"To thine own self be true" - Polonius, Hamlet Act 1
What a fabulous day with a bunch of teenagers, some horses, and a few committed good souls - keen to bring Hamlet's words to life.
Despite the foggy start to this 1st morning in April, 12 youngsters aged 14-16 listened carefully to their safety briefing on 'being around horses'. For some this would be their first interaction with a horse.
Armed with only coats and their thoughts, they entered the indoor arena and met the horse who would be their companion, teacher and "Polonius" for the next hour and a half.
It was a privilege to watch young women and men, blossom in the heart of a new experience. It was fascinating to hear their teacher comment on how different they were (positively so), compared to back at school!
I already believed that having an education and a thirst for knowledge is important. I also know that academic conquests are not the bee all and end all and that some of us have gifts and abilities in vocational areas. Today was testimony to both my beliefs. Thirdly, it drew a lucid illustration of the importance of "experience" in learning, and of our accountability for what we learn, not just for learning sake, but for how it shapes who we are.
I watched young men drop their mask of 'bravado' and admit confusion and reveal their vulnerability when facing failure. I watched a quiet, invisible young woman grow in confidence and presence before us, with a smile so bright it would break up any foggy disposition.
I heard 'tough' teenagers admit how 'soft' a horse felt with astonishment in their voice as they pondered on the contradiction of how half a tonne of power could also be soft!
I heard the quiet, surprised whispers of 'this is fun' as if it was an offence to utter such words, normally so common place coming from one so young. Clearly it was not common place for this youngster.
One young adult at the end of the day remarked on how the day had reminded her of her childhood! Since when did a teenager have perspective of their childhood being a thing of the past, and why?
In 90 minutes the presence of a horse taught these guys so much, here's an illustration of what I heard them identify as things they had learnt:-
-The importance of having a plan, if you want another to follow.
-The role of limiting beliefs and how they impact the results we get.
-How saying we want to do something isn't the same as believing we can!
-How purpose is important as something to see, have, feel and demonstrate.
-How uncertain things become when we lack trust.
-How easy it is to enable others to follow simply by having our minds set on where we are going.
-The role of communication when working as a team with a common purpose.
It takes a lot to silence me. I'm not often quiet and I'm less often in a situation where I take a backseat. Usually I'm up front, leading, facilitating, teaching in some way. Today I was not, and I am grateful because it allowed me to observe some remarkable moments, here's one another I witnessed:
....a young man presumably about 15 or 16 himself, got angry and frustrated when working with their horse and the rest of his group, allegedly as a team. The exercise did not go to plan. The horse did not complete the task they were set. The young man's reaction was anger, and blame - turned towards his fellow team mates. Before the facilitator could say a word, in a nanosecond, the teenager called out his own behaviour and said "I'm blaming everyone else which probably isn't right as I was probably not doing something right myself"!
Now, I don't know about you, but I rarely find a 40 year old 'grown up' with such self insight and humility, never mind a teenager. This young man hasn't been on leadership or self awareness courses. He's had no sliver spoon in his life, no consistent 'life lessons' demonstrated by balanced parents and solid role models. In fact one parent has been absent most of his life. This was a youngster who has probably had to fight his way to survive thus far, on a daily basis, yet who can 'self coach' and take accountability for his feelings and deeds, in the heat of a moment.
There were other memorable moments too, including the 'wrap up' on the day which involved a poignant demonstration of how 'what happens to us in life' doesn't in any way devalue us, and who we are - back to Hamlet!
It's no wonder that people want to continue to develop how we work with horses for the benefit of others. To help others interact in a new way with a living being. To learn to reflect, analyse ones own contribution to a situation and to have fun while doing all the above.
Before today, I've been holding back from enlisting myself to get involved in such programmes, unsure of the ethics of it from the horse's perspective. For this group and other similarly deserving audiences I am now converted. I can see what a powerful role the horse can play. I can see the very 'set up' is full of mutual respect, equality and a healthy dose of safety, for everyone; ethics I'm happy to endorse.
Yet probably the biggest shock of the day, was to see the surprise on the young peoples faces when the facilitator explained how much they had achieved in the day.
You see, by the end of 90 minutes these 'kids' were leading their horses around in shapes and through obstacles at liberty. No ropes, no pulling, pushing, tugging or clicking. The facilitator remarked (accurately so in my experience) how very RARE it is for 'horsey people' to be able to achieve at liberty work with their horse. How unusual it is for horse people to abandon riding in favour of some ground time and bonding with their horse. It seems for our young people in a day full of experience, sensory input and conceptual learning, this was the biggest surprise of all!
Isn't that a pity for horses everywhere? Shame on us 'horsey people' for denying ourselves such a learning opportunity.
If your parent said to you "to thine own self be true" - would you know which 'you' to be true to (see earlier blog: A Legacy of Sunshine or Clouds)? Would you know which mask is the real you? I believe these teenagers I met today have been given an invaluable golden nugget in figuring out 'who they are' and who they can still become.
Days like today could earn their rightful place in any countries mainstream compulsory Education System, at least in my opinion. If that doesn't catch on, then I hope it can at least become compulsory for all horse owners in the future.