In early 1990, I was actively collecting suitable well trained horses in basic pony club mounted workfor the Sierra Tucson Hospitals Adolescent Care Program. These horses needed safe ground manners along with inherentsensible temperaments and brains to forgive awkwardness of untrained youth learning to groom and ride horses. I suggested to Ann that she allow me to give him a 'try' at the STIRRUP (Sierra Tucson Integrated Riding Resource - step up to success) barn.
Whow! Crackers was soon the star of the stable. Archetypally he represented the Handsome charismatic 'cool dude', an accomplished flirt with the ladies, whose athletic prowess playing with the other 'boys' earned him FAVORITE of everyone status. He is the handsome bay Arab of my opening story in first book, Adventures In Awareness: Learning with the Help of Horses (05).
Crackers taught the famous psychiatrist visiting the hospital the inherent depth and quickness of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP). This highly paid consultant thought he was telling me and the then, Medical Director, Jim Graham, MD, what he was observing and noticing in the herd of frolicking horses.
The doctor had asked me what the heck is EFP; how did I define it? In response, I asked him to tell me which horse he was drawn to really notice as the three of us hung on the fence and observed the herd. This "Observation Exercise" is now a major favorite in both EFP and Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL).
He began telling us that he noticed his focus was on that handsome bay pony who was busy dancing and prancing keeping the other boy horses from his obvious favorite 'love interest'. That stout red pony mare captured his undivided attention with little to no effort on her part. "Humnn", I murmur. "How much have you just told us of yourself?" Long Pregnant Pause. "Why more than my therapist knows," he responded as his eyes and face suffused with emotion.
Later, as my clinical supervisor, Dr. Graham and I processed this poignant encounter, Jim urged me to come up with a name for this powerful uncovering experience. He likened the similarities to Jungian sand tray therapy overlaid with the 'aliveness' qualities of sentient beings - horses and people. I remarked on the experiential element of learning through actual doing while being witnessed by another.
Jim was a remarkable standout in traditional thought of medicine's current culture. He had been a test pilot in the Air Force and held at the time of entry into Medical School, the high altitude speed record breaking the sound barrier at MACH II. As our STIRRUP barn was being completed and some of our horses still boarded at a nearby stable in Catalina, Jim was my frequent ride the horses to work partner. We each rode one and ponied another. I thrived on his stories of his hardest job ever being parenting his teenagers; he was the PERFECT Adolescent Care Medical Director.
As was Wyatt Webb, the PERFECT Adolescent Care Clinical Director. He is a former Nashville Country and Western guitar singing talent from Grand Ole Opry. Wyatt wrote songs and rode a Harley to work. He emphatically told me that was all he rode after some years ago being run under a tree and brushed off on his 'keister' trying to impress a girl.
Wyatt played a starring role in the success of the horses with the restricted under intense supervision adolescent patients. He made no secret of not knowing much about horses and modeled willingness to show up in the barn on a regular basis for his lessons with Suzellen and Shelley, Ann and myself. He sincerely worked to learn how to safely be around these large hypersensitive easily frightened animals who could unintentionally 'kill or maim' you if you were not alert and careful.
One clear crisp Arizona winter morning the twelve horses were turned out to roll and move about in the large two hundred foot by one hundred and fifty foot expensive river washed sand laser leveled arena. I and Suzellen were busy cleaning stalls, rinsing water buckets, straightening the barn and sweeping the isles after morning feeding chores. Suddenly a major commotion and ruckus in the herd; I looked up to see a male youth in psychedelic green pajamas waving and flapping his arms frantically shouting help.
In the center of the large arena, the PJ clad youth was surrounded
by a swirling mass of horses who responded to his hyper body
antics as they did to me when in the center of the arena
for demonstration purposes. I would deliberately
"energize the herd" with my longe wand
similar to small scale free longeing
activity of one horse in a
twenty meter round ring. After a short period of galloping and cavorting along the fence line in both directions at trot and canter, I would allow the herd to settle and sort themselves out into companionship groups and mutual grooming pairs. Horses are highly social animals.
Patient groups or guest referents were invited to spread themselves out along the galvanized pipe rail and engage in the mindfulness practice of Observation through their Heart Lens. Later trained STIRRUP staff would move amongst them asking which horse or horses they were noticing and why. Thus, experientially, we offered a brief participation in basics of Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL). The clinically trained referents caught immediately the power of this 'Jungian live sand tray' spot light on the individual's interior landscape.
Now, as I moved rapidly down the hill from the barn to the arena, I
saw out of the corner of my eye a hoard of staff running
across the field of dreams (grass playing field)
shouting STOP. This further ruckus served to up
the volume and amplitude on the now frantic
behavior o fpsychedelic PJ clad youth amidst the swirling vortex of sand and madly galloping horses.
Wyatt comes up to join me on the fence line and orders, "Get in there and grab that kid!"
"Are you nuts? I respond. "I don't want to be killed".
Suzellen yells out to all of us. "Quiet" "Watch". She moves down the fence to stand near my ear. Under her breath she whispers in awe, "Look at Crackers."
"Oh My Goddess", I say affirmatively in my riding instructor voice. "Watch Crackers"
The DOE Nurse comes up to me. He's muttering under his breadth to me and to Wyatt standing on my other side. "His name is Dave. We haven't released him from lock up yet. I'm not sure how he escaped. It looks like he'll need to be transferred to a higher acuity level hospital."
Again in my riding Instructor voice, that I know the horses hear,
"Steady Dave. The bay pony is helping you. Keep your
balance. Stay on your feet." I coach in my 'let's
circle this frightened run away bolting horse into a nice downward halt voice.
Crackers is doing a slow canter around Dave in a very tight circle. As the other ten horses and one Shetland pony continue to run, buck and gallop, Crackers is quite intentionally bumping Dave's shoulder to move him over to our side of the fence line.
He is cutting Dave out of the circle of swirling frantic horses. Very gradually, as I continue to coach steadiness and staying upright, Crackers moves Dave near enough to the fence, that Wyatt a big tall man standing on the first rung for purchase and balance, reaches in and plucks Dave over the fence. Whew!
We are all hugging and puffing in major emotional exertion. Crackers stands immobile looking into Dave's face. Dave goes eye ball to eye ball with Crackers. They breathe with and be together foreheads almost touching through the fence. The herd begins to settle and sort themselves out. "That horse saved my life!" Dave exclaims.
"YES he did", affirms Suzellen.
Later Dave returns to the barn to apologize to us and the herd and to thank Crackers. He wanted to learn to work with him. He didn't want to use halters or bridles and saddles. He wanted to be like Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves. Galloping free -arms spread wide and speed wide out; together we crafted a treatment plan that included learning basic equine psychology and physiology (so very similar to adolescent youth) and mastering free longeing techniques.
Dave practiced developing relationship with Crackers and agreed to work on the halter for those times group work mandated safety;we taught him bareback bridle-less riding skills and basic elements of training. The Tellington-Jones wooden neck ring helped us move to a loose stirrup leather around Cracker's neck. This adaptation is similar to that used for beginner riders learning to post the trot. All went well during the three months of Dave's residential treatment; this was before managed insurance care closed down extended stay options.
For Dave's graduation we opened the gates of the round ring where he warmed up with Crackers and the two were at gallop speed as they moved up the hill and flew through the large schooling arena gate. Arms spread wide the two were the picture of wide open galloping Oneness. Unity Consciousness - Freedom, Power and Spirit.
As you read in the following stories, I'm hopeful that like me and Ann you are able to Listen and to Learn from the horses. They are offering humans extraordinary gifts in these challenging times.
BKR/Skyview Casita January, 2015 Later, Dave wrote the attached letter to Crackers.