Saturday, October 22, 2011

Equating to the Equine Heart

In an attempt to teach Reagan how to better communicate and to grow her in confidence, we started her on horse lessons this summer. I don't think we could have chosen any better activity for her! Our goal was not that she actually learn to ride the horse well, but that she develop skills that one wouldn't normally see as having anything to do with horse riding, namely understanding the body language of another creature, learning to express her frustrations in a mature manner, building the confidence to direct something "greater" than herself, and learning that perfection is not the goal, rather it's the connection to another 'person' that matters.  She loves animals and so, is much less likely to revert to her typical 'raging' behaviors while around them. They soften her heart so that even when they don't behave she doesn't play the 'blame' game as much with them.

Most of the summer she rode with her teacher leading the horse and so there was no fear for her to deal with at first. She thoroughly enjoyed 2 weeks of summer days camps and learned about breeds, behavior, body parts, cleaning & care, tacking and riding. She began learning to read the body language of the animal both on and off of it (I'm hoping this will make her more observant of other human's body language). She got to know the different personalities of various horses and her confidence grew. She even got to ride in her first local horse show (still on lead) and was encouraged by the ribbons that she brought home.

Recently, her teacher has decided to push her a bit further by teaching her to ride off-lead, as well as learning to trot while working on her form. At this point her teacher gave her a more fidgety horse than the one she usually rode. It continually pulled it's head to the ground or around to look at various things which leaned the saddle this way and that, getting Reagan much more freaked out than she'd been in any other lesson. At one point the horse decided to neigh very abruptly and loudly and Reagan gave out a long scream in response. I almost died laughing (to myself of course) because I knew it was something she would laugh about later and something that she would be able to get over (she's much more forgiving of those horses than her human family & friends). Her teacher calmly told her that she was ok, the horse was only 'singing' and that she needed to learn to let the horse know who's boss. Later, as Reagan walked her horse back to the stable I saw her give it a good shove when it decided to stop to chew grass. I was so proud that she took that control back from the horse even though it had cost her a tearful lesson!

I find it strange how controlling a fidgety horse is actually a difficult thing to manage for my "strong-willed" child!  Even in her school work, I often see her express that she thinks herself incapable of doing things right.  But then I've realized that her strong-will doesn't actually equate to the confidence she'll need as she grows & steps out in the world.

But the horses?  That's *her* thing. There is no older brother to outshine her or little brothers to distract her or mama who doesn't always approach her correctly. It's just her and an animal with it's own mind but loving heart and a very patient teacher. She feels so good that she can care for it, talk to it, make it feel good, make it follow her instruction, and enjoy it all!

I love to watch her ride and plan to continue these lessons as long as we can!
 (With Mikimoto, her favorite Arabian)

(With her handler and her show ribbons)



Kellie said...

She looks beautiful in her riding gear. : )

I have had many people tell me we should try hippotherapy, but it always seemed like it would be more of an extra in a long line of therapies we needed to try. This post is the first time I've actually read what the purpose is, and I am now very intrigued. Thank you for explaining it so well. I'm glad it's been such a positive experience for Reagan.