William is the 8th of 15 children. We had never dealt with chronic illness or physical issues before William and, as a baby, he hit all of his milestones on time. At 7 months old, he contracted RSV and pneumonia. It turned severe enough that he spent several days in the hospital under an oxygen tent. Within a few months we could tell that he was no longer responding to our voices or startling at noises. Before long, he had another pneumonia and we learned that he was deaf. Between that first pneumonia and his 3rd birthday, he averaged a severe pneumonia every 3 months, many requiring hospitalization. He also began dealing with many other issues. Besides being deaf, we found out around his 2nd birthday that he is also legally blind. With a visual acuity of 20/1200 (at best), he is very limited in what he sees. He is also ataxic throughout his body, which affects both gross motor and fine motor skills. We have seen many specialists, and had blood drawn at many investigative labs across the country and in the UK, yet there has been no specific diagnosis assigned. His “official” diagnosis is “neurological disorder of unknown etiology.”
Just after William’s 2nd birthday, we took him to the Mayo Clinic. He was trying to walk in a Kaye Walker, but his legs scissored so badly that he would often stumble and fall. He hated walking. Through Mayo we got connected with a new physical therapist who specialized in pediatrics. She recommended that we try therapeutic riding at The Right Path Riding Academy to help with the scissoring. After William’s first ride we noticed a difference in his walking. He actually walked all the way to the van without stumbling once! After that first semester (3 months) of riding, he has never scissored again! That was enough to make us believers!
My husband, Mike had an aversion to horses, as he had a couple of bad experiences as a young adult. I grew up showing horses, so I was already aware of the emotional benefits they could bring. We often laugh at ourselves because when our older girls were little they would ask for a horse, but he would always reply, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask your husband.” He always said we would never own a horse, yet when we saw such a distinct difference in William there was no denying what it was from. We had been through a year and a half of therapy 3-5 times a week and not seen the difference that 1 semester of equine therapy made! Not only was he able to use his walker in an efficient manner, but his core was strengthened significantly. With that upper balance and strength (and a Vest machine) came stronger lungs and he has had only 2 pneumonias in the last 3 1/2 years! Of course, we got him a horse! Mike warns people to never say never, as God may have other plans!
All of the older girls wanted to be on William’s team. That first year his team consisted of me, Sarah, and Abby, with Sydnee and Sherrod helping Miss Leslie as much as they could. Eventually Mike, Sarah, Abby, Sydnee and Sherrod rotated around between leading and side walking, with the girls also volunteering for other classes. We all fell in love with The Right Path, Miss Leslie, Miss Sue, Mr. Vic, and all of the wonderful riders/parents/volunteers who make up this family and that was what led us to taking on the Operations position. Abby and I both have hearts that desire to become certified instructors and are working towards certification. We are so thankful to be able to be mentored by some of the most incredible, skilled people; Miss Leslie and Mr. Kirkland, Miss Sue, Miss Charlotte, Miss Crystal, Miss Laurie, just to name a few. God has so richly blessed The Right Path with love, talent, skill, compassion, and a true heart for others. We are grateful to be a part of such an extraordinary ministry! Thank you all so much for allowing us into your lives and for giving us this opportunity to serve!
Joshalyn, for the Ocker family
***update…William passed into the arms of our Lord on Sunday, October 18, 2015. Though our family is heartbroken over our great personal loss, we are honored to continue the ministry of the place that William loved so very much.