Danielle Beckley, 7, rides every Friday at Christchurch Group Riding for the Disabled. This is her second time being part of a Riding Programme, and she looks forward to her time at the RDA arena with her favourite Horse, Blokey.
Danielle suffers from Selective Mutism, a complex childhood anxiety disorder characterized by a child’s inability to speak and communicate effectively in select social settings.
Children with Selective Mutism are typically able to speak and communicate in settings where they are comfortable, secure, and relaxed – but just like people who have a fear of heights or spiders, selectively mute children have a fear of speaking and of social interactions where there is an expectation to speak and communicate.
This disorder is quite debilitating and painful to the child, but in Danielle’s case she is managing her condition - thanks in great part to her therapeutic riding sessions at Christchurch RDA.
Danielle’s mother, Sonya, says that she has seen her daughter’s confidence and social skills grow this year while working with RDA Volunteer Michael Wyrt.
“Michael has done some wonderful work with Danielle this year as her Leader – he has tasked Danielle with the grooming, saddle and bridle preparation of the Horse prior to the riding session, which has really helped bring her out of her shell.
His enthusiasm and ‘holistic’ approach to Danielle’s therapy sessions means that she is noticeably more calm and confident in situations where she previously wouldn’t have been.”
Danielle’s RDA Coach, Jayne Findlay, says that when Danielle first came to Christchurch RDA she was unable to speak to any of the Volunteers.
“Although extremely shy, Danielle was obviously eager and excited to ride, but could not vocalise this – instead she would avoid eye contact and communicate to us by nodding and pointing.”
After several sessions, Jayne had a breakthrough with Danielle when she came up with a novel idea to encourage her to speak – on Danielle’s terms.
“She would not say ‘walk on’, or anything else, to her Horse, but eventually I convinced her to whisper ‘walk on’ to me, which I would then then say to the Horse. The first time she whispered in my ear I literally had goosebumps – it was very emotional” says Jayne.
Fast forward to today, and Danielle has made great strides in her verbal communication. She will now clearly say ‘walk on’ and other commands to her Horse, as well as talk to Michael, Jayne and the other Volunteers.
Jayne says that Danielle is a ‘delightful child’ to work with, and looks forward to seeing her continue to grow into a confident and self-assured person.
Read more of our RDA Rider Stories