We had an amazing day yesterday at the Saskatoon Family Expo!
Literally HUNDREDS of children stopped to pet Panda the Pony, giving him kisses and hugs, pets and brushes. And – a few dozen parents couldn’t resist giving him a pet either, many of them approaching to give him a rub before their kids had set their sights on him. After one child had been petting him for a while, even one mom picked up a brush and started softly stroking his shiny black fur too.
The power of horses continues to amaze me. Why? Because Panda the Pony – isn’t even real.
The therapeutic effect horses can have on people, is truly nothing short of incredible, whether they are real or not.
What I noticed on this day, and what we as facilitators are trained to understand, is how to use these great teachers to our advantage, allowing us teachable moments in areas of de-escalation of an individuals defense mechanisms – like anxiety, fear, mistrust and more.
Many children stood tersely with a longing in their eyes staring at Panda from a few feet away. Some only upon invitation and encouragement raised a shaky hand to his soft fur. But then - once a child began the rhythmic repetitive slow and steady motions of brushing, their eyes softened, their shoulders lowered, their breath cadenced.
These signs, what are they? Well – let me share with you, that they are pinnacle elements of this buzz term we as adults are striving to achieve to nowadays – Mindfulness. Whereby simple, repetitive, rhythmical actions, we can slow down our thoughts, lower our anxiety, and increase our serotonin, thereby allowing a moment of peace in this bustling world of ours.
Horses create safe spaces for humans. And by that, EAL facilitators who use the horses as teachers, have an inside track on developing rapport through these mystical beings, with the children who are in their presence.
Many an older child came up to me by themselves yesterday as I stood by Panda, perhaps about 12. A tough age for kids nowadays. They saw Panda, they saw me, and they walked right up to that black stud, began petting him, looked me in the eyes, and told me stories as they rhythmically brushed, their guard lowered.
I learned one child had recently wrote a school research paper on foxes. She couldn’t decide between the fox and the wolf at first, but asked if I knew that the number one cause of death in foxes was due to poisoning, as they often fed on birds who had been shot with lead bullets. She then became shy and admitted it was a bit of a dark subject. However, as EAL Facilitators we are trained to encourage the exploration of children – she may be the next youth advocate for ethical hunting if appropriately supported. I told her I did not know those facts, thanked her for sharing and we furthered the conversation with her thoughts on how this dismal outcome could be changed for the fox in the future.
Another child looked like he could have been on the wrong track in life if you were to judge him by looks alone. He walked straight up to me, smiled, and said I love horses. I said that is awesome. Tell me more. And he proceeded to share stories of how his family used to have horses and they rode from PA to Saskatoon one time, through trails and trees, lakes and forests. Through our conversation I watched in his eyes as he battled appearing tough versus tender. Directing him back to the horse each time I noticed the shift, he let his guard down. I love horses. He told me again before he spun on his heel and left as fast as he had came.
One boy, around 8, had a stuffed frog tucked under his arm, and picked up a plastic pony we had on another table. I love horses he almost whispered. I said me too – but what is your favorite animal? Without a pause –oh, my favorite animal, are unicorns. He said. I said ME TOO! Gosh I love unicorns.
A child encouraged to have an imagination – has the ability to change the world one day. Horses allow children, and adults - amazing opportunities to see the heart of a child, to allow creativity through play. They make my job easy. I could never do or see these things without an amazing creature like the horse at my side.
As we ramp up in to spring courses, I can’t wait to see many of these young humans in the arena and watch Ticket, Tuesday, littlebit and Shotgun work their magic as teachers of this thing we call life.