At High Hopes Therapeutic Riding in Old Lyme, one student stands out more than the rest.
"She is learning riding skills, I think way beyond ... anybody expected," instructor Jonnie Edwards said.
Melissa Carney, 10, comes to High Hopes every week to ride and every week she takes on new challenges.
It’s something instructor Jonnie Edwards has noticed. She has worked with Melissa since she was 5.
"She started to develop these amazing riding skills," Edwards said.
Part of Melissa’s skill is her attention to detail, especially the sounds around her. She has come to know the sounds her horse, Sonic, makes - hooves tapping against the barn floor.
"It kind of sounds like when a teacher's walking through the hall in their high-heel boots," Melissa said.
She has also come to recognize the constant sound of bells when she rides.
"I listen to the bells and then I keep following the sound until I get there and then I turn to go the next one," Melissa said.
Melissa is blind.
High Hopes is a specially designed riding center for people with disabilities. It’s become a place where Melissa has formed many close relationships.
"Ultimately, it's the horse. She has to know that Sonic is going to listen to her. He's not going to hurt her, he's going to do everything she asks," Edwards said.
It’s not something Melissa has to worry about.
"You're riding a live animal and you can actually connect with them,” she said.
It’s a special connection built on trust and that has put Melissa’s mom, Kris, at ease.
"She just likes the freedom it gives her. The horse is her eyes and she can move about a lot easier," Kris said.
Just like the name of this school, Melissa has high hopes for a career someday as a professional equestrian.
She says, why not?
She wants to encourage people with disabilities to not be intimidated just because they can't do everything other people can do.
"I think they should still go out there and do what they want to do," Melissa said.