It is exciting to see the product of hard work and lots of early mornings/late nights in real, tangible form. Below are the covers of the textbooks that have just been completed for Semesters 1 and 2 of Wilderwood’s curriculum. Semester 3 (the final textbook in the series) is still in the “hard work, early mornings, late nights” phase).
When we set out nearly four years ago to develop Wilderwood’s curriculum, it was because we recognized that existing programs — as good as many of them are for their contexts and goals — did not reflect what we wanted to see in our curriculum; did not reflect the outcomes we knew were important for the participants in our program.
And, most importantly, we wanted authentic autistic voices driving the content and goals of the curriculum.
Months (years) and hundreds of work hours later, we can see and tangibly touch the essence of the program in our hands. It’s an amazing moment. The next stage is to see that same essence come to life in the hands of our participants.
There’s a lot to that name. And, we’d like to take a moment to unpack it.
Wilderwood (waɪldərwʊd) comes from the name of our location, on Wildwood Lane. It is, therefore, pronounced wild-er-wood (not will-der-wood) as in a “wood that is wilder,” moreso than just ordinarily wild. It’s a play on words that captures not only a lighter side of us, one that enjoys word play and linguistic variance, but also reflects the deep love we have for this peaceful sanctuary we call our home.
Then there is the concept of Therapy and Rescue. What sort of therapy do we do? And what do we rescue? Of course, the word “equine” is prominent and our work naturally involves the magnificent horse. And yes, we do rescue horses – or, at least at this writing, one horse. Odie’s rescue story is outlined in other places, so we won’t repeat it here. What we will say is that whatever horse comes to Wilderwood is with us for life, and so our turnover is not very high.
We also see the word “rescue” as applying to people, too. All of us, no matter who we are, at some point in our lives will need some kind of help. For the very fortunate among us, this help may end after the helplessness of infancy. For many, the need for support is intermittent and fleeting, and yet for others it may last throughout a lifetime.
The precise support each of us needs depends on life events, circumstance, our personal history, physical and mental aptitude, ideals, beliefs, and hopes. Because of this, we believe that the best and most potent predictor of successful therapy is the degree of connection between the recipient’s needs and what a particular therapist can provide.
The needs of those who seek therapy is a mosaic – though it could also be seen as a frenetic maelstrom – that has been cultivated by and culminates in lived experiences tempered by individual personality and different (dis)abilities. Who is best to help with those needs? Who has the credentials, licensure, and qualifications? Perhaps the question is better posed to the recipient of the therapy who, faced with an array of choices, can weigh his or her needs with an educated understanding of what is being offered.
That brings us to the concept of “therapy.” This word is mired in a lot of ideological and cognitive weight. Put another way, there’s a lot of talk about “therapy” and who, what, and how is credentialed, licensed, qualified, or honored to provide it. In relation to equine therapy, there are those who claim it properly resides in the world of occupational, speech/language, or physical therapists, along with equine specialists, therapists, or teachers, medical practitioners such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and osteopaths, and other medical or mental health providers such as social workers, counselors, and clinicians.
We would say there’s a group that’s often left out of this list, and that is the horses themselves.
The truth is, it belongs to all of us. Those who perform therapy and enact a positive change in the recipient of that therapy, is by nature providing therapeutic benefit. The question becomes one of a person finding the best possible therapeutic environment for what he or she needs.
At Wilderwood, we have chosen to develop our therapeutic practices to best meet the needs of autistic adults and the horses we love. The qualifications of those who have developed the curriculum is grounded in multi-disciplinary theory and practice, including the fields of cognitive linguistics (itself a multi-disciplinary field blending psychology, philosophy, and linguistics); osteopathic medicine (particularly the biopsychosocial component of osteopathy); education (both andragogy and pedagogy); equine training and riding; psychology; philosophy; and – critically – autistic adults themselves.
Like any therapeutic intervention, our program is not for everyone. Despite our multi-disciplinary approach and the fact that Wilderwood is potentially open to anyone who wishes to apply, the recipient we have in mind is quite specific and focused: the two-thirds of autistic adults without intellectual disability who have been unheard and unassisted for years. This is their time and their place. The blending of philosophies of mind and body, along with the combined years of experience with teaching, medical, and equine practice has resulted in a program uniquely cast to offer therapy and rescue to those who wish to seek it from us.
Rebecca Evanko, B.A., M.A., Ph.D Mark Evanko, B.Sc., D.O
For those who are interested in the theory behind the development of Wilderwood’s program, here is a list of some of the theorists and practitioners who have informed our work.
It is in the shelter of each other that the people live Irish proverb
Dear friends of ours gifted us recently with a lovely book called Shelter by poet Margaret Hasse and artist Sharon DeMark. Our friends kindly dedicated the book with the following inscription:
To Rebecca and Mark, who know and give shelter so generously.
The concept of shelter is close to our hearts: shelter for horses, for dogs, for humans — and often the damaged, the broken, the unloved — those beings who need the security and healing power of shelter the most. This lovely book, Shelter, encompasses that spirit of sanctuary, security, safety — and a sense of belonging: all things we strive for at Wilderwood.
Two poems stood out for us in this book, for their relevance to our mission at Wilderwood did not go unnoticed! The first is called “Pathway” and the second is “Bivouac.” We would like to share them here.
Trust a route that people and animals make. Many have walked here where plants dwindle to bare ground. Whether it’s slim or wide, sandy or earthen, brick, pebbled, or plain, choose a footpath through the remote or the tame. Avoid slashing brush and bramble. Let a path take you somewhere gently, perhaps to a new view of things. A silver river in the valley is also on its way.
In the dream he’s once again a boy in the forest encircled by tall trees alone to fend for himself, forage for kindling, start a fire, unpack his survival kit, prepare for the night by building a cone-shaped shelter with long tree limbs. Tips of evergreen branches and dry leaves make a bed. All his life he’ll love the smell of crushed pine needles. As he falls asleep he remembers to thank the trees.
To celebrate Christmas and the concept of new life, we placed a precious little statue-being at what we call “the bow” of Wilderwood. When he arrived in his cardboard box we discovered, to our deep dismay, that both his front legs had been broken during his journey here. Damaged, he may well have been thrown aside as somehow not worthy of love and belonging. This was the story for Odie. This is the story for so many of us.
We took his little broken legs and lovingly glued them back together. Then, we carried him out to Wilderwood’s bow and laid him proudly on the wall in front of Wilderwood’s sign as a symbol of our program. This little foal represents new beginnings, growth and change, and the welcome and wonder of discovery, no matter the imperfections or broken past. He will watch over all who come here, remind us of the simplicity of innocence, and help protect this place of sanctuary, this place of safety, and this place of shelter.
As we move closer to our Volunteer Training Day and our amazing volunteers can have a better idea of the things that may be asked of them, we are providing links to job descriptions for the five volunteer areas.
Thank you to everyone who has volunteered so far! We are looking forward to seeing you in February and will be in touch again soon to finalize the Training Day details!
Several of our followers told us they saw us on KRQE Channel 13, but since that time have been unable to view the story. So, we are posting a link to the lovely work KRQE News reporter Anna Padilla did in helping bring attention to Wilderwood’s program and the work we do.
Excited to be finally opening the program after COVID delays. Our semester will start in March 2021. To prepare our volunteers for the tasks ahead, Volunteer Training will take place in February 2021.
A HUGE thank you to U.S. Eagle Federal Credit Union for the grant to help support our Volunteer Training Day! So excited to have you with us at Wilderwood.
Volunteer Training will involve a day-long event with a program of activities, learning sessions, Volunteer T-shirts, and all the information you’ll need to make a HUGE difference in the lives of autistic adults and the beautiful horses at Wilderwood.
Filming is underway on the Wilderwood documentary. We are very excited to be working with such an accomplished director and are enjoying watching this project start to come together. Below are some photos from yesterday’s filming session. More to come soon!
We are so incredibly grateful for the generosity of others: this week, receipt of another scholarship grant (!) as well as a donation of beautiful saddles, saddle racks, and assorted tack and equipment from the lovely Jan and Allan Herrbach. Amazing donors who believe in this mission and its goals. We are beyond blessed.
Our Volunteer Training is on target to be delivered from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on February 20, and we are already receiving applications for our program that will begin in March.