Monday, February 6, 2012

Mouthy Monday

This post from NCEFT is so in tune with my thoughts on lightness (which I'm still dwelling on BTW) that I couldn't believe it. Plus a big kudos for the Horsaii at NCEFT who share with those most in need. 

I work for the National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy (NCEFT) in Woodside, CA. We try to improve the lives of children and adults with disabilities by providing equine-assisted therapy and equine assisted activities and promoting research and education in the field of hippotherapy. We recently started a blog in the hopes of sharing our stories, and this post gives a little bit of insight into our approach to training therapy horses. I hope that being featured on your blog might help bring more awareness to our own blog and the benefits of equine facilitated therapy

Original Post:
We ask the world of them. To both tune in and tune out. To be dead to the world and yet so sensitive a touch or a word elicits instant change. We ask them to be therapy horses. Friends, teachers, soft rumps to lie on, warm bodies to hug. They listen unwearyingly to stories, quietly endure bouts of tears, and show heart-breaking tenderness.
The question is, are these horses born or made? We say the answer is both, born with kind souls and carefully shaped into solid citizens. In the process of auditioning potential horses we come across quiet horses, loving horses, easy horses. Yet, rarely do we find therapy horses. Why? What training techniques result in Expectations. The steadfast belief that one’s horse is not only capable of the task at hand, but that the task itself is unassuming. The NCEFT staff currently has the pleasure of working with a young Fjord, TUF Stormy Weather, owned by our Barn Manager, Bonnie MacCurdy. Having just turned 6 in May, Stormy is shattering expectations by not only participating in daily hippotherapy sessions, but playing roles as a therapeutic driving, vaulting, and riding horse. Though born with the soft temperament essential to therapy work, it was careful training that brought Stormy to his full potential.

Now, don’t confuse careful training with finessed training. Not to say that timing and release aren’t important, but in the immortal word’s of Nike, “Just do it.” We believe our horses can do anything. We approach every task with the simple expectation of success, nothing more. The path to success may be filled with twist and turns, bumps, and dead ends, but we get there. Too often we confuse perfection and success, and as a result, too often does failure discourage us.
Earlier this year we took Stormy and our other two Fjords—7 year old Tonka, and 14 year old Sebastian—to a handful of schooling shows. Our goal: a different discipline every month. None of the shows were perfect. At the Hunter-Jumper show all the horses were a little strong in the ring. The Dressage show found an exuberant Sebastian more interested in hand-galloping than halting at X, and Stormy’s slow jog went out the window at the Western show. Yet every show was successful. Not only did the horses stand quietly between classes, but cantered to a win in the Equitation pattern class, earned scores over 70% in Dressage, and nearly took home a Western buckle.
Many of us are deterred by the idea of failure, making no attempt if perfection is unlikely. We limit our expectations and spend more time analyzing our faults than actually doing anything. We try to teach our horses to canter by spending entire rides trotting a circle, analyzing our bend, suppleness, impulsion, flexion. But we don’t canter.

So, how do you train a therapy horse? You ride them down the road to the tie-rail by the grocery store, you hop on bareback for a game of mounted basketball, you canter on the right lead, left lead, any lead really as long as you’re cantering. You put scarves on their heads and throw balls at their legs, and sing “Old McDonald” at the top of your lungs. You stop analyzing and start doing, and before you know it, somewhere between the trail rides and champagne races you realize your horse has learned to halt off your seat, to sidepass and back, to move forward with a shift in weight. Somewhere amidst all the “doing” you’ve found success.


scsarah said...

"We believe our horses can do anything. We approach every task with the simple expectation of success, nothing more."


flyin'horse said...

Absolutely love this! Thankyou for posting it.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. You have said exactly what my thoughts have always been, but just never spoke out loud. Well done.

Mona Sterling said...

So. Damn. True. Beautiful post.

deedee said...

NCEFT is around the block from me. I am so pleased and grateful for what they do for humans and for equines. The horses have a difficult job to do and only love can make it really work. They have the experise and heart at NCEFT to help all they touch.

RHF said...

LOVE this post!! Thanks for sharing :)

Horsez-R-Us said...

My trainer said words or similar meaning to me today! It's a balance of analyzing and just getting it done (for me it is balance and keeping the horse at the trot even though he thinks it's time to quit). Work on your seat, position, hands, etc but it comes to a point where you just have to do it and eventually everything follows suit.

Great post!

Jill said...

Oh I love this! This is what I want from horses that I work with, even if they're not doing that most special job of helping kids and adults with varying issues.

Hippotherapy FTW!

Stem Cell Therapy for Dogs said...

I like your post, very nice and you really hit the mark. Keep it up!

Half Dozen Farm said...

You've said it before Mugs, and it was reiterated here beautifully. What was it exactly? "Ride like Joe Cartwright?"

mugwump said...

Half Dozen Farms - that would be Ben, Ben Cartwright....

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Therapy horses are one of a kind. When I was in high school, my QH gelding became an impromptu therapy horse - this was before hippotherapy actually became well known. A local adult multiple disability class was looking for a quiet horse to let their students learn to ride on. My mom knew the teacher, so they began coming to a friend's barn that had an indoor arena.

My Leo was born for that work. He absolutely loved it. He had that innate "sense" that some horses just have. He knew the more confident riders - and when he could speed up a little more and when bumping on his side meant for him to trot and when it was just bumping.

My favorite memory is of a young man with cerebral palsy. His mind was intact, but he was trapped in a body that had no voluntary movements - and he couldn't speak. But he loved coming to the barn. His job was to brush Leo before he was saddled. They would strap a brush to his hand and push his wheelchair underneath Leo and then help move his hand along his side. Leo would turn into a statue. He never so much as swatted a fly while that wheelchair was there.

According to his parents and his teacher, this young man's only voluntary movement in his life came when he was brushing Leo. That was the only time he was able to make his arm extend when he wanted to.

At the end of the school year, as a special treat, the young man's father came to the barn with the class. He climbed up on Leo and held the man up on front of him while Leo was lead around. He had a chance to ride!

About 5 years later, the young man succumbed to complications from his disability and passed away. I was teaching with his aunt at that time. She told me that those days with our horse were the happiest of his life. At his funeral, there was one large picture framed and sitting on his casket - it was the young man with his father on Leo the day that he got to ride.

Now, I understand that this was not true "hippotherapy" in the sense of the word and how it is correctly done. This was pre-internet, we were doing what we thought was right. What matters I think is the impact that these amazing animals can have on lives that are so often confined by a disability. To me, that is the power of a horse, and I understand what the author was saying. The biggest freedom is just letting go and going!


Shoofly said...

LOVE that last paragraph summary, especially the last sentence. You put into words what I've found to be true, not just about training therapy horses, but ANY horse. Even for me drill, drill, drill is no fun, so "learning while doing" is just the ticket. Just get out there and start DOing!

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