jumpIn a round pen:

1. create an obstacle course for a horse that includes:

  • something to go around
  • something to go through
  • something to go over

2. convince your horse to complete the course with out leading him through it

Those were the instructions that we gave a group of teens and their parents this weekend at a retreat. There were about 60 people there. We had several other similar activities as well.

The point of these exercises was to better understand one’s self through the interaction with the horses. Horses mirror people’s emotions and respond accordingly. In these situations, families are put in real conflict and problem solving situations. It is an opportunity to grow and learn about each other and about one’s self through reflection and metaphors.

The day was really hard for me. It was loaded with meaning and importance. I wanted so much for it to work and be worthwhile and even “Wow” the people who participated. Maybe it was, maybe it did. But I didn’t experience the high I expected.

It was sobering. So much work. So many variables.

We loaded up our 4 horses on Friday and drove up to Camp Tahkodah. After we got the horses situated Friday night, we went down to camp for a few “get acquainted” games. Then to bed around 11:00. Got back up about 8:00, ate breakfast, and then back to check on the horses and start preparing for Saturday’s activities.

Horses plus 60 people sounds like trouble. So I was a little anxious. Actually…a lot anxious.

After an entire day of activities with the horses including a trail ride, I saw the last person go down the mountain to the camp grounds…I breathed a sigh of relief. No one had gotten hurt. Goal number 1.

I go for trainings this summer to Michigan and Texas and will be much more equipped to provide these experiences for others. I feel so green at this! The field of study is called Equine Assisted Learning and I will begin certification this summer as an Equine Specialist.

This has been brewing in my mind for several years and is finally coming together. The rationale for using horses to help people understand themselves and each other is that horses accurately and honestly reflect peoples emotions. You may have been told before to get up on a horse and ride, but don’t be scared or the horse will know it. This takes that tendency of the horse to mirror one’s emotions and allows people to be cognizant of themselves. When a person changes his emotional reaction and then behavior, the horse immediately responds. It is fascinating to watch.

Scott and I spent a session on Saturday night, after horse experiences all day, with just the parents debriefing the activities and how it relates to parenting. Nearly every family unit commented on what they learned during their time working with their family and the horse. The following is a sampling of some of the comments during the debriefing.

  • With the horses you could actually see the parenting principles working.
  • I realized I am really controlling.
  • With horses, time doesn’t matter. How long it takes to get a task accomplished, is irrelevant. You have to stay with them till you’re done.
  • Horses want a leader…someone who is confident.
  • You can’t make a horse choose to do something. You make it very uncomfortable to choose the ‘wrong’ thing.
  • There were times when I didn’t understand what was being asked. Sometimes I expect my children to understand what I mean without much explanation.
  • Patience.  Working with horses takes lots of patience.

They seemed to connect the day’s experiences with their own parenting journey, practice new ways of relating, and reflect on ways to improve their relationships. Goal number 2.

These parents want to be close to their teens and help them make the right choices. We have so little time with them. By the grace of God, we raise them to be disciples of his.

Hopefully, this weekend and all of the activities that we did will help parents to be closer to their teenagers and understand some of the dynamics that are present in their homes.

EAL is an emerging field with loads of potential.  I’ve got a lot to learn. This is going to be exciting.