Volunteering at Majestic Hills Ranch

Caitlin Duffy

It’s not often that I meet someone who can change my perspective on life. However, this past summer, I met a young girl who did just that.

Ava is five years old. She was born weighing less than a pound of butter and measuring only eleven inches long, about the length of a piece of notebook paper. I met her through a volunteer position I had over the summer at Majestic Hills Ranch, a small farm just south of Lakeville that gives horseback riding lessons to kids and young adults with mental and physical disabilities. On my first day, I watched Ava walk slowly next to her mom towards the barn with her purple flower-covered crutches. She smiled hugely as I helped her climb up onto a horse, which I later learned must have been exceedingly physically difficult for her.

In April, she had major surgery on her femurs and hips, which decreased her flexibility, something essential for riding a horse. Despite this, Ava was nothing but happy and enthusiastic, and not once did I hear her complain, even though it was easy to see how difficult it was to sit up straight or keep her legs in the right position. As the weeks went on, I watched Ava get stronger and more comfortable, all the while smiling every time she got on a horse and staying positive no matter how hard she had to work. By the end of the sessions, Ava started using her crutches less and less, an amazing sight to see considering everything she’d been through.

She is one of the happiest and most optimistic people I’ve ever met, and despite the fact that she is only five years old, she has taught me that the perspective you have on life doesn’t have to be determined by the hardships that you’ve been through. Ava is five years old, she was born weighing less than a pound of butter, and she changed how I view the world.

Written for the September In-Depth spread, “(87) Days of Summer,” featuring students’ poetry and prose on experiences over summer vacation that changed their perspective.