While on our recent trip, Cannon was invited to take part in an awesome experience! To go horseback riding at a place called Stardust Farms in Huger, SC! This farm has a non-profit organization there called Blissful Dreams that works with Special Needs children and adults and “are dedicated to providing, compassion, love, and support to anyone in need.” Their mission statement declares they are “a horse farm where everyone is greeted with open arms and open hooves and no one is judged for who they are or where they come from. “ Participants “that feel they don’t have a place in this world, are welcomed into building a special relationship with a special horse. “
We had been telling Cannon that we were going to go riding. He was apprehensive and would yell “no!” (New things and ideas aren’t usually well received at first. You have to get him there and give him a nudge to give it a try and THEN see what his true feelings are.) When we arrived, we were greeted by a woman named Mrs. Cheryl who helps out around the barn and volunteers with Blissful Dreams, too. She got down on Cannon’s level and said hello. (This is the very best way to greet a child like Cannon. Force yourself calmly into their world and make them notice you. It’s not that Cannon doesn’t want to….its that he either doesn’t understand what he is supposed to do or is too anxious.) She calmly talked to him and brought him around to show him each horse in the barn: Waffle, Cupcake, Mouse, Denny, Oliver, Cinnamon, Peanut, and Godfrey. He cautiously and quickly petted a couple, walked inside one empty stall, and watched one horse eat. Then, “Godfrey” was brought out of his stall and his bridle hooked to each side of the barn. Mrs. Cheryl coaxed Cannon into touching and saying hello to this horse. He was apprehensive and standoff-ish. He didn’t want to be touched and wasn’t too sure about touching the horse. When we mentioned that he is fascinated with numbers, she brought out some brushes and showed Cannon how to brush the horse……while counting each stroke. He perked up and did this quite a few times. During this time, the founder of Blissful Dreams appeared on horseback. She had been working out in the ring. Her name is Jamie Irby Kohler. Her kindness radiated in her smile and the soft and gentle way she spoke to Cannon helped both he and I relax a bit and become more comfortable.
Later that night, I read Jamie’s story. How she began doing what she is doing now. I was very moved, to say the least. When she was 21 years old, she was living her dream as a professional hunter/jumper rider, getting paid to do her favorite thing in the world……ride horses. But God began knocking on the door of her heart. Bringing her to the realization that she wasn’t completely using the gifts and talents HE had bestowed upon her for HIS glory. So, in 1998, she began doing something about that. She began working with children with Autism. She taught them how to ride and how to share in the love and friendship that can be established through interaction with horses. Jamie and her husband, Tom, began praying about how to start the “right” program with her horses. They decided to take a trip to Oregon to visit Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch for an informational clinic in June of 2008. Crystal Peaks is run by Kim and Troy Meeder and uses horses to “rescue and minister to youth with all different kinds of abilities and backgrounds.” It became clear, while there, that God was leading Tom and Jamie to start a similar program at Stardust Farms. So, they returned and by December of 2008 had done just that. Blissful Dreams is run by Jamie and her family along with lots of wonderful volunteers and “continues to grow and flourish by the grace of God each day.” God has shown Jamie over and over that horses can still be her career but she could also channel that love into helping and showing love to others. She says that “horses consistently share qualities of God. They are giant but gentle, they love unconditionally, they are extremely sensitive to our thoughts and feelings, they are always forgiving, very patient, and they give us hope to do amazing things.” And Mrs. Cheryl has a story, too. Her son is a young adult on the Autism Spectrum. He was misdiagnosed many, many, many times in his life and wasn’t diagnosed properly until his late teens. He also volunteers at the farm. We got to meet him and his quiet, sweet spirit was evident. Along with his love for the horses. Mrs. Cheryl’s understanding, compassion, encouragement, and kind words towards our situation were very special and precious to us.
After signing some consent forms, the women began saddling up Godfrey. He was led outside the barn and a step was placed next to him to allow for a safer mount onto the horse. Jamie got on first and then Cannon was placed in front of her. He was immediately unsure and a little uneasy. And he got very frustrated when the required helmet was placed on his head. With Cannon’s sensory issues, you never know what exactly will tip him off. But this was definitely one of those things. He was NOT a happy camper! We began walking for a bit. Jamie and Cannon on horseback. A couple of volunteers, Mrs. Cheryl, and I all walked along beside. I was trying to video every second of the experience. I say trying because watching this part of the video will only make you nauseous. 🙂 Down a long winding path we went and around a small pond with ducks swimming in it. We made a brief stop to allow Cannon to attempt a shot with a basketball into a hoop from horseback. He wasn’t really excited about it (still bothered by the helmet) but he tried. Not enough height on the shot. But, he did try. We were going to try again but his growing agitation with the helmet let us know that we needed to get to the ring sooner rather than later. So, we kept walking down the path, through the gate, and then into the ring. It was a nice sized ring with your typical white fence around it and a few jumps set up inside.
Jamie and Cannon started walking around the ring and quickly began trotting. Cannon refused to allow himself to enjoy it because of the helmet. Fussing, grabbing at it, and saying “Take it off! Take it off!” So, then she gave him the goods! What every kiddo with sensory issues like Cannon wants. Lots of stimulation! They began to canter! All of a sudden, his emotions did a 180. A huge smile broke across his face and he was giggling with excitement. He loved it! But crazily enough, the minute she slowed the horse to a trot or walk…….he went right back to frustration mode and scripting phrases of displeasure. So, she would do it again. Take Godfrey back into a canter and his happiness would resume……just like that! It was almost laughable! At one point, when they had slowed and Cannon was acting out……she stopped the horse completely. Jamie told him she was giving him time to relax and calm down. (An important lesson for a kiddo like Cannon. Control your body and emotions when necessary. This is a really tough task.) Eventually, with a lot of encouragement from her and our little crowd gathered outside the ring, he did and she instructed him how to restart the horse. He needed to say “walk on.” It took a while but eventually they got going again and Cannon was happy again. When his turn was finished, he got off without issue and gladly returned the cursed helmet to its owners. 🙂 My silly guy!
And then……it was my sweet Townsend’s turn! Yes, he got to go, too! He was excited! It is so amazing to me, as a mom, to see the differences in my boys. Cannon has Autism. Townsend does not. And it is in times like these when I see the drastic-ness of this fact. Townsend walked right into the ring with a smile on his face, got up on the horse, accepted the helmet, and said “walk on”……..no problem. He IS 2 though and it was a big horse. So, I won’t say he was leaping with joy at first steps but it definitely grew on him quickly. Where Cannon was only happy to be cantering, Townsend preferred to walk and not go above a fast trot. Townsend chattered away about everything from what the horse was doing, to birds flying in the sky, to singing a silly song. Cannon only spoke when forced to or when voicing his frustration through scripting. When Townsend’s turn in the ring was over, he and Jamie walked Godfrey back down the path, around the pond, and back to the barn. After dismounting, we played around a bit. Cannon tried on Mrs. Cheryl’s glasses and really liked that. We even put them on the miniature horse, Peanut! Townsend just wanted to sit in a kid-sized chair under a shady tree and drink some water. We got a few pictures with our new friends, gave some hugs, said our big thank you’s, got some info on farms in our area, and then headed home.
What a great experience my boys got to have at Stardust Farms! I truly got to see this woman’s heart for kids like Cannon. Blissful Dreams has the ability to teach them so much. Not just how to ride but how to conquer their anxiety, fears, and emotions. Deal with sensory issues, follow directions, show and receive love and friendship, gain confidence, all while strengthening their core muscles. This would be extremely beneficial to Cannon because of his stomach issues. It’s all muscles in there (all his problem areas) and if he could get on a horse more often it could go a long way towards giving him a better chance at staying healthy. Hey, it’s worth a try, right??!! I have looked into programs like this in our area in the past and come up short. The only one I ever found had a minimum age requirement he was nowhere near and a couple of year’s long waiting list. Jamie gave me some websites to check and see if there are other options I wasn’t aware of. I was grateful!
Friends! You can support this ministry! I say ministry because that is exactly what it is! Not only do they do all they do from a physical standpoint but they are putting feet to God’s call to love and serve others! Jamie Irby Kohler has a heart for our Lord and I beg you to get involved if you can. Volunteer, sponsor a horse, purchase items from their wish list, donate, and/or just spread the word about this great organization! So, here is the 411.
935 Blissful Lane
Huger, SC 29450
You can also look up Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch (www.crystalpeaksyouthranch.org). They have a listing on their website of other programs like theirs and Blissful Dreams’.
But most of all, please pray for Jamie and what she is doing! These special children and adults that she helps are deserving and worth the time, money, and effort! And they need people like Jamie who understand their issues, what they need, and how to teach them.
And now…….enjoy this special video/slideshow we prepared to show you a little more from our day! God bless each of you! And may God bless the ministry of Blissful Dreams!