At school, 13-year-old AJ was a victim of bullying. Unlike most of his peers, he is on the autism spectrum and deals with severe anxiety and ADD. Every day, he had to gather his courage to face his bullies. He struggled to make friends and adapt to a traditional school setting, and his family recognized his need for change.
They wanted to do something for AJ that would make him feel included, so they decided to pull him out of traditional school and enroll him in a virtual classroom. The bullies were gone, but even that major relief wasn't the best part of the decision to change AJ's life. With a more flexible schedule, AJ was free to explore something he is truly passionate about—horses.
When he was 10 years old, AJ met Addy. It was an introduction that AJ will never forget. He told News 5 Cleveland,
"We called his name, he came running up to us--didn't even know who we were--came up and buries his face into my chest like, I'll choose you. 'I choose you.' It's almost like he said that to me."
From that moment on, AJ and Addy chose each other. Their bond was instant and incredibly deep. AJ started visiting Addy every chance he could. They ride together, and AJ learned all the skills he needs to be a responsible equestrian. Not only that, Addy has helped AJ gain confidence in all aspects of his life. His mom, Shelly Ochoa, said,
"He's come a long way and done so many things that I didn't think were ever going to be possible, so it really, really warms my heart."
Cathy Long, the equine director at Ridgewood Stables where AJ and Addy spend time together, has watched AJ's progress. She says his confidence has "skyrocketed." It's obvious AJ has a way with horses, and he's even started taking Addy to compete in shows. Their next show is coming up in April.
The experience of training at the barn and then competing in a show has further cemented the bond between boy and his horse. AJ has had to learn how to communicate with Addy, and those lessons have since affected his life out of the saddle. He's made friends with people who share his love of horses and found a place where he truly fits in.
AJ found a best friend the day he met Addy, and now the pair is an unbreakable team. Their friendship has changed AJ's life, and his family and new friends can't wait to see where their bond takes them—both in the ring and in life.
h/t: News 5 Cleveland
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Featured image screenshot via News 5 Cleveland