Sharing Silence with Shy Boy and Nicholas

This is a story about a boy and a Mustang’s meeting at Monty’s farm in California. Nicholas was born with triplegic cerebral palsy and lives mostly in silence. His mother Catherine is his voice. Nicholas has a hero who is another strong, silent type: a little mustang horse called Shy Boy. Monty Roberts used the silent language of horses, which is a language of gestures, to create a bond between himself and Shy Boy, who was born in the wild 21 years ago and for the past fifteen or so years had been living on Monty’s Flag Is Up Farms. Last Christmas, Catherine asked Nicholas what he wanted. He said he wanted to ride Shy Boy.

On Christmas Eve, Nicholas’ mom emailed Monty Roberts.

“I have a son with cerebral palsy and he does not speak. He has been riding since he was 2 and I attribute his ability to walk to riding. He has a great seat on the horse and over the years has bonded with so many horses. He is now 17. When he was around 4, you came to Maryland and did a demonstration. We were there. He has a poster of Shy Boy on his bedroom wall that you signed. We also got the Shy Boy video and this video has been playing in our house for the last 13 years, almost daily. He loves Shy Boy. At riding centers, I would often name the current horse “Shy Boy” . I thought I could somehow trick him into believing that he was getting his wish that he asked for every year. It never worked.

For Christmas this year, once again he has asked to ride Shy Boy. I have tried to explain that Shy Boy lives with you which is far away and so he adds to his Christmas list to meet you as well. Have you ever had this request before? I know you must think I am crazy, but I am planning a trip to California in the summer to visit an Aunt and friends. If there is the remotest possibility of Nicholas being able to meet you and ride Shy Boy – even if just for a few minutes, I would make a trip to your farm. I know how busy you are. We have the greatest respect for you and what you have brought not only to the training of horses, but also to the training of businessmen and CEO’s over the years. You have given so much of yourself. I will understand if this request is too remarkable, but I have to tell you that Santa (me) has to ask as I have a young man who is persistent in his request. He has been requesting this for 12 years and when we watched your video of Shy Boy running into the trailer to sign the books, I thought, “Okay, I will ask.”

I hope this reaches you Mr. Roberts. Have a wonderful Christmas and I look forward to receiving your response.”

Below is an excerpt from a recent article that describes the events that followed. It is written by Kelcie Pegher.

On New Year’s Eve, Catherine received a response from Roberts’ daughter, who asked for a video of Nicholas riding. She sent one. On June 23 Nicholas and his mother embarked on a trip to visit Monty Roberts’ Flag Is Up Farms. Catherine assumed Nicholas would get to the farm, spend five or 10 minutes on the horse, and then leave. Instead, she said, “We were treated — I say like royalty, but also like family.”

“I saw him in the yard and saw how profoundly challenged he was, and all of a sudden it was the most important thing in my life,” Monty said. Roberts gave them a demonstration, and then Nicholas met Shy Boy. “It was almost like they were speaking volumes with no words,” Catherine said. Shy Boy never took his eyes off Nicholas. First, Nicholas looked down, as a sign of respect to the horse, and the two connected. Then Shy Boy reached up and nuzzled Nicholas with his nose. Everyone, Catherine said, had tears pouring down their cheeks. It looked like two old friends meeting, she said.

“Nick doesn’t show an awful lot of emotion. He’s not a big smiler, he’s not a big crier or anything like that,” she said. When they moved to take Shy Boy to the arena, Nicholas looked back at his mom. “I saw that it had totally moved him — tears in his eyes,” she said. Nicholas rode Shy Boy for about 15 to 20 minutes. Roberts talked about the benefits of therapeutic riding. They went to the stable where Shy Boy was resting and Nicholas spent a long time just sharing time with the horse. When the two said goodbye, Nicholas blew Shy Boy a kiss and said “Bye-bye Shy Boy.” The horse lifted his head and nodded.

Catherine said the trip made her understand something about her son for the first time. She spent his entire childhood trying to fix his cerebral palsy, she said. She tried to make sure he could walk, enrolled him in therapy and did anything she could think of to help him. Now, she said, she understands that “he lives in a place that’s simple, full of joy. His dreams do come true. Most people can’t say that.” When he needs to say something, Nicholas looks at his mother and touches his neck, before clicking onto his communication device. Catherine said she’s so used to saying Nicholas’ words out loud for him that she forgets to appreciate his silence. When Nicholas met Shy Boy, that changed. “I had to stand in his silence,” she said. “I’ve never really stood in Nicholas’ silence before and in that moment, I did.”