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Transformations in front of our eyes

The boys came after school as usual. Often the older one can be a bit moody upon arrival and the younger one is often more cheerful. But today the younger one was a bit withdrawn and sad looking. We told them they were going to do a scavenger hunt on horseback in the arena and that got them excited. We got the horses from their pens and cleaned them up a bit and placed the bareback pads on.

When it was time to get the boys mounted on their horses, the older boy easily got up on Gracie with the support of Molly his Teacher/Facilitator. The younger boy was to ride his regular horse friend Black, but Black wouldn't let him up. Black kept moving his body away from the the boy on the mounting block. Rachel his Teacher/Facilitator and I worked together to try to keep Black still, but Black would move his body away and just put his nose towards the boy, as if to tell us “Let's listen to him. He's got something to say.” I have seen this behavior before in the horses when something had to be acknowledged or shifted.

I asked the boy if something was bothering him. He just grunted. I asked him if things had gone OK at school today and he got a very dark look on his face and said he wanted to call his mom and go home. He's never requested this in the seven months he's been coming here, so I knew he'd had a hard day. I asked him if he wanted to talk to Black about it and again he said, “No, I just want to call my mom and go home”. So I suggested that we will just go out and do our scavenger hunt while leading Black and that would work just as well. The boy was content with this plan. He proceeded to lead Black around to the blue barrels and pick up the toys that were on his scavenger list. Once he had all of the items he was happier. His brother also had collected all of his items. Molly informed us that the older brother had put out something special, and big, for his little brother to find. So the younger brother was excited when he spotted a big hula hoop around one of the blue barrels.

He led Black over and picked up the hula hoop. I suggested that Black might be willing to wear it so we gently lifted it over Black's head and the boy smiled. The young boy led Black around laughingly announcing that Black was wearing a necklace! Black must have decided that the boy was now ready to get on him because he led the boy over to the mounting block. We helped the five year old on and this time there was no problem at all, Black held totally still.

Then the boys decided to play tag on horseback which they hadn't ever done before. The older boy was on Gracie, a Norwegian Fjord who plods along very slowly. Picture the competitive older brother on the slow horse trying to catch Black, but the younger boy was very adept at keeping Black out of range of being tagged. Finally, as I have seen the older boy get really frustrated in the past, I suggested to the younger brother that he might stop and let his brother come tag him. In this way he would now be ‘It’ and his brother could have a turn being chased. He thought for a moment and that was an OK idea so he stopped his horse. Finally Gracie made her way over to them and instead of his brother tagging him Gracie reached her nose over and tagged the younger boy's boot with her nose. We all smiled at her seemingly understanding the game.

Then it was time for the younger boy on the fast horse to be ‘It’ and he allowed his older brother to move away and then proceeded to chase after him on his fast steed. But it was interesting that Black would only circle around Gracie but wouldn't get close for the boy to tag his brother. Finally Black went up and just stood beside Gracie and then Gracie reached over again and tagged the younger boy's boot. We all broke out laughing.

It was time to dismount and as we were thanking the horses with horse hugs, putting away boots and helmets I whispered to the younger boy how even though he'd had a hard day at school, his day could turn around. He went back to their car happy and in a great mood.

This was another amazing day. Eight months earlier, these two brothers came to us not getting along at all after experiencing early years of trauma. It's been a slow process in helping them learn to play together. But today was the culmination of all these months facilitating opportunities for them to interact in positive ways. On this particular day, both had shown multiple acts of kindness towards each other, and Gracie responded in surprising ways that got all five of us laughing together. Everyone felt the happy serotonin rushing through our bodies. The performing, receiving and witnessing of acts of kindness ended our day on a beautiful positive note.

Written by Sonja Wingard


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