Joanne Kennedy is an author of Contemporary Western Romances. Her newest book Cowboy Fever will be released April 1st!  Part of the sales, made through Barnes and Noble, of Cowboy Fever will be going to an organization that is close to Joanne’s heart, Cheyenne Therapeutic Equestrian Center.  I asked Joanne to visit PonyTails to discuss why she chose this organization.  I will be cross posting this to my review blog and at the end of the post will be links to my reviews of Joanne’s first two novels Cowboy Trouble and One Fine Cowboy. My review of Cowboy Fever will be posted on April 2nd on my review blog.

Win, Win, Win! Therapy Riding is a Triple Triumph

By Joanne Kennedy

On April 2nd, I’ll be celebrating the launch of One Fine Cowboy with our usual “moveable feast,” beginning at Barnes & Noble and moving to Uncle Charlie’s Pub after hours. But it’s not all about me this time! The whole shindig is going to benefit Cheyenne Therapeutic Riding Center (CTEC).  I volunteered for this group a year or two ago, helping kids with autism learn from horses, and discovered that the folks who run CTEC have created a win-win-win situation.

Winner number one is the kids. Every child with autism is different, but most live their lives with no sensory filters.  To them, the sound of a refrigerator running battles with the buzz of a fluorescent light bulb, and the feeling of  a blanket under their hand can be as coarse and caustic as sandpaper.

To make matters worse, many are unable to communicate their distress.  Language, communication – many don’t have the ability to make those connections. It’s a mystery to them, just as they themselves are a mystery to others.

Imagine living your life confused and overwhelmed and unable to ask for help—and then  imagine meeting a kindred soul who understands your fear, who instinctively reacts the way you do to loud noises, sudden moves, and unexpected events.

Riding therapy builds self-confidence, helps kids focus, and often provides a gateway to communication. Many of the kids communicate more readily with the horses than with other people, and a simple command for the horse to “walk on” or “whoa” is often one of the first words they learn. The horse’s immediate response shows them the power of words, and they carry what they learn in the riding ring out into their daily lives.

The second winner  is the horses themselves. Many of the horses at CTEC are rescue horses, elderly animals who had lived out their usefulness in the rodeo ring or riding stable. Carrying rookie riders from one colored square to another or standing patiently while

a child tosses a Nerf basketball into a hoop might not sound exciting to you, but I firmly believe that most animals, like people, are happiest when they have a job and a purpose. The horses are specially chosen for their patience and their bomb-proof temperaments, and they seem to know they’re carrying precious cargo.

The benefits to the kids and horses are obvious, but the volunteers are the third group of winners. Working with the horses and kids has enriched my life and given me a new understanding of a syndrome that now affects one out of every 150 children.

I originally went to CTEC to help out my friend Laura when her daughter had a lesson. I worked as a side-walker, simply walking alongside the horse and making sure Leighann didn’t fall. I was so inspired by Leighann’s ability to focus on horseback—and by the way her face lit up as she rode—that I ended up helping all day and coming back for more.

Through the program, I met a number of kids with autism and their parents, and it’s a toss-up which I admire most. Bringing up kids is always tough; bringing up a child with autism is a challenge most of us can’t even imagine. The parents  never give up, and they’re always looking for new ways to help their kids. Their patience is never-ending, and their devotion even on the hardest day is a testament to the power of a parent’s love. That’s why Cowboy Fever is dedicated to my friend Laura and her family. They are my heroes in so many ways.

Part of the challenge parents face is that no two children with autism are alike. One may not speak at all; another recites lines from TV shows and cartoons. One may be afraid of the horse; another frighteningly fearless. Because they’re all so different, there’s no single solution to helping them learn. It’s like finding your way in the dark, turning one way, then another, feeling around for the doorway that will get you where you want to go.

But I’ve yet to see a child that wasn’t helped by the horses. Some resist it at first or are afraid of the animals, but all of them eventually come to look forward to their lessons, and when one of these kids smiles, it lights up the world.

My goal isn’t just to raise money for CTEC; it’s to let people know that horseback therapy is a legitimate learning tool. It may be recreation for most of us, but for these kids it’s a way into the world, a means of focusing and learning. Hopefully someday it will be recognized for the miracle it is. In the meantime, parents whose resources are often stretched to the limit have to dig deep for the money to pay for riding therapy, and many can’t afford it.

If you have a chance to stop by Barnes & Nobel Cheyenne on Saturday, bring your shopping list! If you let the cashier know that you support CTEC, a portion of your purchase will benefit the organization and let more kids experience the benefits of riding. We’ll also be passing the cowboy hat at the after-party for anyone who wants to help out.

And if you buy online between April 2nd and 6th, please use the code 10442713 at checkout to ensure that your purchase helps more kids get all the benefits riding therapy has to offer.

Thank you Joanne for the wonderful post and the pictures of Leighann! Please help Joanne in supporting the Cheyenne Therapeutic Equestrian Center by purchasing Cowboy Fever between April 2nd and April 6th. If you are in the area, please go meet this extraordinary woman at the release party at the Cheyenne Barnes and Noble.

About Cowboy Fever from Joanne’s website:

Miss Rodeo Wyoming Jodie Bryce is back from the big city to find that her childhood friend Teague Treadwell’s rugged cowboy charm never looked better. But Teague thinks Jodie’s success lifted her out of his reach, and now he’s got to shed his bad boy image to be worthy of the girl next door.

April, 2011
Sourcebooks Casablanca
ISBN 9781402251412

Review Links (just click the title): Cowboy Trouble and One Fine Cowboy