Thursday, December 31, 2020
Adults need to work hard to help kids understand their feelings. It is not at all unusual to have a child loose control of a trotting, or even cantering, horse and then gently fall off when the horse stops. The child does not want to get back on because (they think) that they are afraid of falling off. This is true even when the fall itself was a complete non-event that did not cause the slightest injury.
On the other hand, the feeling of being on the horse without having the horse under control for the seconds prior to the fall is terrifying. Often it is not the fall that is the problem, it is the terror that comes before the fall. No one, child or adult, would look forward to experiencing such a loss of control and its associated feelings of terror.
Adults can help the child by leading the child to an understanding of exactly what it is that the child fears. There are two important concepts, often quite difficult for a child to accept, that can lead to break throughs in combatting riding anxiety.
Help the child verbalize and relive the event. Let the child talk about how scary it was. Talk to the child about how horrible it feels to be that afraid. Let the child talk about how scary it was to want the horse to stop while having those wishes completely ignored.
Then move on to the hard part. Talk to the child about how they could have gained control of the horse. Make sure that the child understands and can fully apply the one reined stop. Have them sit in a chair with reins in hand and practice, over and over, what we can do to bring a horse back into control. Help them learn that they are not helpless when riding.
Then move on to the part that is even harder. Explain that the fear is natural and that it is ok to be afraid, but help them understand the difference between being scared and being injured. Help them understand that as horrible as it feels to be afraid, fear, in and of itself, will not cause injury or short term pain.
Help them understand that being afraid of fear is a problem that can be over come.
And most of all let them know that you understand how hard it is to get back on and that you admire the maturity and judgement that they are showing when they confront their fears. Every time one confronts a fear and faces it down one has achieved a victory that creates positive emotional capital. Those victories matter as one faces life's future challenges.
Few things are sadder to see in young people than full blown anxiety disorder. There are few things that horses can do that are more important than presenting challenges and giving opportunities for success to young people.
A kid who has his pocket filled with specific incidences of times when he successfully over came fear will one day grow up and will likely face dark nights of the soul. At such time a person is forced to conduct brutal self analysis. As the crisis looms before that adult they must ask at their very deepest level, "Who am I?'
A child who has been guided to take on challenges can often answer that question with the deepest of sincerity.
"Who am I?"
" I am the person who does not give up. I am the person who works hard. I am the person who endures. I am the person who struggles. I have proven that I am the person who does not back down."
There are few times in a kid's life that they are more in need of calm, patient, loving direction than when they confront terror after having fallen. Providing that guidance is not easy. But it is necessary.
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
The inability to lead, teach and negotiate with another creature is what causes most of the failures that occur in developing a solid relationship with the horse. The round pen forces us to come to grips with one of Lincoln's most important insights.
" I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me", he wrote in a letter to Albert Hodges.
Our false belief that we can be in control of life around us can be cured by spending time training scores of horses, particularly wild ones. We cannot dictate the behavior of horses, or other people, any more than we can dictate the behavior of the wind and the clouds. The fear of losing control is often the driving force behind the desire to have power over others. I learned to set aside any desire to accumulate material goods scores of years ago. I have only learned to set aside the desire to control the behavior of those around me within the last decade.
Spending hundreds of hours in the round pen with horses who are without knowledge of people makes it possible to understand how vain and worthless it is to believe that one can control the actions of others by decree.
It is comforting to think that the exercise of power will produce the desired result, but the reality is that the exercise of leadership and communicating by example is often the only way to produce the desired result without creating additional, often unforeseen, problems.
The round pen teaches the limitations of coercion.
The lesson applies outside of the round pen as well. We have to make adjustments in our lives as a result of a virus that has now killed one out of every thousand Americans. I want program participants to use good judgment and apply safety precautions at the horse lot. I want masks to be used.
I could make a rule that simply says if you do not wear a mask you are expelled from the program. In short order, tremendous dissension would be created by those who would religiously wear a mask in my presence , but promptly remove it as soon as I am out of sight. A fault line would be created in our program, separating people and limiting compliance.
Or...I can try to be more diligent in remembering to wear a mask myself when in proximity to others. Doing so will not create complete compliance. Neither would a draconian rule.
The greatest challenge that our program faces is our need to increase access to grazing and foraging to more land for our livestock. We are doing so by converting about 15 acres of a mature, mixed species wood lot into silvo pasture. It is accurate to say that the future of our program is dependent on getting this job done. It is also accurate to say that regardless of how often I seek to explain the urgency of the task at hand, most of the families in our program fail understand why we need to spend several more hundred manhours of work getting this land cleared before spring.
I could have a rule simply requiring every family to forgo riding until the woodlot is converted to silvo pasture. Doing so would increase the amount of work that some program participants put into the project. It would also cause some families to leave the program in hopes of returning when we begin riding again.
Or...I can continue to work to educate program participants on the absolute priority of this task, while putting every bit of personal time and effort that I have into getting the job done. Years of working horses in the round pen have made the soundness of this approach clear to me.
Look not just to Lincoln to understand leadership. Take a look at the leadership by example shown by Gall and Crazy Horse at Little Big Horn. Jesus' leadership is perfectly exemplified in the call to follow. One cannot follow another unless that person is walking out ahead.
Walking out ahead is the essence of leadership.
I have never been cursed with perfectionism. With the exception of substance abuse, I think that perfectionism is responsible for more emotional anguish than any other factor that occurs commonly in our world. Perfectionism is rooted in the belief that we control, that we can control, that we must control, that if we just worked harder we could control...
But life teaches otherwise.
In about two hours it will be twelve years since my little brother died when his shotgun accidently discharged while he was hunting. No philosophy or theodicy will ever cause me to understand why this could happen. One of the fundamental experiences in shaping the person that I am today was an event utterly beyond my control.
Like Lincoln, I do not profess to control events and I also freely confess to being controlled by them. But I can influence events and I can influence people, particularely young people, and it is my obligation to work to do so in the most effective way possible. That requires providing direction, support, encouragement, and guidance.
And that is the round pen's most important lesson.
Friday, December 18, 2020
The same cannot be said of social media's impact on veterinary care. The worst impact is that it kills veterinarians.
Thursday, December 17, 2020
1. Recognizes the impact past trauma can have on a riding student's efforts to learn to ride.
2. Recognizes the role that horses can play in helping people reduce the effects of past trauma.
3. Recognizes that, as a prey animal, a horse responds to outside stimuli as does a person with PTSD.
4. Recognizes that establishing a relationship of trust with a horse can be the gateway to learning to
establish a relationship of trust with another human.
5. Recognizes that learning to control a horse though humane, effective leadership and communication
can help erase feelings of helplessness often experienced by those who have experienced significant
6. Recognizes that understanding equine behavior can help people who have experienced significant
trauma understand their own behavior.
For over twenty years I have prosecuted crimes against children and sexual assault cases. Early in my career I encountered behaviors in victims that I often did not understand. After years of studying the impact that trauma can have on its victims, I am embarrassed at how ignorant I once was.
If you share the ignorance I once had, but would like to open your mind, take a look at https://acestoohigh.com/ for a wonderful, eye opening, introduction that can help lead one to an understanding of trauma.
For over seven years, prior to the impact of the virus, we conducted weekly sessions, weather permitting for those in the in-patient PTSD program at the Hampton Veterans Hospital. Over the years participants have often made it clear, in stark terms, to me exactly how much the program changed their lives. I am looking forward to resuming to sessions when life returns to normal.
Our program is not limited to participants who have been significantly traumatized. I am pleased with the opportunity that our program gives people to see the impact that the horses can have on those with PTSD. Those who are in the program who have never suffered significant trauma will be better parents, friends, and spouses because of the understanding that they have gained from observation and participation.
We are a non-profit with no paid staff. We teach riding, natural horsemanship, heritage breed conservation, preservation and promotion of nearly extinct strains of Colonial Spanish horses, soil and water conservation, microbial farming, Americana and Roots music, and wild life habitat preservation.
And we help people learn how to ride horses out of Hell.
Thursday, December 10, 2020
Quien Es?, Owl Prophet, Curly, Young Joseph, One Bull, Standing Rock, and Medicine Iron were just a few of the spectacular horses that he sired. I also bred him to many outside mares and one of his offspring became a Maryland state champion jumping horse.
It was not his DNA that made him the most important horse in our program. It was what he gave, both in life and in death, that made him so important.
For a few hundred kids over the past fifteen years he was the first horse that they ever got on. A few hundred kids were introduced to the horse world through Wind in His Hair. A few hundred kids got a chance to feel the same feeling that others have felt for a few hundred decades as their leg slipped across a horse's spine for the first time. A few hundred kids got a chance to experience the joy of making an emotional connection across species.
In life he opened doors for a few hundred kids and in death he and Wendell taught a few kids one of life's most important lessons--that life can end in dignity.
Wind was probably over twenty years old when he died. He never had a lame day in his life. Except for dental work I do not recall him ever needing emergency veterinary care. For the past several months Wendell has been providing special care and a wonderful diet for Wind. Wind has spent those months paired with Mace's Spring, young Corolla filly teaching her how to be a horse. Wendell's care for Wind made it possible for him to have life of the highest quality for the past many months. Wendell spent countless hours caring for Wind and when it was time to go Wendell was there with him.
One of the most memorable pieces mail that I ever received concerning our program was bitter note from a stranger insisting that we stop "breeding worthless crap with no marketable value."
Such critics, who only see "value" if it is "marketable", could have learned a lot from Wind...and Wendell.
Sunday, December 6, 2020
It was probably even more pitiful than to see a puzzle all assembled but for a missing piece.
Kids don't need a frivolous set of standards to conform to. They need a set of values to adhere to. They need a place to belong to.
They need a chance to share interests with other kids. That means that they need exposure to a range of potential interests.
That means giving them a chance to develop new talents and new interests with other young people.
The rest of my life is spent as a juvenile court prosecutor. The kids that I prosecute, and even more often the children who are the victims of crimes by adults, are like the puzzle piece that I saw on the ground beside the dumpster. They have been thrown away. They have never been given a chance to become part of anything beautiful.
Living life on such a strange split screen makes me feel like the protagonist in Steve Earle's great song, "Pilgrim On This Road". I feel like I am constantly waiting for that day in which I "will understand it bye and bye."
As we climb out of this virus and begin to rebuild our lives we all need to work to strengthen programs that give a kid a place to belong. We all need to work hard to put puzzles back together.
Friday, December 4, 2020
I have always felt an intense responsibility for the safety and happiness of those around me, particularly those in our program. I find that as the pandemic worsens that feeling of responsibility is deepening.
The horse lot was once a place of great relaxation and security for me. As the virus worsens that is no longer the case. I have even developed paralyzing avoidance behaviors--primarily in terms of not being able to check my emails or keep up with the program's facebook page.
And here is the point of why I am writing this now. Many of our readers are involved in equine and youth programs. I doubt that I am alone in experiencing this reduction in functionality. I suspect that it is very widespread.
But I am afraid that too few people understand the link between the virus and the changes that they are experiencing in their reactions to the world around them. I am dealing with these issues by exercising hard, doing a lot of hard physical work and eating healthier.
But that is not enough. The most important thing that I am doing is stepping back and recognizing that these unpleasant changes will go away when we recover from this virus. I remind myself that I have not changed permanently and when the world resumes normality I will be able to go back to who I used to be.
If you do not recognize yourself anymore it might help to understand that the deterioration of your character need not be a permanent wound.
And now for the greatest reason that I am writing this post. Last night Audrey, Ariyanna, and Ella brought over a big box, beautifully wrapped with a deeply touching and meaningful card. When I opened the big box I found a brand new Gretch Honey-Dipper Round Neck Resonator guitar!
The girls took the money that they made from busking and purchased this guitar for me. I cannot tell you how happy it made me to tune it up and start working the slide on it. Over the past decade I have developed an interest in Mississippi Delta blues and now I can expand my playing into that world.
Slept better last night than I have in a long time. Will be late getting to the horse lot this morning--got to check in on my new guitar and see how it made it through its first night here in my music room.