It was my first day working at Lifestriders when I was introduced to Matthew, a four-year-old boy with Cerebral Palsy. I have to admit, I was overwhelmed. Matthew couldn’t walk, talk, or control the rate at which he salivated. Gross.

This was going to be more difficult than I expected. My advisor nodded in the direction of the horse, and I led him to the platform so Matthew could saddle up. The goal was, over years of therapy, to get Matthew to walk. However, this seemed entirely unachievable, considering I wasn’t even sure how to communicate with him. Let’s try this I thought. “Okay Matthew, are you ready to go?” Nothing.

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I looked over yet again to my advisor, taking his encouraging smile as unwritten consent to wheel Matthew to the horse. After Matthew had saddled up, I put my hand on his knee, looked him in the eyes and said, “You alright?” This time he grabbed my frozen cheeks with both hands, and stared at me directly in my eyes. From that second on, I knew I would be okay working with Matthew. No Matthew couldn’t walk, talk, or control the rate at which he salivated. (At least not yet).

I believe that in the end I gained just as much from this experience as he did—Matthew has now taken his first steps, he’s working on words, and can sometimes keep the drool in his mouth. Through working with Matthew I learned new ways of communication, patience, determination, compassion, and in the end pride.