Our Experiential Equine Learning Program
The horse-human partnership stretches far beyond the barn or arena. Lessons learned with horses help with human-to-human interactions and problem-solving capabilities. Through horsemanship, we cultivate poise and critical thinking. Students learn that horses are prey animals, acting out of anger or frustration simply does not get you far with them. A big lesson in horsemanship is learning to breathe, remain calm and think through situations. Horses can teach us many things, even when we don’t think we’re learning. They act as a medium for us to find attributes and skills within ourselves and help to strengthen our minds and bodies. The equine therapy experience is often a highlight of the student’s time here. Interaction with horses in various situations provides opportunities for boys to recognize and overcome issues that can be hindering their personal and interpersonal relationships. Students learn by doing. Horses can be “powerful teachers,” as they respond to the herd around them. With the help of skilled facilitators and challenging activities, experiential learning becomes a type of self-therapy, as the boys learn to calmly and confidently handle any relational challenge.
“But ask the animals and they will teach you.” Job 12:7
Authentic Paradigm Shift
As boys work with horses, they can feel an authentic paradigm shift — a visceral experience in developing congruency between our hearts’ intentions, our minds’ agenda, and the hidden feelings we emote with our body language. What we discover is that the body has a mind of its own — that while our mind may be saying one thing, our body may be doing another — the incongruity of which is rarely conscious, but obvious to the horse and affecting the desired outcome. As participants develop moment-to-moment conscious awareness for their body language, “miracles” happen and the horses change — their behavior changes from bad to good, from distracted to focused, from stressed to calm, from defiant to humble, frightened to confident. The positive effect on the participant is life-changing as they realize for themselves, they are able to dramatically change their relationships with the horses for the better. It’s always the same — how people interact in life is revealed as they work with the horse.
With each class, communication skills are developed and refined. Horses are masters of subtle communication, a wrinkle of the nose or a flick of an ear is all they need to do to send a strong message to one another. Horses are also great at reading and responding to human body language. Working with horses is a great way to improve student’s human-to-human communication. So much of human communication is nonverbal, working with horses helps our students to be more aware of the signals they are sending with their body language. Standing tall, chin and eyes up, and picking up their feet when they walk with the horses. All these seemingly simple things send a clear message to the horse, I am strong. I am capable of being a leader; from there we work on leadership skills.
Students learn to present themselves with calm, assertive, authority when asking a horse to complete a task. Walking or riding with their head up, looking where they are going so they can effectively lead the horse. Moving with a purpose that demands respect from their equine partner, and learning that leadership comes from within, and not from physical force. Physical force and intimidation will not result in a respectful or meaningful partnership and makes working with a horse very difficult. Horses are prey animals. Meaning in adverse situations they naturally see only two options: Fight or Flight. When you gain a horse’s trust and respect you can prove yourself a worthy leader, a leader they will look to for guidance and assurance. We teach the students the concepts of leadership and have them complete activities with their equine partner that will help establish this hierarchy.