George Mortlock from Old Bar has been named this year's Riding for the Disabled NSW Rider of the Year.
The 10-year-old has come along way since his first visit to Taree's RDA three years ago.
"There's been a massive change in him," said his mother, Corissa Mortlock.
"He was awarded because of where he came from and where he is now."
George has challenges arising from an over sensitive sensory processing disorder and he is also, technically, non-verbal.
"He doesn't have words and has no sense of functional speech but can say cow and horse."
Corissa said George has a great love of animals but because of his sensory sensitivities gets overloaded with the movements of animals.
Corissa, who used to love horse riding herself, knew of the RDA and thought they would give it a try for him.
"They had a spot and he met his coach, Maureen Turner.
"The first lesson was a terrible, terrible nightmare. He wanted to interact with the horse but didn't know how. You'd take him to try and leave and he'd be screaming 'horse!'."
In the citation submitted for his award nomination, coach Maureen said of that first lesson: "His ear piercing screams and his strong physical attempts to escape were overruled by him pointing and indicating with sign that he did want to ride."
Corissa said every time the horse would sneeze or do something unexpected, George would react. At first he would refused to get onto a horse or sit in a saddle.
With lots of patience and some games, he progressed.
"Once he was on a horse, he would lie over the horse," said Corissa.
"He was totally entranced with the legs of the horse and loves watching the muscles move and the fact they have four legs and not two."
She said he would do "acrobatic moves" over the horse, bending all sorts of directions to have a good look at the legs.
"Now he sits beautifully in the saddle and is steering the horse using the reins."
In the citation, Maureen said the long period where he would only lie across or along the horse, or lead it, were not wasted, as it resulted in him being able to watch or feel the movement of the horse beneath him. This was a big part of him developing the ability to now successfully enjoy a full lesson sitting in a saddle.
She also said since participating in RDA, George has become much more grounded in his emotions, trust and confidence.
Her original nomination was for the local award, with George winning at the local and regional level, and now State.
"That's pretty cool," said Corissa. "I thought it was good enough for him to win the local one!"
Riding for the Disabled runs for about six months of the year, starting in March.
Lessons have stopped due to COVID-19, meaning George has only had three rides this year.
Corissa said the lack of contact with the horses as well as the loss of some of his other activities due to the coronavirus, has negatively impacted on him.
"He hasn't been around horses and he's not getting the calming effects. Swimming is another thing that helps him tremendously.
"Since we've all been home his reaction to sounds and sensitivity has got worse, and his ability to cope.
"We had a perfect bubble going at the end of last year, we won't take that for granted again."
One activity he has been able to continue is surfing and Corissa said he has improved at that skill significantly, now with the ability to read the waves and paddle out the back.
George worked with his horse riding coach Maureen for two years, until her retirement at the end of last year.
He has also retired three horses over the years and was onto his third horse this year.
"Each horse he's gelled with is the oldest horse and they have been due to retire," said Corissa.
"His first horse, Cinnamon, was absolutely amazing. For her to cope with George... she was just a very special animal."
He rode Turbo last year and was starting with Commanche this year.
Corissa said George wouldn't be where he was today without his coach.
"Maureen was absolutely amazing with us. This is a dual award as far as I'm concerned."
While you're with us...
Did you know the Manning River Times offers breaking news alerts and a weekly email newsletter? Keep up-to-date with all the local news: sign up here.