Young Riders is sponsored by Meadowthrope Farm and Memphis Youth Equestrian Team
A few years ago the Brown family experienced what no family should: the sudden death of a husband and father due to heart attack. Willie was a young, seemingly healthy man with a wife and four children; the youngest has Autism. Xavier is now 13 years old and thriving with the support of his family, therapy programs, and Craighead County, Arkansas 4-H club Little Hooves Horse Club. County 4-H agent Maleigha Cook praises club leader Leigh Ann Short for guiding Xavier through his many 4-H projects and activities, finding the right pony to show, preparing for public speaking, taking the club Petting Zoo into local schools, and discovering new recipes for his cooking project. Xavier found his way into 4-H after his mom, Erin, and Maleigha met and became fast friends at a children’s therapy program.
People with Autism, also referred to as “being on the spectrum” and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), experience a wide variety of physical, emotional, and social challenges. When he began 4-H, Xavier struggled with time management, conceptualizing time, large crowds, speaking to a group, and being easily over stimulated. His mom has frequently been heard saying, “Nothing is an excuse.” She gives her son the support, therapy, and experiences he needs to not just survive, but really thrive.
4-H has played an integral role in Xavier’s development. Maleigha notes his growth in confidence, speaking to groups, comfort in a crowd, and developing patience and time management. Xavier can now confidently follow multi-step instructions and patterns while showing in halter classes. He accompanies the club Petting Zoo to schools and teaches students about the animals and their care. At home Xavier does all the pony chores. “It’s not my pony,” Erin proudly explains.
All his efforts were rewarded recently when he was awarded the American Shetland Pony Club calculated National High Point “COOL” award. Conquering Obstacles and Overcoming Limitations, or COOL, classes are offered throughout the country in a wide variety of events at ASPC shows. Xavier has shown in halter and several in-hand classes and hopes to add in-hand jumping to that list next season. Perhaps the greatest award was being able to purchase a registered American Shetland pony after saving his money for two years. Erica’s Blue Moon, barn name Blue, and Xavier are currently learning to carriage drive with Maleigha.
When asked why parents should consider 4-H for their own children Maleigha says, “I don’t know of another organization that promotes well-roundedness of the child. With such a wide variety of growth-promoting experiences and activities youth learn critical skills that help them throughout life.”
For more information on 4-H go your state’s Extension website and search for 4-H.
To learn more about Autism: