Paul's Story - Full Circle: From Therapeutic Riding Participant to Volunteer
Read about Paul's story and how therapeutic riding helped him overcome obstacles associated with having autism.
Full Circle: From Participant to Volunteer
Story adapted from an interview with Paul Nestor and his mother Nancy Nestor.
Written by : Rachel Harmon
At Angelic Riders we love to see the strides our therapeutic riding participants make over the course of their lives. Some of our riders face great obstacles during their journey so you can imagine our joy when we have the opportunity to see a past rider come back to our program as an outstanding volunteer. Today we will tell you a story of one such individual, Paul Nestor. We met Paul as a four year old when his family enrolled him in our therapeutic riding program to help overcome obstacles associated with autism. Paul has certainly not let autism stand in his way and we are happy to recently welcome him back as a regular volunteer on the farm each Saturday.
Due to autism, Paul has difficulty communicating with others. In particular, being able to comprehend what others say or expect of him, advocate for himself, and start and continue conversations.
Michael, the volunteers, and the horses at Angelic Riders have all played a part to help Paul improve his communication skills. When Paul began riding at the farm, Michael and the volunteers used clear instructions to show Paul what they wanted him to do and kept those instructions consistent each time. Consistency is key for participants with autism to feel comfortable in a new environment. Paul adored the first horse he rode out at the farm, Xena, and it didn’t take long before he loved going to the farm every week.
In order to ride effectively, Paul realized he had to learn to communicate with the horse, something he struggled with in human interactions. He was required to talk to her, giving commands, such as "walk on" and "whoa." Paul loved it when his horse moved, so he was motivated to talk to her. The commands were simple and the reward was immediate. Communicating with the horse while riding helped Paul understand the reason for speech and in turn helped him communicate in everyday life.
As Paul progressed with his communication and riding skills, he needed help learning to advocate for himself. He would often let others push him around and had trouble asking for help. By that time, Michael had selected a different horse for him to work with. This horse was more opinionated than Xena and needed a rider who was assertive enough to encourage the horse to focus on the session and not the delicious grass. These experiences helped Paul understand how to be assertive and diligent in situations off the horse's back as well. Paul has worked with many of the horses at the farm including Buddy, Sugar, and Sassy and our dearly missed horses, Dennis and Jaybird. Paul says Buddy was his favorite horse because at first it was challenging to gain and keep Buddy’s focus and cooperation, but he remained positive, kept his expectations high and they were able to have a great relationship.
It has been a joy to watch Paul grow up on the farm. When he was younger Paul enjoyed riding through the farms trails and opening the treasure boxes placed throughout the woods. As he got older he enjoyed cantering in the arena and shooting basketball from horseback.
Now at 20 years old, Paul describes himself as outgoing, trustworthy, and adventurous. He is currently taking courses at CPCC, he plans to transfer to Western Carolina University once he completes his credit hours at CPCC. He is interested in a career in electrical engineering, or math. While he is in school at CPCC, Paul will continue to volunteer at Angelic Riders. Continuing to give back to the farm where he learned so much is important to Paul. He has previously volunteered at a Help Center assisting people unload donations. However, volunteering at the farm allows Paul to work more closely with people and animals.
In addition to his studies and activism Paul also enjoys hiking, watching sports, traveling and couponing.
Have a story about how Angelic Riders shaped your life? Reach out to Michael for a chance to be featured on our website.