Thursday, April 15, 2010

waiting for the learning moments

I was going to write about yesterday evening, when we fenced off the front yard, as we often do about this time each year, so we can utilize horses to do some mowing for us while at the same time acclimating them to the growing brilliant green carpet of grass.

Keil Bay and Apache Moon took their turn first, while I did some pruning and kept them company. They worked their way from the top of the side yard all the way down to the very front edge, and I watched in the usual wonder at how expertly efficient Keil Bay is in grazing. He has it down to a fine art.

They neither one wanted to leave when their 15 minutes were up, so my husband marched up to the barn for halters and the dressage whip so I could do a little driving from behind. I didn't need the tapping of the whip; once the halter was on, I got Keil's attention off the grass and onto me, and we practiced walking, halting, my verbal invitation to return to grazing, my request for head up, and more walking. This was one of those moments that was perfect for reviewing basic leading manners.

The pony defied a couple of attempts to halter him, but once I had Keil Bay back up to the barn, he came trotting up the hill after us, looking like a movie star pony, head held high and body floating across the grass.

This morning my daughter and I were getting horses and donkeys ready for the day. They all seem to enjoy having fly masks on this time of year - those gnats and midges that go for the ears are out in full force. So Keil Bay, Cody, and the pony got their masks, and daughter went out to search for Salina's. When she came back she decided to put on Rafer Johnson's mask (his doesn't have ears, as the donkeys don't seem much bothered by bugs, but he likes the mask during the sunny days - I think of it as his sunglasses).

Redford never wanted his earless mask last year, just as he doesn't want any fly spray, so instead of forcing the issue, we simply offer, and when he says "no thank you" we let him be.

Much as learning to read in humans seems to be something that comes easily when the child is ready to learn, there seem to be moments when equines make learning leaps. Things that were scary suddenly seem fine, and if you're paying attention and make the most of these moments, you can save a lot of stress for both the equine and yourself.

This morning Redford was offered his fly mask, yet again, as he was many times last summer. Today he decided that even the sound of the velcro being undone was not scary, and that he'd take his mask just like everybody else in the barn. No fuss, no hard work. It was just as easy as if he'd been doing it his entire life.

There are lots of things that horses and donkeys need to learn to be what we consider "good citizens," but many of these skills are pushed not because they're absolutely necessary but because of our own human timetables that often make no sense.

Much like reading is pushed because of the agenda of the school systems and the need to get children "on the same page" at the same time.

I've advocated for a more laid back, individualized structure for children for my entire adult life, but since returning to the world of keeping horses I now find myself advocating for the same thing for them.

When we learn something when we're physically AND psychologically ready for it, the lesson is easier, and it sticks.


Grey Horse Matters said...

I've got to agree with you. Every being learns at their own pace and if it's not pushed before their ready I feel that much more is accomplished.

By the way the donkey boys look very handsome modeling their fly masks.

jme said...

so true. i have always thought that to be the difference between 'learning' in the bare skeletal sense of acquiring facts, and true understanding, which can only ever come in its own time, and never by force...

Máire said...

I like that. And they do make 'learning leaps' as you say. It is up to us to spot them, and be patient for them, not always so easy.

CharlieHorse said...

"I've advocated for a more laid back, individualized structure for children for my entire adult life"

Me, too !!

I have often said that one of the simplest things we could do for our children is to reduce class size. No more than 15 (12 would be even better) students per teacher. Our schools have become like children warehouse assembly line worker manufacturers. Our teachers are expected to not only teach, but be substitute parents, psychologists, secretaries, nurses, etc. I would also make schools themselves soooo much smaller.

Our exhausted teachers are expected to do the impossible - our children expected to learn in an environment that numbs the soul. Those with different learning paths get pushed aside as non-conforming to robotic standards and then medicated when they "act out" – (like ADD, or AD/HD) ... more often than not, parents are both working and usually too exhausted themselves to provide the soul-sculpting guidance they themselves may not have received.

Carolyn Resnick, and some of her blog readers, have shared stories of equines being visual learners. Watching others in a behavioral dance, learning the dance independently of human interaction and then later, actually inviting the human to join in the dance. I believe this is how a mother bear, for example, teaches her cubs to fish – it is a visually learned behavior . . . animals are so much smarter than most of us humans give them credit for.

I so respect your patience – gently offering Redford the opportunity of the fly mask as a matter of fact part of the daily routine – offering, listening to and respecting his decline; hearing his reconsideration :)

The little guys look completely adorable and huggable. If they tolerate hugs, share one for me :)

Beth and Cookie,
in Virginia

Marian said...

Have you heard of the Summerhill School in the UK? We have something like that in Denmark too, Den demokratiske skole (the democratic school). Interesting choice of name, actually. I mean, you would expect the public school system as an institution in a - well, supposedly - democratic society to be democratic, wouldn't you? So, why then this emphasis on "democratic"? (Ha!) If I had kids, and had to pick a school for them, it would be this one. Alternatively, I'd home-school. No way I'd send them to one of these conformity factories that are called "school". Just as I couldn't dream of sending a horse to one of these professionals who promise to turn your raw three-year-old into the winner at the next dressage contest at your local club in two months, if he doesn't turn out to be "crazy" and ends up at the slaughterhouse, because he happens to have a strong spirit.

Bent Branderup, trainer in classical dressage, or "The Academic Art of Riding", says: "Dressage exists for the sake of the horse, not the horse for the sake of dressage." Unfortunately, a lot of riders have misunderstood something here, and seem to believe, the horse exists for the sake of dressage, respectively equitation in general. It's the same if you look at the public school system, actually it's the same in regard to all institutions in society. It seems to be a common misunderstanding that people, citizens are there for the sake of the institutions. Not the other way round.

An interesting take on education and the system that so resonates with my own experience.

billie said...

Arlene, what you wrote:

every being learns at its own pace

should be on every classroom and arena wall.


billie said...

j, true understand is exactly what I meant. :)

billie said...

Maire, you use the word patient, and that's the key. We humans are not always good at that, are we?

billie said...

Beth, loved all that you wrote. I spent several years at one job doing clinical supervision for school guidance counselors in several rural counties, where kindergarteners and first graders were routinely referred for ADHD medication because they "couldn't stay in their seats."

It totally blew my mind when the guidance counselors told me the teachers did not understand this is developmentally appropriate behavior (the strong desire to use their bodies and move about while learning).

Last week when I was on writing retreat a small class of first graders came to visit the gardens and learned to plant seeds. I was so relieved when very savvy teachers and a wonderful gardener took them on a big, loud, hearty "march" in between each step of the planting process. The children were very successful in the field trip because they were never expected to sit and listen like robots.

The donkeys are masters at hugging - they adore it! Will be happy to pass one on. :)

billie said...

Marian, we have two teens (13 and 15) who have homeschooled since birth. Early on in my motherhood I read a number of books that affected me deeply - The Continuum Concept was one, William Sears' book Attachment Prenting was another, and the book about the Summerhill School was another.

We actually have a local charter school modeled on Summerhill, but my two are so geared to independent learning and they have no desire to explore it.

The whole "30 day training" that is so common for horses is completely alien to me.

ponymaid said...

Billie, how right you are. Learning for any species should not be a forced issue but one of acceptance when ready. Redford figured out the fly mask in his own time frame and is a happier donkey for it. Have you read the book "Wisdom of Donkeys" by Andy Merrifield? The woman and I are currently reading it and I would love to hear your opinions on it. He deals with the many cliches surrounding donkeys and also delves deeply into the role of donkeys in literature. As a neophyte to the world of donkeys, he figured out many things that should be obvious to experienced donkey keepers, and that patently are not. An open mind is a wonderful thing.

billie said...

No, Sheaffer, I haven't, but I am clicking over to Amazon this instant to order it! Thank you!!

ponymaid said...

Billie, might I humbly beg a favour? When you have read "Wisdom of Donkeys" would you allow me to publish your thoughts in a guest entry on my blog? I feel the woman could not do justice to the interwoven themes and I tend to focus on the purely donkey elements. We feel you are just the person to review such a many-layered treatise and to give us insights into this interesting human's mind. Gribouille, the donkey who escorts Merrifield around France, is someone I would love to meet. If you have trouble finding the book, I will gladly mail you our copy.

Your admirer,

billie said...

Sheaffer, what an honor!

I ordered it this morning - the paperback is not yet available, but the hardcover is on Amazon and is hopefully on its way to me very soon.

You are too kind!

And the thought of touring France with a donkey makes me smile.

Speaking of purely donkey elements, I have a wonderful portrait of Rafer Johnson to share soon - taken by my daughter and although I eagerly transferred the photo from her camera to my desktop, quickly discovered that it is "raw data" and has to be converted before I can upload it. I am clueless. I tried and broke the file!

My camera is not so fancy and I wish I had taken the photo myself with my own camera!