Hautism: the Parallel World of Horses and Autism

Hautism: the Parallel World of Horses and Autism

“Horses were basically my salvation. If I hadn’t been able to go down to the horse barn and take care of the horses and clean the stalls … I would have just been miserable.”

~ Temple Grandin ~

My name is Bec Evanko. I write this as an autistic horsewoman, a Ph.D, a small and fragile soul, someone who, through a combination of luck and tenacity, somehow made it despite incredible odds against it, and someone who is forever grateful to the magnificent horses who were with me on this journey.

Horses are a lot like autistic people.

We are prey animals. In many ways we are gullible, naïve, open to literal interpretation, liable to be wary and learn our lessons well when we are hurt or frightened. We can be flighty and afraid of things for reasons that neurotypical people find hard to fathom.

But when we trust and learn to love, we are fiercely loyal, devoted, and dependable, willing and wanting to please, and also happy to be left to our own devices without the constant need for human company. 

We recognize and respond to kindness.

We fear and flee from that which we do not understand. We learn our lessons through repetition and reward. We seek reassurance and comfort. We find solace in our own kind (autistics with autistics; horses with horses) and find incomprehensible much of the neurotypical human world.

Whether (horse) grazing on grass in pasture or (human) working diligently at a computer on a given task, we can focus for hours and do not wish to be interrupted in our pursuit.

We need familiarity before accepting the new.

We do movements for our own understanding and comfort that you do not understand and sometimes strive to curtail.

We need to build trust before permitting you into our world.


Viv and Des

Viv and Des

Today we spent time working with the little ones. It was also the first day we rode Desmond under saddle! — being so close to his third birthday (April 11), it was time. He did great! Gentle, happy horse; interested and curious, yet also quite focused and calm.

We then worked with the Baby (Viv), who is close to his second birthday (also April 11). He did wonderfully well, too! Although not yet close to coming under saddle, we took time with Viv with his turns, voice commands, and becoming accustomed to strange things like mounting blocks and cavaletti rails. Viv is so gentle. We looped the lead rope over his head and he just stood there, wearing it proudly!

These two boys have been raised with lots of gentleness and love, and give it back to us in abundance. Love our boys!

Baby (Vivaldi)
Baby (Vivaldi) and Bec

A Ribbon of Rainbows

A Ribbon of Rainbows

Odie’s first foray into the round yard earlier this week was difficult for him. He is anxious, appears to be very wary of the lunge whip (we soon ditched that), and expressed fear and damaged confidence. We sat with him for forty minutes in the round yard, waiting for him to drop his head, realize that he is safe and loved, and to come to us. And, eventually he did.

His second round yard session today was much better. We walked without much hesitation from the paddock and had a more relaxed experience walking around a little bit and navigating the cavaletti poles. It was a short session — about ten minutes in all, but Odie finished up a happy and encouraged horse. After the round yard, he had a stretching session in his stall and some muscle massage (along with a very green leafy flake of alfalfa hay!)

We’re posting below images from the first session. Watching Odie on that first time in the round yard as he worked out some of his angst made us remember people who said we were “certifiably insane” to take on this horse … that we must be “crazy.” Indeed, we had said it ourselves.

Maybe so. But in the words of the wonderful song “Crazy” from Icehouse that accompanies these images, “you’ve got a ribbon of rainbows / the sun in your eyes / burning through … could be I’m losing my head / over you.”

You’re making brilliant progress, Odie, and we love you!

Odie’s “ribbon of rainbows”

Home-made cavaletti

Home-made cavaletti

While “home-made cavaletti” sounds enticingly like Italian ice-cream fashioned in a farmhouse kitchen, they are instead equine training aids. We were pretty happy about how well these home-made cavaletti rails turned out. We will be using them as part of Odie’s physical therapy program, helping his muscles come back and improving his flexibility.

Preparing the Pasture

Preparing the Pasture

With five ever-hungry horses, preparing and planting the pasture for summer grazing is an imperative task! All winter, we added organic matter to both the front and back pastures and were fortunate enough to (finally!) procure a tiller to help better prepare the soil. In February it was time to test the sprinkler system — and repair many of the sprinklers knocked over by the horses last season!

Now, in early March, it’s time to plant the seed. We chose an Equestrian Mix from a local nursery and seeded into the newly-tilled and turned earth. It smells so good and, well, earthy! While Mark drove the tractor, I sat perched on the bucket, hand sowing the seed and waving royally like a Queen!

Newly-tilled soil, ready for planting grass seed from our local Trees That Please nursery.
Four types of seed in this one “Equestrian Mix.” With a little help from some spore-enhancing growth powder from our local Soil Secrets, we’re hoping the pasture will look green and lush in no time!
Waving from the bucket of the tractor to one skilled operator and tractor driver — and a pretty darn good husband, too!
Water! The gift of life … and hopefully lots of summertime grass for hungry horses!

Odie’s First Three Months

Odie’s First Three Months

We are starting to see real progress with Odie! It’s exciting to see him coming back to condition. His back is rounding up nicely, he is getting more muscle tone, and his ribs are starting to look far less obvious.

Here are some photos comparing him in November/December (just prior to him arriving and on his arrival) and photos taken yesterday, February 17, 2019.



Odysseus (“Odie”), our beautiful, sweet, and gentle Andalusian/Percheron cross, continues to make progress back to health since we rescued him from a kill pen in November 2018. He is starting to gain some muscle strength in his hindquarters and along his back, and his ribs are slowly protruding less and less.

Vet check shows he’s a healthy boy! — apart from being a little low on iron and potassium. He loves his iron and molasses tonic, and is, of course, on feed supplements as well as a nicely balanced mix of grains and a combination of very green, leafy alfalfa and quality grass hay.

Odie’s character is amazingly gentle and kind (look at that face below!). He and “The Baby” (aka Vivaldi) are getting along famously and have become fast friends. Desmond, being his usual cheeky self, is very playful around Odie and we think it won’t be long before Odie is out running around with the young ones with as much exuberance as they have for life and living!

We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to give this beautiful boy another chance at life, and will update his progress as he continues his return to full health and vitality.

Odie, shortly after his arrival at Wilderwood: December 21, 2018

The Journey Begins

The Journey Begins

And so our journey begins!

It has started with the rescue of a beautiful Andalusian/Percheron cross, 17 hands high, and gentle as a soft cotton ball floating in the wind. We have called him Odysseus.

It’s also started with our mission, which is:

To provide equine and other animal assisted activities for people with autism and other disabilities, while also rescuing and educating about abandoned or unwanted horses.