I’m sorry I don’t have a physical picture of Noah, that special boy who inspired me to start this program by using my violin playing skills in combination with the horse as a trigger for deeper treatment.
Spring 2014 was extraordinarily beautiful at the facility in Langley. The center sits on a perfect piece of rural property, with the classic quaint barn and expansive fields dotted with horses. Therapy horses are prized beyond words at a facility that works with disabilities and others with needs.
I had thoroughly enjoyed my volunteer work here and had learned more than I could imagine possible. But the life-changing journey was just beginning.
In March 2014, Noah came into my world — Noah, severely handicapped, with cerebral palsy and a tube in his stomach so he can eat. Noah was my catalyst for 15 Minutes Live, now Violin for Wellness.
The day it happened, I was volunteering as a side-walker on one side of Noah, his mother on the other. “Side-walking” involves keeping the client stable and safe. Another volunteer role is called “leading”, which involves protecting the horse from the client if the client suddenly has a seizure or needs to dismount. There is training for these volunteer roles.
We began with the introductions, high-fiving, his curled hands reaching out to ours. The head instructor began encouraging him to move his head down into a neutral position instead of lolled back in his natural state. Her therapeutic approach was to engage his core — and his will, I believe — to move his head to a normal position so he could “look” between his pony’s ears. This action meant “walk on”, which is the verbal signal known by the horse to begin walking. This action also meant Noah was making the decision to start moving forward himself.
This is a therapeutic riding intention and focus: to help those who function atypically, to feel the horse becoming their legs, and to enable them to travel through space in a new way.
Back to the moment of Noah on the horse. When he would begin to contort in pain from gas trapping in his stomach, his mother would tap and hiss loudly on his arm, in a constant, rhythmically repetitive way. After hearing this for several weeks, I finally asked her if she was doing this to distract him. I knew the answer. Yes.
The thought — the idea — was born. Could I do what his instructor did with him, but with the violin, triggering his will to look at me, engaging his core? And, moreover, would he like it?
I asked his mother, “Does he like music, Iris?”
A bit of a wait.
“Does he like….violin music?”
I looked at the head instructor and asked her if I could try playing violin after his next session — off the horse (I hadn’t tested the horses yet for sensitivity to the sound).
The next week, I side-walked Noah and, at the last second of his session, slipped away, got out my fiddle, and went outside and waited for him. A few minutes went by. It was warm and calm. A dragonfly swooped near. A horse called to a mate. The air was fresh and bright. It was a gorgeous, perfect day for the birth of an inspiration.
Out came Noah, collapsed back in his wheelchair, his normal posture. His eyes were closed, head rolled back, hands curled. His mother positioned him across from me, and I said, “Noah, it’s Carolyn, and I have my violin with me today. I’d like to play for you a piece called Humoresque by Dvorak.”
I began the lippity-loppity famous line and, three notes in, his head whooshed down, eyes in my general direction, intensely quiet. His mother smiled.
I finished the theme as his head rolled back.
“Noah, now I’ll play the emotional louder part, and you tell me if you like it.”
I began, swooping, with energy and — whoosh! His head snapped down, and he stared at me, eyes completely still and focused.
“Noah, I think you enjoyed that.”
He smiled at me, and a big dimple appeared.
Oh my. The gate to my inspiration opened wider. Thank you, Noah, for unwittingly being my catalyst.