Me and Sonic--this past winter
I got to work with Sonic today. Sonic use to be a barrel racer back before he became a therapist.
I really love Sonic AND he can be super stubborn, pushy, noncompliant, and lazy when it comes to ground work. Other than that, he's a sweetie! I love him! I see those less desirable behavioral qualities as opportunities for me to practice better, more assertive and clear directions. I improved a lot since last week from working with Cisco. And I have worked with Sonic before so I knew I had to step up my game in the leadership department in order to get him to move.
We did well but we did have to get his attention a couple times, being a little more assertive than I usually am. Every week, I get challenged in this area. Sometimes the horses think they don't have to listen to the volunteers because many of the volunteers have little experience with horses, so they get away with bossing the volunteers and learning bad habits. So, they don't get to boss me but they do try! Haha! Then they figure out that I'm not a pushover and after testing me and trying to walk all over me for a while, they start to obey me and then we begin to connect and have fun. I never lose my patience with them either. We just practice until we get it right.
Ashley is teaching me a lot about being assertive with the horses. She's very kind and gentle with both horses and humans, but she is firm and gets what she wants from them and all of us...so she's showing me how to do that. I really like that about her. No question who the boss is! She has taught me to use the whip in different, non-aggressive ways. For example, I'll have difficulty getting Sonic to walk-on and Ashley steps in and shows me what to do and Sonic is a totally different horse. I make a little popping noise with the whip in the air or whip the ground in front of him to stop him or make him back up to where he's beside me and not in front of me, if need be.
We never touch the horses in mean ways and the concept of natural horsemanship is that we will eventually not have to use the whip or even a halter at all once they learn to follow the leader as they're meant to. Those stronger gestures and sounds with the whip simply spark their attention and encourage them to listen and follow directions. They're the same as me making my voice louder, which doesn't work with horse. My voice is louder and they hear me through clear and assertive body language. It really makes a difference. Quite remarkable! Then they know that while we are absolutely a team working together, I am still the leader and I will lead them to safety at all times. They have to learn to let go, follow me, and learn to trust me. It's a lot of work.
So, after ground work, I got to ride Sonic. We worked on making his transitions between halting, walking and trotting more smooth. His movements are pretty abrupt, so we want him to be more fluid so that when it comes to working with people with special needs, perhaps with balancing issues, he will be a safer ride and will follow directions immediately.
It was so much fun to ride him and trot around in the corral. Sonic likes to pick up and go and that was a blast! Some of the horses are slow and sluggish, but he just needs a little squeeze and he's ready to go. I can't wait til I get to work up to cantering. I love to go fast! Riding felt so natural. I wasn't scared or nervous at all and held decent form!
In general he listened to me pretty well and even though he wants to go fast, he does have good breaks. When we're working on ground work and agility and he has to follow me around, stop, go, slow down, speed up, back up, turn in circles, etc, according to my body movements, he gets annoyed and bored and pretends that he's going to bite me, but he was much more content to have me ride him and pick up the speed! You can take the horse out of the race but you can't take the racer out of the horse! That was awesome! Hope I can take Sonic on a trail ride one of these days! After our ride, I gave him cookies, hosed him down, and squeegeed him off! Sonic loves this part of the day!
Tomorrow and next week I'll volunteer with some of the individual clients. I'm looking forward to that, as I haven't had time to work with any of them since school let out. Today, the sweetest young man who has different abilities categorized somewhere on the autism spectrum had his lesson before we exercised all the horses. What an awesome rider! He's 23 and began riding lessons in 2011, so he is super comfortable and very skilled. He's small like a jockey too and his posting was great. I really enjoyed watching him ride and his smile spanned from ear to ear!!! After his lesson, he was so excited and he just walked around hugging, patting, and high-fiving everyone...over and over...and rubbing his mom's head and hugging her and smiling and soaking in all the compliments!!! What an awesome guy!!!
Seeing the riders with the horses is such a joy! It's so healing and empowering...equine therapy is magical! Folks get to connect with these incredible creatures and feel confident and proud of themselves!!! We work with kids from the youth shelter too and they blossom so much from working with the horses. Wednesdays they are on barn duty and Fridays they get to ride! And I'm transporting two young women who are human trafficking victims from their safe-house to the barn and they are our new interns, which is so cool for them. The horses provide safe (usually) healing space for us all!!! We have a wonderful community. SOOOOOOO awesome!
I just love this work!!!