When I work with horses it is my belief it is most important to listen to what the horse needs. Perhaps it is also most important to listen to what the child needs.
From my vantage point on the mounting ramp I watched the children leave the riding ring after a therapeutic riding session. The sun shone brightly, the horses glistened as they waited their next riders. The leaders, sidwalkers and therapist were ready to receive the next group of youngsters. The children were grade school age and the program is wonderful, and rewarding for the them, and I'm honored to be a part of it. This group is receiving equine assisted therapy for such things as Autism, Aspergers, ADD and ADHD.
As the first group left the arena two boys dashed across the lawn heading for a tractor parked about a hundred feet away. Of course they were quickly gathered up for safety's sake and returned to the group. I had to think though, it might have been wonderful to let them explore the tractor, instead of being ushered back to the other children and controlled. And yes I'm very cognizant of the safety factor and respect it, but I'm also aware of the fact that they come for therapeutic riding to enhance and stimulate their senses, awareness and inquisitiveness. So it struck me as a lost opportunity to rob them of the chance to explore the tractor sitting in the green grass in the sun.
Last Friday was the first of a weekly event being done in co-operation with the county school district and for opening day even the superintendent of schools was there, to make sure all went as planned. The children were separated into two groups, one riding, the other waiting their turn in the barn, and to make it interesting for them the two volunteers of the barn crew would explain, and demonstrate things about the life of a therapy horse. My job as a volunteer is to be with the group in the barn.
Picnic tables line the center isle of the barn and the children sat and watched, sort of, as things such as grain, water, brushes, bridles, saddles, blankets and stalls were explained and shown to them. Of course the tractor boys were full of energy and excitement and the most often phrase used by the instructor was, "Tommy please sit down."
I could not help but feel a little sad. As I said, I'm fully aware of the safety concerns, and the superintendent's watchful eye, but still, I thought about these children's lives. Are they all day, every day told to sit, listen, pay attention, be still, be quiet? How much of their day is filled with restraint when what they want to do is yell, scream, run. Explore.
We eventually led them in a tight controlled group to the hay shed, just behind the barn. Back out in the sunshine eyes brightened, the smiles and giggles erupted and little legs wanted to run. Not 20 feet from the hay shed was the board fence of a big pasture. I saw my chance to override my authority. "Hey kids, want to see the horses in the pasture?" I asked. "Yes," they screamed, and we all scampered to peek between the boards and watch the horses.
That lasted about 2 minutes, until Tommy spied another tractor parked in the grass about 50 feet away. He tugged on my arm, which surprised the superintendent, because Tommy doesn't do that. I shouted just as loud as I could, "Run to the tractor." We spent the next 10 minutes watching little hands touch that red tractor here there and everywhere, and answering the question, "What's this?" about a thousand time.
Oh they had a grand time being totally in charge of what they did, and not once did anyone say, "Sit down Tommy."