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BTRT Patterns (on Etsy)

Monday, 10 June 2013
One of the blessings of homeschool, for our family, is the ability to spend time at the barn.

This is our third season of riding for our almost-8-year-old.
Riding provides so many benefits for Rowan.
Balance, routine, responsibility.
That incredible bond that can develop between humans and animals.
And as a sensitive child with anxiety (Tourette's), being around the sensitive, curious horses allows her to be free to be herself and to trust her companions who wear their hearts on their sleeves, too.
{{You can see our previous riding related lessons learned here.}}
 This year we are participating in a 'part-board' arrangement which allows us to pretend like we have our own horse for 3-4 hours a week (which includes a 60 miniute lesson).  Three mornings a weeks we complete our schoolwork early and head to the barn.  On rainy mornings we clean or learn anatomy or other horse-y topics, otherwise Rowan rides and we punctuate her basic skills ("eyes forward, heels down, elbows in, hands up") with equine versions of 'What Time is it Mr. Wolf' and other games to increase confidence and skill.

Our increased barn time has meant my re-introduction to skills that I have not used since a riding accident at 16 put me off of horses.  I am thoroughly enjoying the rhythm of grooming and tacking up, longing and supervising Rowan's riding.
And I have become a student of a master teacher.
And I don't mean our most excellent riding coach, either.

Dancer is my teacher.
And as a parent who is also my child's teacher, her lessons are invaluable for me.

Dancer is 22 years old.
A Quarter horse mix, who just barely stands tall enough to avoid being a pony.
Dancer has a mind of her own and she knows how to use it.
After all, she knows better what is expected than any kid who is on her back
(or mom on the end of the lead line)!

It is a life lesson for me to step back and take her lead,
allowing her expertise to bring out the best in my daughter,
even if that teaching is sometimes very frustrating and challenging for both of us human types!

Here are a few lessons Dancer is teaching to me....
#1 Be Creative 
It is my job to get dancer from her paddock each morning.
Some days she comes readily enough into her halter and to the barn with me.
But other days, not so much.
It only took one morning of following her all around, to have her bolt each time I drew near, for me to realize I was going to have to do better.
I carefully planned my next visit~ armed with apples to feed the OTHER mares and entice Dancer into my range. It worked!
Next day... Dancer laid down in a far corner, and refused to stand, even after I haltered her.
I swear she was grinning at me.
Not one morning has been the same, and no trick has worked twice.
As Karen Pryor (positive reinforcement training guru) learned when working with dolphins~ that you simply can't force a creature to your will... dolphins swim away.... horses lay down~ you have to be invested and have something to offer.
Kids are pretty much the same.

#2 Know Where You are Going and How You Will Get There
My daughter is easily distracted.
And a farm with kittens, dogs and other horses (this morning... a garter snake) is a great challenge for her.
When she is riding, it is imperative that she know where she is going and how she will get there.
She must LOOK in the direction she is heading in order to bring herself and the horse to that goal.
The moment she looks away, Dancer takes her own head.
I don't know how she does it, but one glance at a cat catching dragonflies by Rowan
and Dancer turns around and trots to the middle of the ring.
The second Rowan stops thinking direction, Dancer takes charge.
As parents/ teachers, we face the same challenge!
We need to know where we are headed and how we are going to get there.
We need goals and we need plans.
And then we need to remember lesson #1 and be creative and flexible, too!

#3 Communicate
It only took a couple of experiences of being trotted around the ring while fruitlessly sawing on the reins and making panicked noises for Rowan to realize she needed to communicate better with her mount.
She was never in danger, but Dancer was teaching her a lesson.
You have to communicate with others in order to work together as a team.
You have to agree on a common language and common terms of reference.
You can't lean forward and say halt!
You can't kick your horse's sides and expect her to slow down.
You can't make her walk just because you think 'walk' in your mind.
As parents and teachers we must do the same.
Learn to read one another and to be clear about our needs and expectations.
Fine tune and re-establish these as skills improve and contexts change.

#4 Be Kind
We are blessed with a coach who values her animals and is teaching our daughter to do the same.
We have the opportunity to work with horses that have personalities and who still meet the world with curiosity and trust (this is not always the case with 'school horses').
Some people may feel that a horse that carries off her daydreaming rider is ill-behaved, but we appreciate that Dancer creates so many learning opportunities for Rowan~ she will be a better, more attuned rider for it.
And kindness begets kindness.
Dancer is a firm teacher, but a kind one.
She offers critique quite clearly.
She teaches the lessons she has to teach with confidence and without fear, and she draws a like spirit from the children she teaches.
They put their trust in her when the climb on her back and pick up the reins.
I always tell my daughter that not everyone can be super smart, or super athletic or super xyz but that EVERY single person has the ability to be kind. And no matter our other gifts, we should strive to excel at kindness.  Being with Dancer, bonding with her, learning from her allows my sensitive and easily bruised child to enter into safe and kind relationship.

And as her parent and teacher, I can only hope to do half as well.
So here's to creative, kind, communicative and clear visioned teachers
who come into our life and teach us how to live and learn! ♥


Gypsi said...

Beautiful post! I was a special preschool teacher and several of my kiddos with Autism were learning to ride. It made a world of difference to them as well. One of my little guys is eight now. Last autumn he participated in his first show and did excellently. You should be so proud of your beautiful daughter!

(I found your blog through the link on The Girl Creative's facebook page. =D )

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