The core of Wilderwood is its equine-assisted curriculum to work therapeutically with autistic teens and adults. By therapeutically, we mean in its original sense of the word: to heal, to restore health — whole body health encompassing elements of the physical, psychological, sociological, philosophical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual — from Greek therapeutikos, which in turn is from therapeuein, meaning “to attend” or “to treat.”

And, our horses are integral to all the therapeutic and rescue work we do at Wilderwood.

That brings us to the “rescue” component of our work. We consider this word in more ways than one. Whether it’s “rescue” for an autistic person relating to restoring or improving his or her sense of dignity, self-worth, and esteem, or it’s “rescue” for a horse to come to Wilderwood and assist us in the delivery of our program, the goal is the same: To provide a place of peace and healing; of discovering (or re-discovering) a sense of joy and happiness in living.

Part of our mission involves education through our curriculum for and to autistic teens and adults — as well as educating non-autistic people about our perspective on and about autism itself. It also involves educating people about horses and how incredible these animals are, including the innate connection or parallels between horses and autistic people, for which we have coined a term: Hautism.

Tragically, many autistic adults who are part of the “Lost Generation” feel a sense of abandonment and unwantedness, much of which is attributable to no diagnosis (or late diagnosis) and having experienced years of rejection, not fitting in, and being mislabeled and misunderstood. We find a kinship in horses who have also been set aside, unwanted, and abandoned.

Unlike many other horse rescues, any horse who is “rescued” to come and live with us at Wilderwood will not be trained for rehoming or selling. Due to our size limitations, we can only feasibly care for five horses at a time. When one passes on, we will likely replace that horse with one more.

When that time comes to add another horse to Wilderwood’s stable, in keeping with our mission we often look for those horses who are unwanted, rejected, and need the love and stability of a place of peace and healing. This is the component of our “rescue” for horses. One at a time, when we are able — and on the absolute condition that such a rescue horse will live out his or her days, however long or short that may be, here with us: loved, wanted, cared for, cherished, usefully contributing, and being an integral part of all we do.

The word “rescue,” to us, evokes the concept of keeping from being lost or abandoned, and is imbued with love, care, compassion, healing, spirit, and joy.

One at a time, whether human or horse, and in our own small ways in this enormous world and universe, we strive to make a difference and believe that this is something of which every one of us is capable, should we choose to do so.

Odie, rescued from a Louisiana Kill Pen, before and after.