Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Importance of The Very Strong Lecture

Success deserves more recognition than does failure.

Too often we only become serious with kids when they exhibit negative behavior. Positive behavior is too often rewarded with insincere, childish sounding praise.

It need not be that way.

Which is the most memorable for a seven year old--"Your leg cues are getting better!!" or "Come over here girl. I watched every time you turned that horse. You focused on where you wanted the horse to go and then you used your leg to push 700 pounds of horse before you ever pulled on the rein and the horse loved that! Your leg spoke and his body listened! You rode that horse like he deserves to be ridden! Every ride you are getting better and one  day you will be teaching other kids to ride with the same kind of confidence that you are showing."?

Gruff, effusive, sincere praise is a tool that is too often left in the tool box. Pull it out and use it and watch how much better kids respond.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Learn From My Mistakes

I did a foolish thing at a recent session with a large audience of young people. The topic was emotional and intense. I used by body and my voice to give the topic the emphasis that it deserved. I dropped from a boom to a whisper. I moved suddenly, froze and changed from a moving cadence to an eerie monotone.

In short, I did everything that I do to draw an audience into becoming participants instead of mere observers.

I was talking about weakness, power, intimidation, and strength ...and ultimately pain. As I scanned the audience I noticed that several of the young people did not seem to be listening. Instinctively, I turned up the force of what I was saying.

Those who appeared to not be listening were not talking to each other or playing with phones, they simply were not looking up and focusing on what I was saying.

A few hours afterwards I realized how absurd my fear was that they were not paying attention. The topic at hand was something that very well may have touched some of them, their families or their friends.

And who should know better than me that those who have experienced severe trauma often adopt prey animal body language and cues even without knowing that they were doing so? Many of these young people could have looked at me or they could have listened, but they could not do both.

So when the teaching involves pain--the pain of suicide, sexual abuse, addiction, incarceration, physical abuse, or any other form of human suffering, focus on your message and not on the audience's reaction.

They might not be bored. They may be burning up so much inside that the additional pressure of looking up as they listen is simply too much to bear.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Trauma Informed Horsemanship: The Next Big Leap

Do you know what an ACE score is? You need to know and understand ACE if you care about the people around you.

Check out this important website. Read it deeply and often: . I have spent years learning about and experiencing the impact of trauma, vicarious or direct, in my career as a juvenile court prosecutor  who handles primarily cases of crimes against children, family violence and sexual assault.

Every riding instructor should be trauma informed and every riding program should constantly review its practices to insure that their program is trauma informed. A trauma informed riding instructor is constantly on the look out to understand how past experiences shape the behaviour of their students. A trauma informed riding program replaces competitiveness, bullying, cliquishness, and judgemental behavior with inclusion, acceptance and healing.

Few things get in the way of understanding others as much as being judgemental. Nothing gets in the way of that understanding as much as being judgemental without having any understanding  of what shaped the subject of that judgment.

As it has been aptly put, the question must be, "What happened to you?" instead of "What is wrong with you?" Without doing so, one goes through life judging those around them only through the narrow prism of one's own life experiences.

It is all to easy to say, "I would never behave like he does" without recognizing that had you been abused as he was your behavior would likely mirror his. It is all to easy to say "That was years ago. She has to just get over it", while doing nothing to help her "get over it." It is all to easy to avoid contact with a difficult person instead of seeking understanding.

Trauma informed living is merely an exercise in advanced empathy. And one must work to learn how to have advanced empathy.

Some might think that while all of that is fine, their program teaches how to compete in hunter-jumper events and is not a program to deal with complex social problems. That is simply too bad. You have no choice. The problem is there. You can choose to ignore it but you cannot opt out of your responsibility to others.

Ultimately, every single youth group, Scout troop, Little League team, or dance class, is also a suicide prevention program. One might night like hearing that fact, but that makes it no less true. One can not opt out of being a suicide prevention program. One can only decide to work to be a program that makes the suicide of kids in the program more or less likely.

When I was little we had a boy in class who was much bigger than most of us. Aside from being naturally tall and strong, he had also failed a few years and was older than the rest of us. He was a bully and one day three of us were talking about his behavior on the playground. We agreed to discuss that matter with our parents that night so that someone would make him behave better.

The next day my two friends proudly announced that their mothers were going to meet with the principle right away to make sure that he was punished.

I was embarrassed at Momma's reaction. I did not want to tell them what she told me.

She said that maybe the reason "Jimmy" was so mean on that day was because it was a Monday and that Jimmy's daddy drank real bad and got mean and beat his family on a lot of weekends. She said that Jimmy did not have friends that understood how things were and that the best thing would be for me to be his friend and make sure that he had someone to play with at recess.

My friend's mothers could not see the problem through Jimmy's eyes. My Momma could. Although he was a good a person as one would ever find when sober, when her Daddy got drunk he had been violent to the point that my great uncle once had to pull a gun off of him that he was threatening his young daughter with.

So kids in our program sometimes "act out." So adults in our program do too. We could simply expel everyone who does not wear a fake, sunny facade of happiness all the time. We could get rid of "problem" kids and adults. We would then be left with a program of people who smile at each other incessantly.

We could all laugh and play at recess. But a church that works more on excommunication than on evangelizing is an institution on its way to collapse.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Blackwater Swamp Stomp: Our First Colonial Spanish Horse Team Endurance Race

Yesterday our team of Colonial Spanish Horses and an American Indian Horse participated in our first official 30 mile race, The Blackwater Swamp Stomp. I do not care much for the idea of competition, but still I think it appropriate to announce the list of winners.

 Mandy was the biggest winner in yesterday's race. She worked hard to condition Midnight and was riding a horse that could go forever. But he went a little too far. He took off after some horses that passed him and Mandy ended up well off course and separated from the leaders in our team.  She rode him down to a walk and dismounted safely. She finished the ride and kept him in control. She was disappointed, but she took it all with the greatest show of maturity.

Brooke came in just after Mandy in the category of over all winner. She had been riding for about a year and a day and finished the race on Red Fox, a Corolla/Tenn Walker (our only horse who was not an HOA horse in our team)

But we also have to rank Curie up there at the top. Not only has she been riding only a year, she did much of the training of Long Knife, a Corolla mare.

But then where do we place Terry, who worked harder conditioning her horse than anyone on the team and rode the smallest horse there and one of the very few (if any) stallions? Surely, that makes her one of the top winners.

Certainly the winner for best relationship with her horse and most concern for her horse's care and safety has to go to Audrey who completely shocked me with the potential that she brought out in the mare, Baton Rouge. I had no idea Baton Rouge had the speed and stamina that Audrey brought out in her.

And Ariyana, who is becoming nearly as tough as Holland, the Shackleford that she rode, came in first in the youth division. She rode Holland the way Holland needs to be ridden, hard and steady.

And Abigail on her Corolla, Little Hawk, who she trained came in 7th over all. a feat made that much more remarkable by the fact that she hung back and rode with the rest of the team for the first 17 miles.

Yesterday a lot of people got the chance to see what is so special about Colonial Spanish Horses and got a chance to understand why it is so vital to prevent their extinction.

And that made everyone there winners.

Waste Not

I hate to waste living things. As we cleared the New land we did not have funds to build a conventional fence around the area that we were converting to pasture. With the help of the kids and a few adults we built a pole and post fence from the green timbers that was .64 miles around the land. As those posts and poles age out we are in a better financial position to replace them with conventional fence.

We have gotten nearly three years of pasture use out of that land that we would not have gotten had we waited to have the funds to put in a conventional fence. On the other hand, we could have put in a conventional fence at 5the time and forgone many other improvements made to the program, like the acquisition of  additional breeding stock for our livestock conservation programs.

I have begun another massive undertaking. Jacob's Woods is seventeen acres. I am intensively thinning it, leaving oaks, and large pines and hardwoods. I will be taking out several hundred maple and small pines. We have already begun the project and have builts a massive brush pile wind row from the tree tops that will wonderful wild life habitat. I hope to be able to get a stand of native warm season grasses growing where the sunlight will now find the ground. The area will, if everything  breaks right, become a silvopasture for multi species use and will also open up much more of our land to riding.

I can't abide the idea of letting all of these posts lay on the ground to rot. I have a design in my mind of the construction of a building frame of modern two by fours with the poles attached in the frame at six foot intervals. The walls would not be chinked. I would want a modern tin or tin substitute roof with enough over hang to keep the rain out of the structure.

It will be a lot of work, but it will be interesting work and will create great memories for the kids that help create the building.

I can already hear negative thoughts coming through this computer.  "Why not make it perfectly historically accurate if you want the kids to have a really first rate learning experience.?" Along with the constant refrain of "If you build it won't it eventually rot and fall in?"

The answer to the first is that I would prefer to build one historically accurate, using only historically accurate tools, but our program is multi faceted and we do many things at one time. Making a quality, 19th century small barn would require every minute of every day that we have music, horse training, riding lessons, soil and water conservation projects, programming for veterans with PTSD, livestock care, breed conservation, and everything else that we do.

The other negative thought has always perplexed me. "Well if you do that won't it just eventually decay and collapse?"  Of course it will, and so will I and so will you.

Only the rocks live forever. Not building a structure  because we cannot build a perfect structure makes as much sense as not living a life because we cannot live a perfect life.

More work to be done. Time to get up earlier out of bed!

Monday, October 7, 2019

Here's What The Round Pen Can Teach You

Natural horsemanship teaches one to learn to communicate with a creature with whom we share no fundamental emotional motivations. It teaches that the horse must be accepted as a horse and that silly efforts to humanize the horse get in the way of that communication.

We cannot reach across such a divide and communicate effectively without developing a great deal of empathy. First and foremost, the round pen teaches empathy.

Natural horsemanship teaches one to understand the use and the limitations of power. The horse's fundamental emotional need is security and the horse cannot feel secure in the presence of a human who does not demonstrate sufficient power to allow the horse to feel secure. Secondly, the round pen teaches the use of firm direction instead of intimidation.

Natural horsemanship teaches one to understand that leadership must be given for a horse (or a child) to succeed. Natural horsemanship, when properly applied, simply means to trains and relate to a horse using  communication techniques and rewards and sanctions that the horse instinctively understands. In short, instead of trying to teach the horse to speak English, natural horsemanship endeavors to teach the human to speak horse. The round pen teaches effective communication.

Natural horsemanship, when practiced long enough, teaches the limitations of human control over events around us. If a person will put in the hard work to make it happen, natural horsemanship can provide the antidote to perfectionism, obsessive neatness, and the need for artificial structure in one's life. The round pen teaches that no amount of planning, worrying, nitpicking, organizing, and over thinking makes it possible to control the events that shape lives. Working in the round pen long enough teaches a deeper truth--that too often the obsession to control events and people burns time, energy and resources that could have been used to actually solve a problem. The round pen teaches the superiority of action over rumination.

Natural horsemanship teaches self reliance. It teaches that the horse needs you and no one else can come in and do the job for you. Training a wild horse or starting a domesticated colt without teaching the owner every aspect of what is done in the natural training of the horse will result in a bad life for that horse. The round pen teaches that when faced with challenges in life we must take them on. More importantly, the round pen teaches that when we do work hard and take on challenges we are often capable of success

Natural horsemanship creates better horses. More importantly, it creates better people.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Comeback: I Did Not Used To Be Dead Inside

It has been nearly a decade and a half since I conducted my first professional training for prosecutors on using the lessons of natural horsemanship to more effectively communicate with kids who had been molested. It is odd to look back over the notes of that presentation to see that I had urged that no single prosecutor be responsible for these cases for more than a year and a half.

I have been prosecuting these cases for over twenty years. About a decade ago I was doing a training session for detectives when I mentioned that in every case  I had  succeeded in making the child  comfortable enough to testify.

The oldest detective in the room said, much louder than I am sure he ever meant to, "I'm sorry."

I was taken aback by the interjection and I looked over and made eye contact with the the speaker. He looked a bit sheepish for having spoken as loud as he did and simply said, "That means that you have been down there in it with them."

I had never thought of it that way. Please understand that I have never personally experienced any abuse or victimization myself.  "Being down there in it with them" is simply a description of the power of empathy. Empathy can lead to self inflicted wounds. Being "down there in it with them" requires one to take on the pain of other people. And sometimes with kids the only way to lessen their pain is to take some of that load on yourself.

Please understand that I am not complaining. What I do has given my life meaning and I prefer a life of meaning to a life of frivolity and air-headed idiocy.  I certainly do not feel any resentment towards the victims in my cases. Were it not for these cases Beth and I would have never gotten to know Ashley. Were it not for these cases our program at Mill Swamp Indian Horses would not remotely have the meaning and impact that it now has.

This is not the writing of some kid who just found out that life is not fair and feels the need to whine about that fact to everyone present.

I have spent many hours over the summer in prosecutor training on trauma informed practices. I am delighted to say that I did not learn a great deal that I did not know from the horse lot.  I did learn how to sharpen our program for patients at the local veterans hospital who have PTSD. I got great ideas on how to best use the limited time that we have together to help program participants gain insight on trust, communication, and understanding why they feel they way that they do and how to begin climbing out of the pit.

I learned what burnout is. I am not burned out. Burnout is best illustrated by the automaton who goes through the motions without  being able to care. I am not close to such feelings.

And this gradual erosion of self is not depression. It is not a symptom of depression.

But there is a deadening that happens over the years. It is as if my taste buds are dying. I eat life as ravenously as I ever did, I just don't taste the flavor of the  life that I am consuming. Perhaps it has manifested itself most painfully in the lack of relationships with my horses that I once had. The horses have not changed, but I have. Beginning at the moment that I heard of Lido's death I gradually began to replace the excitement  over the birth of a foal with a strong feeling that I needed to keep in mind that, like every foal ever born, this one will eventually die and odds are that I will outlive it.

Putting emotional energy into developing a close relationship with things as ephemeral as living creatures begins to feel like a very unwise investment.

But then the oddest things can happen. Look at that picture above. Her name is Honey. She was the first super success that I ever had training a horse. She is not a Colonial Spanish horse. She is a registered Paint. I had not seen her for a decade. That is how long she had been living out of state with the family of a former rider of mine who has grown up and is getting an advanced degree away from home.

So this week Honey came back to me.

 And I touched her.

And it felt like it used to when I touched horses--soothing, powerful and transforming.  Who knows how long this feeling will last? For now I will settle for just being very pleasantly surprised to find something that I thought I lost over the years.