David wants to be an inspiration. He hopes others can follow in his footsteps.
Those footsteps can be hard to come by. David, 33, lives with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that can affect muscle coordination and movement.
For the past nine years, he has been coming to Great and Small Therapeutic Riding in Boyd, Md. The training David receives has helped his upper body and leg strength.
Before starting at Great and Small, David said, his posture was far more stooped, and he had to use his leg braces more often.
“I feel like I walk straighter,” he said. “I can walk for longer periods of time. It’s a tremendous improvement.”
Born in Ecuador, David came to the United States in 1995. He is warm, determined and extraordinarily polite. He is also a multi-sport athlete who competes in the Special Olympics in swimming, horseback riding, snow-shoeing, volleyball, basketball and sailing.
He holds on to instructor Peggy and volunteer Linda’s hands as they guide him through stretches on the vaulting barrel. The stretches hurt at first, he said, but as the years have passed, no pain.
“For the grand finale,” he announces, “I would like to try the prince.”
“The prince” has him kneeling on the barrel, arms out in a flourish.
The prince’s steed is Buttercup. As Peggy and Linda lead him at first, Peggy recommends shifting his weight in a manner that allows him to feel more balanced.
When David is ready to go off lead, he moves through a series of exercises, including weaving Buttercup around poles, and doing an egg-and-spoon, holding a wiffle ball on a ladle in his mouth, then dropping it into a basket. The exercise helps him to strengthen his legs and focus on keeping his balance while controlling the horse at the same time.
“I’m making goals every day,” he said. “I always come to my lessons with positive energy. I keep my spirits up and bring a smile to every lesson.”
The environment of Great and Small is a fun, positive one, he said. He gets along well with everyone. Some of the kids even call him Cowboy David, especially when he brings his mariachi hat. He wants to be someone they can look up to.
“No matter what your disability is,” he said, “there is always opportunity for great hope. No matter what challenges you are facing, always keep striving for your goals.”