What 10-year old boy wouldn’t love to have a horse, or at least ride one? Even in this day of video games and action figure heroes, most 10-year old children are mesmerized by dreams of riding a mighty steed! Young Samuel was no exception. He imagined himself riding like the wind, one with the horse, like Kelly Reno’s character Alec in the movie “The Black Stallion.”
The major problem with that scenario? He didn’t have a horse.
What he did have were some pretty troublesome issues. Samuel had ADHD, many behavioral problems and was often the identified trouble-maker in school. In spite of medication and regular visits to the school counselor, Samuel never seemed to improve. Equine therapy was recommended, probably seen as a last-resort effort to the adults around him, but to Samuel it meant he could be with a horse!
After hearing about Samuel, I was eager to learn more about Equine Therapy. Here are some fascinating facts:
To protect themselves from predators, horses stay in herds and are very sensitive to their surroundings. These enormous animals quickly pick up on a human’s emotions, so when Samuel first marched through the horse barn, with his racing thoughts, feelings and behaviors, you can imagine the jittery turmoil that created!
Despite his eagerness and impulsive wish to jump right on one of the massive animals, Samuel had some things to learn. His first assignment was to stay outside the corral and observe. He was to notice how the horses acted. He was surprised to see some very human-like behavior. He observed one who was clearly the leader and some horses seemed to protect others in the herd.
Next, before he could ever go inside the corral, Samuel was told he had to become very calm, so as not to spook the horses. And, he was taught to calm himself by taking some deep breaths. While most people can learn to become quiet and still after a few repetitions of breathing deeply through the nose and letting the breath out slowly through the mouth, it took Samuel about 15 sets to become relaxed.
Already, he had acquired a couple of skills which will help him navigate life with its stresses;
- He learned to wait and first observe situations and
- He learned how to calm himself.
Next up – matching a horse and client. In Equine Assisted Therapy, the client does not choose the horse--the horse chooses the client. This selection process comes after the client—Samuel in this case, calms himself then sits down with his back to the horses. Frankly, that sounds scary to me, an adult! I couldn’t begin to imagine what a hyper little kid might feel. You are making yourself totally vulnerable to an animal that weighs over 1,000 pounds! That process, however, produces a third skill:
- Learning to Trust
Out in the meadow, a now-curious horse slowly ambles over. And something beautiful happens. It will gently nudge or snuffle the seated person in a process Equine Therapists call “joining.” When the horse chooses the client, they connect and are “joined.” Now additional work can begin with the two of them.
There are other competencies developed as the boy cared for the horse, such as building confidence and self esteem and over a period of six months, Samuel began to change. He grew, matured and progressed so well that the big day came: Samuel’s dream came true. He became One With The Horse, and he rode like the wind! Along the way he also began performing well at school and home because he was using all the skills he had learned with his own special horse.
Most of us won’t likely participate in Equine Therapy, but we can still benefit from Samuel’s experience.
- While there are times we might need to act quickly, most of the time we will profit by Learning to wait and first observe situations.
- Likewise, there are many times we need to calm ourselves. Most of the things we get so perturbed about turn out not nearly as catastrophic as we imagine! Take a deep breath for 15 times in a row and see if you don’t think a bit more clearly! Make a plan, take a walk or do whatever helps you calm down.
- Lastly, when I think of learning to trust, I contemplate learning to trust God. Often, that’s the hardest job. We figuratively sit ourselves down in a meadow, make ourselves vulnerable and wait. We’re not in control of how long it takes and often wonder whether He’ll come.
The good news is God has already chosen us; often He’s just waiting for us to wait, calm down and choose to trust!
Even after an absence, Samuel’s horse remembered him. God is the same way – He’ll always remember us and has promised to help when we ask, give us strength when we’re weary and make a way where there seems to be no way!
Samuel experienced a dream come true – he became One With The Horse. What an awesome encounter we can have with God as we become One With Him.