Sarah Meakin, who has a very loud and cheerful laugh, blue sparkly eyes, shoulder-length blond hair and a sunburn, helps disabled children from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday at Bercut Equitation Field in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Sarah helps the kids stretch, relax, laugh, have fun, take on responsibilities and open up to others. Sarah accomplishes this with Olaf and Daisy, her Fjord ponies. The horses, which have long, dark, white-streaked tails and manes, are from Kilhalm Farms in nearby Marin County.
Olaf and Daisy are part of the Horses in California Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people, including the disabled, through horse-related events and activities. This gives children the opportunity to use riding as a form of physical therapy where they get outside, ride the ponies, talk to the volunteers and spend time with others. While volunteers accompany the child riders, the kids are challenged to stretch a hand up toward the sky, touch the ponies’ ears or tail and lean down to touch their own toes.
Sarah’s family started this program. Her interest in it led to her becoming a physical therapist through hard work. Later, she became the program’s executive director. Sarah has to trailer her two ponies from San Rafael to the Golden Gate Park. If traffic is bad, it can take an additional hour or two to commute. Also, she has to cancel any meetings if it has recently rained because the ground gets slippery. When Sarah arrives at Bercut Field, she has to find a park ranger to unlock the gate at the entrance. Some park rangers are easier to find than others; some don’t even know that the program exists; and some don’t know where the key is. Because of so many setbacks, Sarah once thought that she should stop working for the program because it wasn’t helping many people. But when she saw the children, she changed her mind.
Sarah does not think that she is a hero because it feels natural for her to help disabled children, she said. The program has changed her perspective on disabled children. She used to think that disabled just meant that they had problems. Now, she thinks that disabled means that the person is normal but faces more challenges than most people.
Sarah is inspired by the way this program affects not only the child but also their family and friends. She likes how the atmosphere is relaxed, how people can forget their worries and chat, and how parents can watch their child have fun instead of scream, complain or refuse to do their stretches.