In the driver's seat

In carriage driving, Apex boy finds way to regain confidence

schandler@newsobserver.comOctober 28, 2012 

COURTESY OF TONY DANTONIO, MYSTAR PHOTOGRAPHY

When he’s seated in a carriage behind a horse, reins in his hands, Noah Small isn’t a boy who struggles in school. He’s the driver, confident and in charge.

The Apex 10-year-old’s diagnosed learning disabilities, ADHD and anxiety don’t come into play when he’s guiding a horse through competition, dressed in the vintage sport’s traditional finery, right down to the boutonnière he likes to pin on his lapel.

Noah’s story – as well as his skills in carriage driving – recently earned him the William Remley Memorial Scholarship at the Walnut Hill Carriage Driving Competition in Pittsford, N.Y. Normally, that scholarship is awarded to older competitors who can apply it to college costs, but Noah’s scholarship was awarded for more immediate expenses.

This school year, he started attending The Hill Center in Durham, a half-day program aimed at helping children with learning disabilities or attention problems succeed in school. In the mornings, Noah is a fourth-grader at Baucom Elementary.

The Hill Center is already helping Noah, said his mother, Kimberly Small, and the scholarship makes a helpful dent in the tuition costs. But it’s his work with horses that has really made a difference in his life, Noah’s mother said.

“It teaches him that hard work pays off, and it builds his confidence. As a child with learning disabilities, he has lost so much confidence over the last couple years, and he’s finally getting it back,” Kimberly Small said.

Noah started riding about three years ago, not long after being diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety. His mom had heard about therapeutic barns that pair children with patient horses, and she saw for herself the bond that can be made between the two.

“Noah and him totally connect,” she said of the horse he uses for carriage driving. “They almost understand each other.”

Noah said he loved horses right from the start.

“I like to brush them down and pet them, and it’s so cool to be around one,” he said.

“They’re not scary at all.”

Explaining the different speeds of carriage driving, he said he likes the strong trot best “because it’s fast.” After all, he said, his favorite thing about the sport is getting to feel “the wind in my face.”

After watching the Olympics last summer, Noah decided he wanted to expand his work with horses by learning to jump. He’s already competed in a few jumping events on a new horse from Florida named Gator.

“I love to jump with him,” Noah said. “He’s a great boy and a champion.”

Kimberly Small sees her son in much the same light. And judges at the competitions he attends tend to agree, based on the number of ribbons he takes home.

“When he gets on a horse and he goes into an arena, there’s nobody looking at him or telling him that he’s different than anybody else,” Small said. “He’s on the same playing field.”

But he’s not in it just for the ribbons or scholarship money. He loves interacting with horses, both in the arena and back in the barn.

“He takes care of the horse on his own,” his mother said. “… He mucks stalls, bathes the horse – he does it all and he does it with a smile on his face. It’s where his heart is. It’s his home.”

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