Sometimes, if we’re lucky or if we ask, the universe brings us people whose arms are open and full of love.
It all began a few months ago when Joni walked into Salisbury High School to talk to me about duplicating an equine learning program that we had several years ago. She had been working together with the woman I used to work with and really wanted teens to come to her ranch like they had before at Day Star Ranch. Excited about the new opportunity, I visited her ranch one Saturday afternoon with my two sons. The minute we arrived, I knew we would be working together in the future. The warmth and positive energy of Joni and her ranch made us want to return soon and that we did.
This week we completed our second adventure with Joni and her three horses, Cali, Dusty, and Regina. Fifteen students, a colleague, and I arrived at her ranch in Cottonwood, CA and were greeted with enthusiasm, smiles and hugs by Joni, her sister Liz, Jim and two other adult volunteers. It felt like we’d arrived home for the holidays. Their faces lit up and they couldn’t wait to take the group picture and give everyone a name tag so we could start the fun. For three hours we enjoyed an amazing opportunity to bask in the love and support created by a generous human heart, her horses, and equine learning activities.
First, we sat on bales of hay and discussed horse safety. Then, Jim asked the students to consider what obstacles they faced in life. After a short discussion, the students broke up into three groups of five students rotated through three different activities. One group worked on the fence line, boundaries. Another observed the group in the arena that had the task of connecting with the horses, building an obstacle, and moving the horses through the obstacle without talking or touching the horses. They could use anything in the arena to accomplish this goal.
Three horses gave the students the challenge of the day. They moved slowly or not at all as students walked a long side them and tried to get them to move. Sometimes a student would connect with a horse and it would walk a small distance, but not through the obstacle. Sometimes three students would gather around or in front of one horse and try to get it to move while the other two stood near the other horses. All three groups of teens followed the rules of the activity and never gave up. Although they all didn’t manage to move all of the horses through the obstacle that they created, they kept trying. No one stormed out of the arena in frustration. No one sat down in defeat. Every one of them stood by a horse and tried. Their success was in their resiliency; their willingness to keep on keeping on.
In the end, the facilitators coached the last group on how to move the horses and modify the obstacle for greater success. They created a pathway along the fence of the arena that the horses could pass through easily. They moved as a unit behind the horses and clapped their hands and put their arms up in the air to herd all three horses through the path. Success required thinking outside the box, combined energy, and teamwork.
Afterwards, the students had a chance to reflect and share their feelings and thoughts about the experience. Some felt frustration. Some realized that working as a team would have helped. Some had ideas for solving the problem, but didn’t feel confident to try them. They were asked to relate the experience to obstacles in their lives. The activity with the horses was a metaphor for the huge obstacles that life can throw at us.
We discussed how, at times, we need to ask for help to accomplish our goals or resolve a problem and that’s okay. Or maybe we need to step back from the problem and look at it from another angle and approach in in another way. A student shared how the activity was difficult and how things in life can be difficult too. Watching the group move the horses in the end showed us that whatever the problem, we have to exert some energy to challenge the situation. It took combined energy to move the horses. Often it takes the combined energy of friends and family to help us get through challenges. And sometimes obstacles are there for the pure reason of teaching us a lesson. Whatever the obstacle, we can learn. Like one student said, “I learned ten ways not to move a horse.”
A morning at the ranch with three horses and some very loving, thoughtful, and generous adults gave the students so much more than they bargained for. They didn’t just pet horses and fix fence. They challenged themselves in new ways, reflected, grew, and much more. They learned about themselves and their classmates and took away some life lessons that will hopefully help them as they face obstacles in life. When they climbed into the vans and we headed out, several of them asked, “When will we do this again?”
Joni asked me the same thing before we left. The dates are set. No obstacles in the way of making this new equine learning adventure continue!