Children & Youth Programs
Children and horses seem to be on a similar level, so developing a relationship between one another seems to happen quite naturally. The facilitator’s job is to strengthen that relationship and help the children to understand the language of the horse and what that horse needs to trust, to feel safe, secure, and calm. As each child comes to understand the inherent needs of each horse, they in turn learn to embody confidence, leadership, trust, honesty and a very strong sense of self. Children, teens and adults in general develop these qualities precisely because that is what each horse requires most in order for the horse to give back those same qualities.
Horse Boy is a system of working with Special Needs with an emphasis on neuro-psychiatric conditions such as autism, PPD, Aspergers, ADD, ADHD and so on; anything related to the nervous system and the brain. Horse Boy always works using kinetics (movement) creating environments that do not stress, using nature and social animals, taking the queue from the child at all times, and working with the entire family not just the affected child.
Horse Boy Method Play Date sessions are available all year long, although weather is a factor because the sessions take place outdoors. These sessions are designed to involve the child’s family, so parents, siblings, and/or the child’s regular caretakers are encouraged to come out and take part.
If you have a child whom you believe could benefit from Horse Boy Method Play Dates, please contact us and we can arrange to have you come out and meet us and see the facilities to see if you think this would be a good fit for your child.
Insights by Suzanne
“An Autistic Boy and a Horse Named Maddy”
The horses and I had our first session with an autistic boy. I decided to treat the first session as an opportunity to learn about the boy’s personality and simply observe the interactions between him and our horses.
I will keep the boy’s name anonymous for confidentiality reasons and refer to him as Jody. When Jody arrived he barged into the paddock and approached the horses right away, showing no fear at all. I followed quickly almost having to run behind him to keep up. I noticed that his spatial proximity and impulse control was different and it was harder for him to focus on one thing. He stood closer to the horses than most people would for their first encounter meeting horses. His mom explained that his attention span is short, it’s difficult for him to control his impulses and that his lack of fear and high pain tolerance pose to be dangerous. As a first time observer of this I found it fascinating to watch. Although most newcomers to horses are more cautious I commonly find that most try to touch the horses right away, but Jody did not. In fact, he allowed the horses to touch him first. Interestingly, giving freedom to the horse to touch you first gives the horse time to sense you and become aware of your intentions. It was as though Jody understood this. He stood there with his arms by his side, letting the horses scan him with their noses, breathing in his essence. What I gathered from these first few interactions between our horses and this 6 yr old boy was that a natural unspoken sense of trust was established very quickly. It was almost like a hand shake, the kind of hand shake that seals the trust of giving one’s word.
Next, I asked Jody to pick a horse to bring into the fenced in sand ring. He chose “Maddy”, the biggest horse we have, a 17’2 hand Clydesdale, Thoroughbred mare. After we entered the sand ring I noticed right away that Maddy was very conscious of Jody, but in a very gentle and sincere way. She wasn’t pushy with him and had a real calm and genuine interest in him. I forgot to mention that all of this interaction is done at “liberty”, meaning complete freedom, no lead line, so Maddy could choose to walk away or stay with him, she chose to stay. The boy’s focus would come and go. He found the sand very interesting, and would play with it by picking it up and then letting it stream out of his hands and be whisked away by the wind. Maddy would watch him do this and then nibble grass close by. Maddy decided she would have a “roll” in the sand, grunting and groaning relieving herself of itchy bug bites as Jody watched. It seemed that they both found comfort in feeling the texture of the warm sand.
Jody wanted to see what it looked like when Maddy ran. I asked her to trot and then he wanted to see her run faster so I asked her to canter. He seemed intrigued by this and I asked him if he would like to run beside her one day, he said “yes”. From here on I just watched Jody, his mannerisms and etc. He would play with the sand on and off and then would give Maddy a little bite of hay and then go back to playing with the sand. At one point Maddy approached him very closely and dropped to the ground, “rolling” “again”, but this time only about 3 feet away from him, as if to say “see, I like playing in the sand as well”. Their interaction together reminded me of two old friends that share a special bond of trust and understanding. It was beautiful to watch and be a part of.
What I gathered from this first session, baring in mind that this is my interpretation, that there was a beautifully strong connection made between Jody and Maddy. A connection, that came to life out of freedom, no constraints, no control and no agenda or expectations. This initial session was enough for me to believe that Jody’s behaviour patterns can be positively influenced by Equine Assisted Learning and it has inspired me to further pursue working with autistic children and horses. What is really special is that the benefits are two sided. Through my facilitation our horses can teach Jody about slowing down, remaining focused and how to improve his impulse control and our horses receive mutual respect and the gift of a friend with pure intentions. I look forward to my next session with Jody on August 7th. Stay tuned for session number 2 & 3.
An Autistic Boy and our Horses:
Sessions 2 & 3
Jody stepped out of the car with a picture that he drew of horses and a beautiful bouquet of Sunflowers. I made an arrangement with Jody’s parents that for the time being I would provide the sessions at no cost so that I can gain more experience working with Autistic children. I told his mom however, that an exchange should be made on Jody’s part. Like an offering from him to honour the time that he, myself and our horses spend together. So, Jody’s offering to me was his picture and the sunflowers, sunflowers being his favourite kind of flower. I felt so happy receiving this from Jody, my soul was filled, and I got a hug too!
Jody chose Willow to be with this time. Willow is 5 years old and our youngest horse that we have raised from birth. So, although she follows people around like a dog, she is still young and a bit “cheeky”. I wondered what she would be like with Jody.
After observing Jody and Maddy during our first session and understanding that he has tonnes of energy and lacks focus I felt keeping him active would be the best way to go. What is so great about working with horses is that as you work with them they teach you to “naturally” stay in the moment and remain focused on them. If you are not “in-tune” they will react to you in an undesirable way, automatically shifting you back into focus. In Jody’s case, the intent is to have him stay in focus for extended periods of time. As Jody experiences the comforts of feeling focused and at ease with the horses these positive attributes will then ingrain themselves into his body, mind and spirit and be carried over into his everyday life.
Upon Jody’s arrival I noticed right away that he was much less restless and a lot calmer. I went and got Willow, led her into the round pen and let her go. We went and retrieved the grooming box and I explained to him what all of the grooming tools are used for. I asked Jody to pick a brush and I began teaching him how to brush Willow. I couldn’t believe how calm she was. She stood very still. Again this is at “Liberty”, complete freedom. He was a little “short” however, so I got him a stool and even with him standing on the stool and getting up and down, Willow continued to stand still. I asked his mom how long he typically focuses on something, and she said usually less than 5 minutes. We watched Jody groom Willow for at least 10 to 15 minutes and were both impressed with his concentration level.
After Jody finished grooming I began to teach him how to lead Willow with a lead line. He caught on very quickly. He was able to keep Willow engaged with him as he led her around the round pen. He led and she followed.
It was now time to go into the big sand ring. We have “props” in the sand ring for people to use while with the horses. I asked Jody to go and get the pylons and arrange them in any pattern he would like. He ran and placed the pylons all over the sand ring. I then asked him to lead Willow through the pylons their and back. He listened and led her very well. His mom was amazed that he listened, followed instruction and completed the goal. We were all very happy and ended the session by going for a relaxing walk in the woods. Session # 2 went very well. Jody had the ability to focus and concentrate without interference and he presented confidence and patience as well as developed a great partnership with Willow.
When Jody arrived this time, he gave me a Ziploc bag full of money that he had been saving. He said it was to help pay for the horses food! What a great gesture and very sweet that he would give his own money for our horses.
By this time Jody was getting used to the routine. He chose Ratchet to work with and we went and got him out of the paddock. Ratchet is our only boy and our oldest horse. He is very grounded, calm and quiet, sometimes however, so calm, that he doesn’t want to move a whole lot. I wondered how this would affect Jody because “Ratchy” usually makes you work harder to get him moving. Jody, right away began grooming “Ratchy” with vigour and attentiveness.
I wanted to continue Jody’s leading skills and have him feel the difference between each horse. I feel it is very important for Jody to learn how to understand and react accordingly to different personality types and how he needs to adjust himself and his approach with each horse. Transferring the skills of being able to gauge and self-regulate into his everyday life would be immensely beneficial because it will help him prepare himself for unfamiliar situations and different people.
I asked Jody to lead Ratchy around the pylons as a warm up. My next intention was to add one more obstacle. I wanted Jody to lead Ratchy over 3 ground rails spaced evenly apart. Jody was doing quite well, however Ratchy was giving him a run for his money. It was harder for Jody to keep him walking and not have Ratchy take Jody for a walk! I gave him some pointers, he listened, but I found that Jody really wanted to find his own way of communicating with Ratchy. This was fascinating because Jody took my guidance but “fine tuned” it into his unique way of leading, which I might add was totally successful, even over the 3 ground rails. What we are really trying to accomplish through Equine Facilitated Learning, putting safety first and foremost, is not so much how to lead the horse in the “perfect text book way” but for a person to be able to take away what has meaning for them in the situation and what they can learn from it. It is very important that one learns to be able to express their “own way” to personal empowerment……. to express their own creativity and what works for them as unique individuals. Jody, being an autistic child was able to do this marvellously. He took my hints and developed his own unique way that worked for him. He embodied leadership, confidence, patience, focus and creativity. I couldn’t ask for anything better than that. I think that we as adults can learn a lot from a child like Jody, especially how to think and feel outside the box