“You be-slubbering, flap-mouthed, horn-beast!”
“YOU infectious, half-faced, maggot-pie!!”
“Do YOU bite your thumb at us, sir????”
“DRAW IF YOU BE MEN!”
And so began a glorious day at New Trails Learning.
Thirty, yes 30, mostly city dwelling young men boarded a bus to the great unknown called Elgin, TX and had NO idea what they were in for. In the “olden days” (speaking to when I attended school back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth) a field trip was just undercover code for getting the heck out of school for the day. Some of our young men may have signed on for that reason, but little did they know this would be an action packed day that would end with some powerful life-changing lessons.
Reaching out to public schools to promote Movement Method has been on the radar of our founder, and has taken our team down some wildly creative and interesting paths. This one did not disappoint. A high school field trip turned into an action packed, one of a kind interactive event. When you add Movement Method, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
A group of 30 young men labeled by the world as “at risk” started their day with a little Romeo and Juliet, which of course initially met with some moans and groans. In Texas, reading and studying Shakespeare is not typically on a student’s Top 10 favorite things to do list, but then…
New Trails Program Director and horse trainer, Betsy Kahl, had some tricks up her sleeve making old Shakespeare quite proud. The day started with a little stage combat coaching, some lines rehearsed, the opening fight scene of Romeo and Juliet ensued, and the breaking up of said fight by an actual horse, The Mighty Figaro, cantering in on cue down the center line for the Prince’s speech given on horseback. Creating live action arena drama made the once dreaded material feel fresh. The themes of rivalries, assumptions, and obtaining power through force suddenly made sense. Words have meaning when connected to action. The acting was so convincing that at the delivery of the last line “on pain of death all men depart!”- the young men had dropped their weapons and started to walk back to the bus. They seriously thought they were being kicked out. Very telling, but not surprising if you know some of the stories these young men carry with them. Getting kicked out and feeling kicked around is not a new thing for many of them.
Intrigued how Figaro, a HUGE Oldenburg, bumping up on 18 hands could be commanded by anybody, let alone someone Betsy’s size (she’s quite petite) baffled them. As we explained that any work done between human and horse must be a cooperative partnership, one could literally see the wheels turning in their heads as this concept of non-force and cooperation seems foreign to most. I am a fan of Buck Brannaman (sorry, not sorry here. I’m the western rider of this tribe) and his story is not unlike many of our young men out that day. Paraphrasing here, he says that when working with horses or humans for that matter, anything either party PERCEIVES (right or wrongly) as rude is not going to work. Using Figaro as our living, breathing, oversized visual aide, it was put to the crowd- does it appear any of us could force a horse this size to do anything he is not agreeable with? Unanimously. NOPE. Our young “actors” were definitely able to connect this idea with the Prince’s speech, and how using fear, force, or violence to control doesn’t work. There must be trust, respect, and cooperation to accomplish any task.
Moving down to the arena, we began our demonstration of some of the dressage training and specialty work our horses are doing. Figaro (Figs) again showing off as only he can. His Spanish Walk to the delight of one of the young men who volunteered to get on and experience it first- hand. The sheer power and elegance just watching Figs perform is enough, but getting to sit up there is quite a rush.
Enter- stage Right- Campo’s Muchacho’s Fuerte, a/k/a, Diego. This guy has quite a story of his own. A copper dun Spanish Barb, this retired eventer’s previous owner left for college, leaving him at somewhat of a loss. He was donated to another type of equine therapy program, but was discharged for having an “attitude problem”. Sound familiar? It sure did to our guests. His story resonated to the core. Overlooked, misunderstood, and labeled a problem, -Diego, was re-routed to New Trails not that long ago, and has begun to bloom where he is planted. He does some of our sensory work, back rides, long-lines, and has recently learned how to bow. Doesn’t sound like a guy with an attitude problem at all now does it? He just needed the right environment. After all, environment IS critical is it not?
The rest of the day included some of the young men getting to experience sensory work (props for bravery here doing something like that in front of 29 of your buddies), a walk through the woods, which led to an impromptu round of hide and seek. We are all 4 years old when we get to be. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I had ZERO intention of trying to find them when I sent them all off to hide. Fortunately, the call for their impending BBQ lunch brought them all out of their hiding places. Thank God!
Probably the most powerful moments of the day were found in our guests wrap up session, which is a routine they shared with us. At the end of their group time each young man will bring forth a single word that sums up their what’s on their heart and mind and then offer the explanation. Some of today’s “take-away” words were trust, cooperation, bravery, respect, accepting guidance, love, courage, and understanding. Summarizing the groups sentiments I offer this- we need to be givers and receivers of all of those things to bring out the best in each other.
My word. PROUD. These guys are from MY school. I could not be more PROUD of being connected to them and forging a memory that will last in my mind as one of the landmark days of my teaching story.
The week following this groups’ time at New Trials my boss, a/k/a our principal shared some thoughts with me. She had recently been introduced to the Movement Method framework, and is now wholly intrigued. Stating many of the guys who were on the trip seem to have been noticeably changed- for the better. She’s seeing a new attitude, increased productivity and focus with school work that some were seriously struggling with. She stated she may not totally understand what we’re doing out there (yet), but whatever it is, it’s making a difference.