Why Can't I Ride?May 02, 2019
That's right, there is no riding.
I am so immersed in the Stable Moments model that I often forget to mention it is all unmounted work.
It's understandable that parents assume their children will ride when coming to a program with horses. After all, isn't that the fun part? But, it is so important we don't only tell participants that there won't be riding but why unmounted work is so valuable, particularly for children surviving with trauma. Here's why:
It's All About the Relationship
It is incredibly important for children who have early developmental trauma to learn how to build trusting, healthy relationships. Utilizing community mentors is one way in which we do this, but the relationship between child and horse is equally as valuable. It is common for foster and adopted children to seek whatever they can get from a relationship. Attachment disorders, many of these children have been diagnosed with, keep them from building honest bonds. Be it food, things or entertainment, they come to new relationships with a survival mentality, of what can I get to fulfill my needs. When we introduce riding to children with trauma it becomes all about that, and we lose the critical opportunity for relationship building. A relationship that is a two way street, the child gives, the horse gives.
Unmounted work allows the child to develop communication, learning about the horse, their needs and how to work together toward goals. There is no assumption that the horse is expected to do anything for them. They both need to trust the other is not a threat before asking anything of one another.
Responsibility Builds Life Skills
Beyond the relationship, caring for a horse builds a child's sense of responsibility. We must care for an animal that we are working with. This also develops empathy as we focus on what the horse needs, as well as a sense of belonging and purpose. If a child understands their role as critical to the horse's well being, it becomes something much greater than just coming to the barn to ride. Through this, a child can start to build a sense of identity and pride over their role at the barn, which can translate to their roles in the home, school and community.
Stable Moments sessions are led by community mentors. They are not qualified to facilitate mounted work. Some program directors wish to put a child on a horse once in a while or at the end of the session year. I caution against this though. Please consider unintended consequences. If you put a child on a horse, have you just taken away from their relationship with their mentor? Will they expect to ride every time, leaving you to revisit why they can't over and over?
Whatever you do, don't tell a child, "you might get to ride someday." They will hear "you will get to ride, next time."
In my experience, if you make it a hard no at the beginning of sessions, it is not something that has to be reiterated. If you feel a child is a great candidate for mounted work, consider graduating them to a mounted program.
"Why can't I ride," is the inevitable question of all equine-assisted learning, unmounted activities. Once we address this and allow a child to experience the beauty of an unmounted relationship with a horse, that is where the magic happens!
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