Monday, October 12, 2009
She Teaches With Horses
The summer's grip has been broken although days are still t-shirt warm. I check the temperatures for my friends and family in North America and I think I'm happy to be here. We don't have the flaming leaves and crisp mornings of fall, but it is here nevertheless. The schools have finally been allowed to open again after a silly panic attack over the H1N1 flu...can't blame it on the pigs and any numbers of how many people have had it as opposed to the ordinary garden variety flu that has been known to kill many more people are unreliable. Sure kids and adults are getting the flu and being told to stay home in bed, but who knows what flavour flu it is?
With a return to normality, I've had my level of busyness go up enormously. We host the American school riding clubs on weekends; high school on Friday morning and middle school on Saturday morning. Some of the high school kids are into jumping so they go off to a stable nearby that specialises in jumping, while the others have a great time here playing games with horses, taking basic riding lessons, and generally getting to know some of the creatures that share the planet with them. I had an old friend come by for a two week stay and Tracy Karbus shared some of her skills with some of the students and friends of mine. She does workshops with horses known as equine-assisted learning, a skill she acquired studying with other practitioners in the US. In equine-assisted learning sessions, the participants work with horses in problem solving situations that test their skills and abilities to communicate their needs and intentions nonverbally. Horses are perfect for this kind of work because they are gentle, kind, and highly social animals who are very skilled at nonverbal communication.
The workshops give the participants tasks such as one leading another while blindfolded and leading a horse as well or trying to get a horse to move to a certain point in a paddock without touching, speaking to, or bribing the horse. Initial nervousness at partnering with something that outweighs them by a factor of five often gives way to an understanding that the horse might be helping them to solve their task. One woman doing a trust walk with a horse under her niece's direction confessed to a secret fear of blindness and the realisation that she could actually follow the horse to a certain extent.
A task that requires humans not to talk or touch brings home to us the enormous place that we give to our voices and hands in communication. I tried one of these tasks and almost died of frustration to the delight of the high school girls who were watching one of their teachers, myself, and a trainer from a neighbouring farm fail miserably in trying the task that they had just attempted. Nothing like seeing "experts" fail to make you appreciate your own efforts. And as one of my neighbours noted while watching, it was a highly unusual sight to see me speechless for five minutes.
We don't have access here to a lot of the kind of teaching clinics that people can pursue in North America or Europe. There you can sign up for a weekend of natural horsemanship, polocrosse, equine-assisted learning, endurance training or balanced riding. A few of us are working to bring opportunities for these things to Egypt to enhance the skills of horsemen and women here. Tracy's work teaches people skills that are useful in horse handling but also in people handling and a portion of her work in the US is corporate where her clinics teach leadership and team-building skills. But she finds that her clients' initial dip into the pool of horse-handling often brings up issues that they want to follow up in subsequent sessions.
In early November we are planning a riding clinic with Zsuzsu Illes, a niece and student of dressage rider Charles de Kunffy. She will be working with riders to help them to ride in a more balanced fashion, regardless of their discipline of riding. There are eight spots for participants in her two day clinic and plenty of room for auditors. In the new year we hope to have Ron Breines coming to do some horsetraining clinics and possibly a return trip for Tracy. Life is looking more interesting for horse people.
copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani