Diana Betancourt’s son Luke was born on the autism spectrum, and doctors told Diana he may be nonverbal for the rest of his life. At 3 years old, he’d yet to say his first word—that was, until he made a new friend.
Diana and Luke visited the Serenity Saviors Equine Rescue and Therapy Center.
Diana knew that Luke loved farms and horses and when she heard about Serenity Saviors Equine Rescue and Therapy Center in Spring Hill, Florida, she thought it would be just the perfect place to take Luke.
The equine therapy center specializes in rehabilitating police officers and military suffering from PTSD, and helping those born on the autism spectrum.
Luke bonded with a horse named Rio, and his constant grin was all the feedback she needed to see. Luke had such a good time on his first visit, Diana took him back for another session.
That’s when something she never thought would happen became a reality.
Diana heard Luke’s voice for the first time as he rode a horse named Rio.
“Walk, Rio, walk,” Luke said, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Diana couldn’t control the tears that came pouring down. After several years of wondering if she’d ever hear her precious son speak, his connection with Rio gave him the impetus to speak his first words.
“When he rides Rio, he’s a different person,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The farm is owned and operated by husband and wife duo Allen and Cherina Bornscheuer. They were touched by Luke’s breakthrough as well, and those are the kinds of moments they celebrate.
“We celebrate the little victories,” Bornscheure told the Tampa Bay Times. “Just coming here and getting out of their comfort zone is a big step for them.”
Since speaking his first words, Luke has started speaking at home.
While riding Rio, Luke eventually started saying commands like “walk,” “whoa,” and “trot.” After only four months of sessions, his communication has carried over to his home life as well.
He says “yes,” and “no,” and has started calling Diana “mama,” something she never thought he’d do. Diana said he asks about Rio constantly, and he’s even started training for his first horse show.
Diana said the Bornscheuer’s don’t see Luke’s difficulties as an impediment, and treat him with love and acceptance, just like Rio does.
“They see the potential,” his mom said. “They don’t see anything else.”