A Heart Opening

by Merle Dulmadge, IIT graduate

As part of IIT’s Spiritual Transformation Certification Tanis has always encouraged us to do volunteer work. To pick something different from what we know or have done in the past. To stretch ourselves.

When I retired I wanted a break from being responsible. I didn’t want to do anything except look after myself and my own needs which I had neglected over the years, focusing more on helping others and, in doing so, burning out a number of times. I needed “me” time. This lasted for a couple of years where I lived through a period of relative rest and relaxation. It was wonderful and I am so glad I gave myself this gift.

Opportunity Comes Knocking

But after gifting myself, it was time to give back. What could I do to continue fulfilling my life purpose and actively contribute to world service in a meaningful way? When you are ready and open to the possibilities, the Universe is right there to help you out with synchronicities and this opportunity fell right in my lap. One summer day my husband and I were having lunch with a friend and his family. I sat next to his sister who told me about the volunteer work she was doing with therapeutic riding for handicapped children. It sounded fascinating and she invited me to look into it, which I did.

The following September, I began volunteering with ETRA Therapeutic Riding Association (www.etra.ca) which coincidentally was just down the road from where I live. I chose this work for three reasons. First, I was ready to do volunteer work and this was something completely different from anything I had ever done. I also wanted something physical. Lastly I have always loved horses and wanted to learn how to better understand them and work with them. This volunteer work fulfilled all those reasons but what I didn’t realize in the beginning was the impact this work was to have on my life.

Benefits – It’s a Win/Win/Win

The biggest reward was working with our riders, most of whom are children. Their handicaps include physical, mental and emotional and most often a combination of all three. Therapeutic riding has the obvious benefits of improving physical, mental and emotional well-being but being witness to what that looks like in reality is what opened my heart.

  • A totally non-communicative autistic boy gradually builds a trusting relationship with you and now makes eye contact, smiles at you, calls you by name, waves to you while he rides and chats constantly to everyone.
  • An anxious boy who covers his eyes to avoid contact finds the courage to walk up the ramp and accept assistance mounting. Once they begin the session he opens his eyes, smiles, giggles and flaps his arms.
  • A young woman rises to the trot and she is, for the first time, the best in the class.
  • A girl’s legs relax as she neck reins her horse through a set of cones.
  • A non-verbal young woman laughs at our jokes; a young boy giggles whenever he is placed upon the pony.
  • A sightless young man hums quietly the entire ride.
  • A boy and girl learn to compete and lose without getting angry.

Self-Healing Begins with Opening Your Heart

Some kids will never ride truly independently, but they have the opportunity to experience what everyone who works with horses experiences: the value of patience, calmness and courage, of self- discipline, of focusing on the task at hand, that consequences follow from both action and inaction and perhaps most importantly, how horses will always respond with honesty and generosity to those who are open and honest with them.

When I see how truly happy and joyful these children are for the hour a week they get to ride I find I’m smiling and laughing right along with them. I am so proud of them and then I realize – my heart is fully open. I realize that I too am getting therapy. It’s a win/win/win.

Merle Dulmadge has studied with Tanis since 2000 and also worked with her for a number of years. She had her own management consulting company (Dulmadge and Associates Inc.) for 15 years until she retired in 2014. Merle and her husband Randy have lived on Vancouver Island for the past 10 years and she is currently President, ETRA Therapeutic Riding Association.