The first two days were the most intense collaboration, critical analysis of practices, envisions, planning, future design discussions, brainstorming work I have ever done. Yes, other workshops have this type of work, but New Trails Learning Systems is different. Even the personal stories of our trainers and leaders are emotionally laden, incredibly powerful and humbling, and still, these folks give and give and give!
Seeing these folks using Horse Boy/ ATHENA and Movement Method to make this world a better place wherever possible was extremely powerful and encouraging. These methods make it possible to work in so many different settings, that many children, families, and people in need benefit from it. It has grown well beyond autism.
Personally, the first two days were the most productive and eye opening for me. I was able to share a vision of schools implementing this method world- wide and see the clear connection between Horse Boy/ ATHENA and Movement. Finally, it became clear, yes, we all work our own little area, but put together, during the Tribe Meet, it was overwhelmingly impressive what has been done already and is in the works for the future.
However, not a single person in that room where we met for hours on end with Iliane tirelessly capturing every minute of discussion on tape not to lose a single thought, not a single person pet themselves on the shoulder and said ‘good job, I am done’.
We are just starting- and it became clear- we were all on the same page: This method needs to spread and used by as many folks as possible. Access for people need to be made possible to allow for maximum learning effect academically and/or in life skills without suffering but joy.
It was mind blowing to listen and see what folks were putting together, have worked on, families they served, lives they had touched in the most unique ways and situations. The two days flew by and mini workshops/ break out sessions were offered the following two days for any Practitioners around the world.
And again, it was stunning the amount of expertise and impactful training that was available!
Ellen Schuringa told an impressive personal story that made you wonder how she is still up and running and doing good for others. An important take away for all of us was to remember and be aware that everybody has a different sensitivity and threshold. She taught about hypersensitivity and encouraged believe and understanding for it. Movement Method tries to avoid negative sensory triggers; Ellen opened our minds to be more alert and understanding what the negative triggers might look like. What a great way to raise awareness and hopefully allow for a more peaceful environment when we instruct or try to help people grow.
Jen Tatham, a fellow school teacher, presented her absolutely creative ideas how to change her teaching and learning environment to have the best positive effect and least negative sensory triggers possible. She has gotten her district on board. Other teachers are following her lead, and solid evidence was presented that all her students improved in various areas. Participants in her workshop got to experience the feeling of ideal learning environment and activities, and she was a great example of a leader in a school who makes the difference we all want to see.
Margje Vleck blew my mind! I know this is not very elegantly written- but that is exactly what happened. She has so many talents, but her creativity was absolutely outstanding! She taught us about “Flipping the Mind”. And she sent a very powerful message to all of us: Reframe the way you think! Instead of “yes, but…” (which we all know so well), say “Yes, and…” Being open for opportunity this way will allow our minds to actually make the best possible of any situation. Her personal story ensured great understanding of the way this can work. Accept the facts and go forward from there. Margje is not ‘just’ an ordinary mom- she knows what she is talking about because her son has autism and reframing her mind is what she had to do. For her, it is not just a random theory, but it helped her through the worst of times. Her presentation was very well done and taught us all to really reevaluate how we do and frame things.
Gitti, oh again, what an amazing person who humbles you without even knowing by being absolutely the most caring and warm hearted person you will ever meet. Clever lady, connected the “follow the child” philosophy which all of Horse Boy/ ATHENA and Movement Method is based off, and connected it to Alzheimer patients. Brilliantly done by allowing the patients truth to be validated and not contradicted, going even so far as to follow them into their fantasy. Carola Beekman mentioned later that it reminded her that no matter what is going on in the brain, our guidelines are solid across the board! Gitti presented creative ideas for the classroom, to train trainers and was just one of the sincerest presenters I have seen in a long time.
Carola Beekman, I have to be careful to not just write from the heart and personal connection, but she deserves the utmost professional respect as well. Not only did we connect through horses, children, and education and ‘nerding out’ for hours on end; she is also a highly educated lady who has taken Horse Boy/ATHENA and Movement Method to a whole new level. I am not even sure the founders are at the same level as she is (no offense Iliane and Ru). Her knowledge and internalization of the Methods have led her to be an outstanding trainer, living the philosophy by the book and using best practice and creativity to ensure ideal learning! So, I was not surprised when she accepted Ru’s challenge to do a “Poop Treasure Hunt”- of course she would accept a challenge like this and make it the best possible learning experience possible. Around the woods we went hunting for poo- while she was ‘dropping information’ on brain science without us even noticing. We started competing for random signs that were not connected to poo and ended up with the neuro science for the method- giving us yet another practice run through the brain science behind it all. Cleverly done! One huge surprise and not to miss: Caitlin, her absolutely lovely refreshingly clever and positive daughter (ruining my knee during soccer- but that is a different story ;-) actually turned out to be an absolute expert on the science behind our methods. What a charm she was explaining it and putting it all together- well done. I am seeing a future trainer here!!!
Joell Dunlap’s workshop was avoided by me until the very end. I have taught with Joell before, and I know, if anybody can make you tear up- it is her, and I am not a big fan of it. But I also really like her teaching and sincerity- so, eventually I made my way to her workshop, disappeared in the back to ‘manage the projector’ so tears could go freely if necessary ;-) And sure enough, Joell did not disappoint. Her workshop was called “How to grow a program”. You would think that is pretty straight forward with numbers, graphs, and fundraising ideas- but hey, it is Joell- nothing is the way it is expected- ‘Team Quirky’ called for a reason. She had us close our eyes and imagine our “place”. Not just imagine, but every detail of it. She wanted to know how it will all smell like when it is done. How does the place smell like, how does dinner taste after a long day of work. She really wanted us to live it! - I am still tearing up while writing this…Whoever even cares, and whenever do you take the time- taking two minutes to imagine that dream school I want- not even running it myself, have someone who knows how to run a school, but with our ideas of Movement Method- oh and details just popped in my head- and then she showed her video essay. Maybe there were no graphs, maybe I still have to meet with her about data and finance, but for sure, I know why we do what we do, and she opened my eyes to what is possible. Joell has the power to touch hearts. She not only talks to dogs and horses- and I literally mean it- she can talk animal for sure- but she has the ability to look deep into human soles and connect with the most difficult human beings that others so easily abandon. What a life coach!
As you can see, tribe days, ATHENA Conference, whatever you want to call it, it was a most unique learning and growing experience for everybody who attended.
Bianca Rimbach presented a summary of her classroom and learning environment make- over through examples of treasure hunts and visual presentation of classroom changes. Many discussions arose to adapt ideas to various situations and setting from participants, to end in a mindful self-compassion exercise that provided a little escape and peace after very engaging and stimulating activities, to show the importance of mindfulness, and recharging in this line of work.
The Tribe Day ended with everybody’s’ favorite presentation of Rupert’s in-hand work to prepare a horse who says ‘yes’ and becomes a life- long reliable partner.
There is no question about it, Rupert has the deep background knowledge and understanding of the horse and natural horsemanship in his blood, but what makes him outstanding in his work is his feel for the psyche of the horse.
When he walks up to an equine partner he has never met before, there is an immediate connection. It almost seems that both forget everything around them and end up in this beautiful small world, just them, trying to connect, trying to communicate past the difference of specie, past role of prey and predator- Ru wanting to have that relationship and by just taking a first step, a first touch, building it instantly where horses just melt away and leave their strong survival defenses, trusting him to take the lead. Only this connection, that cannot be taught, but which he so beautifully develops, allows him to immediately get to work and make it look so easy, fluent, almost like ballroom dancing. No wonder the audience is mesmerized when the horse and partner get to work. Ru has the capability of transferring many of the secrets to classical training and making them accessible to every day folks. That is unheard of on many levels. A prestiges sport or art if you want, often only for the wealthy and rich, he makes dressage look easy, gives folks the chance to understand and access it as a tool to work with clients. Who would have thought that there is a huge ‘fun and relaxation’ aspect in dressage- not pressure, push, and tension? What a beautiful way to end a perfect weekend.