by Rachel Bisaillon
Some of the kids’ names in this post have been changed to remain confidential.
This month, marks three years at Kastl Rock Ranch. This occasion has me reflecting on how Square Peg has grown and evolved. What it really comes down to is the ability to increase our HorseBoy™ teachings and focus on using humor, nature, and relinquishing control helping create a recipe for success at Square Peg.
Through the eucalyptus trees, small ripples in the pond, and mountainous terrain of our 110 acre farm—I hand over control and leadership to Axel. Some weeks we are gorillas, some weeks dogs, some weeks horses— it’s up to him. We hike the farthest boundary fences of the farm, up the steepest hills and through miles of forest. Every week is an adventure, with Axel leading the way. We run through the underground culvert, a sensory palace. We scramble through the trees and climb fences. Some moments are teachable, some moments are humorous— all experiences are learning moments for me.
The first time Jimmy arrived at Square Peg, we thought he would never come back. He screamed, pulled hair, pinched, and refused to acknowledge Panzur. He stood at the car banging the hood and screaming for his iPod. We managed to get him in the golf cart which we drove around the arena with Panzur following and eating carrots out of the back. The second time Jimmy came, he threw a carrot at Panzur—acknowledgement! Progress! By the fifth time, Jimmy was riding by himself, with the iPod, watching the Spirit movie. We back-rode for a few sessions and built a relationship of trust. He is now trotting on Panz independently.
Jay is terrified of dogs. Jay started with us the summer of 2015 and refused to be within five feet of any dog. We carried him, would lock the dogs away, and used the golf-cart to scuttle away from them. We never made a big deal about it, except for showing him these dogs wouldn’t hurt him—they were gentle dogs. We wondered if this would be a forever hatred. Last week, while rocking back and forth on the gate, just above Patti’s floppy ears. He started calling to her, then (surprisingly) launched himself off the gate, ran over, grabbed her wrinkles in fistfuls and got nose to nose with her. “Patttttiiiiiiii, Pattttttttttttiiiiiiiiiii,” he sang. He sat on the ground and snuggled her, while talking about what breed of dog Patti is, where she came from, and how sweet she was.
Why these three stories? One of the aspects of Horse Boy Method is “Follow the Child.” We’re taught that teaching and learning are about one person having knowledge and bestowing it upon others. It’s the same dynamic from teacher to pupil, from older to younger siblings, doctor to patient, and so on. Letting go long enough to “Follow the Child” takes practice, patience and a whole lot of ego management. But when we do – the whole world changes. It’s only when we are curious and open to learning that we tune in to our physical bodies and the world around us that we actually learn.
Special needs children spend most of their lives in a position of powerlessness:
“Don’t touch that”
“Don’t bother that lady”
“You must eat this, wear this, pay attention to this.”
When we create an environment where these kids explore, experience and lead us— communication starts to flow from a place of trust. By letting the child lead we we honor his humanity and the wisdom of childhood. Consequently, we learn and we rediscover joy and curiosity.
Take a few hours to follow—live in the shoes of Axel, Jimmy, and Jay for a bit. Be okay with handing over your teacher hat and just playing follower. See where they take you, what they tell you, and how they teach you. It’s a gift.