KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Horses 4 Hope, Inc. says they are here to help those with special needs and mental health issues continue to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, including people like Aspen Roberts.
“I love people and I love all of it,” Aspen said. “It makes me laugh and smile.”
10-year-old Aspen is a social butterfly, who like many has had a tough time coping with life during the pandemic.
“People were wearing masks, and that scared her at first, and she didn’t know, 'Can I hug this person? Can I not?' And she’s such a loving person,” said Amy Roberts, Aspen's mother.
Aspen lives with down syndrome, and her parents say not being able to connect with others during the pandemic was a challenge.
“One of the important things is socialization, and during virtual learning, we saw, you know, within our neighborhoods and in our family, you lose the connection. Video connection is so good, you can only go so far,” said Matt Roberts, Aspen's father.
However, at Horses 4 Hope, Inc., Aspen and her family have been able to find a much deeper connection with a few four-legged friends.
“It’s learning to control her impulses, and that’s a big challenge for someone like Aspen," Amy said. "But it’s a lot of learning to be kind and loving to a horse, but also to give her confidence."
Part of learning how to interact with the horses includes being emotionally vulnerable, according to Horses 4 Hope, Inc. board member Michael Green.
“There's challenges that come with learning how to ride, there's challenges that come with learning how to take care of that animal and actually giving a piece of yourself to someone else,” Green said.
Green says more than 200 families visit the Watkins C Ranch in a week, and the goal for instructors is to help bring comfort to those in the community who need it most.
“What we do is with the brushing of the horses, the grooming of the horses, the riding of the horses, and going through those challenges with horses, we allow you to search a little bit deeper and challenge you a bit more to allow you to fully express who you are,” Green said.
For families like the Roberts, Horses 4 Hope, Inc. has to saddle up and ride on even when times are tough.
“It’s really important to a mother to a child with special needs and for the community to embrace them, and the love we felt from the staff here was amazing,” Amy said.
For more information on how to donate or get involved with Horses 4 Hope, Inc., visit their website here.