Patience is Key
Every weekend I see Jill* running to our tack room with a smile stretching from ear to ear, her riding helmet resting on her head, and her eyes brimming with anticipation. Her legs transition to a walk as she approaches us and she begins to rattle off all the tasks she wants to accomplish during her lesson; graze the horses, braid ribbons into their tails, play in the arena, and feed buckets full of treats.
Jill resembles our other students in her appearance and demeanor, but when I see Jill my eyes brighten and I cannot wait to get her horseback riding lesson started. Jill took extraordinary steps to become the child who runs to me every weekend. Jillâ€™s excitement and ambition allows me to see the how the companionship of horse can increase a personâ€™s confidence and sense of self.
Teaching Jill challenged me. When I first met Jill she did not run to us with a smile, instead, she hid behind her mom with a looks of either apathy or fear. Although Jill longed to come out and show us her personality, her shyness, due to her autism, left her incapable of connecting with the rest of the world. When the barn was full of people or the lesson became too exciting, Jill would shut down. If I gave her instructions she seemed to ignore the problem even more. If I told her to turn her thumbs up they would turn down, or if I told her to keep her horse on the rail I would find them in the center of the arena. I could not find a way to teach Jill without scaring her. She had trouble communicating what was wrong and I was lucky to get a feeble mumble from her attempting to explain her feelings. She was shy and indecisive, but my teaching style was to push. Whenever I was with Jill I tried to make the lessons fun and exciting with lots of turns and trot work, but I found she would sit atop the horse frozen and terrified. Our attitudes and personalities clashed.
One day I realized Jill was not bound to become a Grand Prix show Jumper or even an old school cowgirl; her only desire was to interact with the horses. When I found my connection to Jill, our shared love for the well being of the animals, I was able to teach Jill on a different level. We spent the majority f the lesson grooming the horses until they sparkled from muzzle to rump. I saw the same sparkle in Jillâ€™s eyes as she admired the results of her tender and nurturing brushing. During the lesson we worked on the comfort of the horse instead of focusing on the correct posting diagonal or canter lead. We chatted about the how the horses ear movements reflect their temper: ears back meant angry, ears forward meant happy, and ears opening toward the rider means you have their attention. As Jill began responding to the horses her riding skills developed right before my eyes. She is able to trot and steer her horse independently, plus she can ride the trot with no hands.
Jill opened my eyes to a world not fill with anger an ambition, but one that is serene and beautiful. Jillâ€™s simplicity fueled my connection to the minds of the horses instead of their ability to carry me around on their backs. Jillâ€™s strength and perseverance came from the horses that were always patient and willing, and Jill has inspired me to look to them for my own strength. The horses always look to me with love and kindness even when I doubt my importance. I am inspired to look to the horses for motivation and confidence..
* Name Changed