MEDINA, Ohio – If every there was love at first sight, this was it. When AJ Ochoa met his horse, Addy, he knew they had bonded forever.
As AJ describes it, Addy “put his head on me. It’s like, he knew I was his rider all along.”
Mom, Shelly says she felt it too.
The horse “came to the gate the first day he met him and buried his face into AJ’s chest,” she said.
“And we just knew that Addy had chosen him and that was going to be his horse and he was going to be Addy’s person.”
It was a connection that came at a time when AJ needed it most.
“I got bullied a lot,” AJ recalls. He was attending public school in Summit County.
A 14-year old with autism, he found himself struggling socially.
As his mother put it, “Being on the spectrum, it kind of sets you apart.”
He was already feeling anxious and unsettled about going to school when one day he was attacked and badly beaten.
AJ’s mother said, “that was very rough to see when you’ve got a kid who’s never had hands laid on him to have an experience like that, it was just like beyond.”
So she and her husband took AJ out of public school and enrolled him in Ohio Virtual Academy. That was one step but it was the horse that really brought their son to life.
AJ and Addy formed a bond that he hadn’t experienced in any other relationship with his parents, his siblings or kids at school.
Shelly smiles as she reflects on the change in her son, “When he comes here he feels like this is a safe place. He can talk to anybody here and he’ll talk your ear off for hours, including the horses.”
She says she’s watched her son grow from introverted and anxiety ridden to a social young man who beams with excitement about his future. The horse, this friendship has been everything.
“He’s talks now about wanting to go to college. That was never, ever something that he talked about.”
I asked AJ, what he’s planning for himself. His response, “That’s a hard question. I’m really thinking about going to college to be an astrophysicist.”
A boy so inspired by his horse, he literally is reaching for the stars.