you may think of as an everyday interaction, but to some, it’s a little nerve-wracking to have someone acknowledge your presence and have to respond back. The lesson begins at the barn door.

First, you get your helmet. Fine motor skills – align the buckles to get them to click close. The horse waits, lined up with the mounting block, and you take that first step from the solid ground to the softer dirt. Balance and strength – go up the mounting block, swing that leg up and over. Sit upright on the horse and breathe deeply. Core strength – feel the tight and tense muscles start to stretch and relax with each breath.

You sit up tall, and at that moment, it’s just you and the horse. You’re in charge. You have to trust them, and they have to trust you. You need to be calm; otherwise, they won’t respond to what you’re asking. Whatever has been bothering you, put it to the side. You need to work together to get through the day’s lesson. All of that happens in the first 5 minutes.

As the lessons progress, the instructor learns what you are able to do; they challenge you to get outside your comfort zone. It’s okay if it doesn’t work out on the first try. It’s the first try, keep going. What once seemed hard becomes easy, and then they make it a smidge harder. That becomes your new challenge. It varies between riders, but I believe everyone leaves their lessons happier, calmer, and a bit sore!

Until now, I never actually took the time to stop and ask myself, “how did I get where I am?”  

At the start, my family would drive me straight to the barn and drop me off for 30 minutes of “me time.” Soon, I asked to be dropped off a block away to get a little more of that “me time.” That changed to two blocks, then three, and that grew to one mile, two miles. They believed I would be alright in the time that I was out of their sight, on my own. But I didn’t want to rely on my family to get me to my walks. I wanted my driver’s license. One of the biggest hurdles in that process was getting out of my leg braces and being downgraded to ankle braces. I achieved that. Then it was a series of new challenges. Can I twist and turn my head and body to look behind me? Can I transfer my foot from the gas to the brakes?

I now drive myself to my lessons. I am where I am because of GallopNYC. They changed the way I thought about myself and believed in me before I believed in me.  Comparing the old version of Bonnie to today’s version, I like today a whole lot more. Coming into the program, I had low self-esteem; I was timid, anxious, and felt weak, physically. But now, I’ve found I’m not limited to just my safe spaces. I have expanded my goals. I learned to adapt, socialize, plan, focus, multitask, control my emotions, and communicate.  It wasn’t just the confidence that I gained, but a sense of independence, positive self-esteem, self-awareness, and pride. I never felt like an adult until I started this program. 

Just keep trying ‘til you get what you want. My journey started because I wanted to have that feeling of being happy, calm, and accomplished not just after riding, but all the time. 

Bonnie Eng

Bonnie is an adult rider in GallopNYC’s therapeutic riding program. She came to the program with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy and had limited mobility. In her three years with us, she’s gained immense strength – making strides towards independence. To support riders like Bonnie, please consider a gift to our programs at www.gallopnyc.org/give.