← Back to all posts
  • Equine Assisted Learning and the art of Facilitation

    Howdy folks,

    Fall has officially arrived and I have been reflecting on the development of the program this summer. The Certification Clinic at Okay Corral has given me the ability to bring new practices into my program, which I am so excited to share with you!

    The most amazing thing happened with a client. I had an adorable 6 year old boy come to the program. When he arrived he kept his eyes under his hat and didn't say much. He did not have any experience with horses and was afraid of them. He clung to me and hid behind me when Cactus Jack came over to inspect the new human in his pasture. After a few moments of uncertainty, I asked the little boy to go introduce himself to one of the horses. He cautiously walked over to another horse and began awkwardly trying to pet her. With a few glances in my direction he began to step a little closer to her. After a while he came back over and I asked him, "Why did you pick this horse?" He said, "Because she is like me." "How is she like you?" I asked him. He replied, "She is small." He picked a horse that was the most like him and in his eyes, the least threatening. Smart!

    A moment later a barn mate came out to the pasture to get a horse and Cactus Jack seized the opportunity to slip out of the gate into the next pasture, because of course it's always greener on the other side, right? I thought to myself, the perfect opportunity to solve a problem just presented itself. So I told the little boy we have to catch this horse. To do this we need some tools. Off to the barn we went for a halter and a lead rope. We came back to find Cactus Jack contently munching away and quite smitten with his little escape. I said, "Okay, you have these tools in your hands and we have to get Cactus Jack back on the other side of this fence. Go catch him." I did not tell the little boy how the halter and lead worked or how to even approach the horse. Off he went into the pasture. I sat at the fence line and watched. You could see the wheels turning in his head. He looked at the halter and then at the horse, then at me and back at the halter. He fumbled with it and examined the chords and how they where tied together. He inspected all of the different shapes and sizes the openings made. He stretched the lead out to see how long it was.

    After a thorough inspection of the tools he had in his hands he began figuring out how to approach the horse with them. He struggled and struggled some more. He looked to me for help and I did something that I have a very hard time doing when I see someone that needs help. I continued to let him struggle. Humans have an inclination to run to the rescue when they see another suffering or struggling. But that is one of the things that is at the heart of facilitation; Giving someone the opportunity to problem solve, find an answer for themselves rather than teaching them to be like you, you teach them to be more like themselves. In this struggle, when in a safe and non-threatening environment, you can find confidence and build problem-solving skills that support creative and independent thinking.

    When the little boy became discouraged and threw the halter and lead on the ground, we stopped and reevaluated our tools and brainstormed different ways they could be used. With that new information, he approached the situation again and within 30 minutes he had caught Cactus Jack completely on his own. He realized he was too short to tie the halter around the top of the horses head but from his intense investigation of the tools he had, he came to the conclusion that the loop that would normally be used to tie, opened up big enough to slide over the horses head. He also realized that he could take advantage of Cactus Jack's appetite by doing this while his head was lowered to grab a mouth full of grass. If he had not had the time to struggle with the task, he would not have had the time to make his own observations about the situation and create his own solution.

    After he very excitedly led Cactus Jack back into the pasture where he escaped from, I asked him if he would like to introduce himself to another horse. He nodded and began looking around at the other horses. He began walking out into the pasture and found himself face to face with the biggest horse in the herd. He did not hesitate for a moment. He slipped the loop over his head and they meandered around the pasture together.

    Within an hour, this little boy went from being scared and hiding behind me to catching and leading the biggest horse in the heard and he did it on his own terms. The aspect of facilitation in this work is so incredibly powerful. This little boy who was intelligent, inquisitive and curious found confidence through problem solving, observation and perseverance. It is these interactions that create opportunities for growth and learning. For me, it was a big learning experience in observation and waiting. I learned so much more about this little boy from letting him learn rather than trying to teach him and knowing when to intervene and when to sit back.

    He walked over to his parents just beaming and grinning from ear to ear. Who would have known all of that was under that little hat when he arrived so timidly. I think I was just as excited as he was. The art of facilitation is a truly magical process!

    Happt trails from Braided Tales!


    Horses change lives. They give our young people confidence and self-esteem. 
    They provide peace and tranquility to troubled souls. They give us hope!

    -Toni Robinson