The Secret to This Semester’s Smiling Successes
“Sure!” I replied, surprised by his boldness. I had only just met this little fellow from Mrs. Wooten’s class.
“I’m a really great hugger,” he said, throwing his arms open wide.
It was my second week of classes as a new recruit volunteering at The Right Path, and I was dismayed to find I couldn’t remember any of the kids’ names from the week before. Names are not my forte, and I sometimes struggle to recall even familiar words in conversation, making social interaction awkward at times. But his charming personality was disarming, and soon seeing this little guy and the rest of his classmates, each one a character in their own right, was a highlight of the week.
Our 2021 fall semester started out with a bang, as our ambitious leadership decided to try something rather revolutionary. Previously, only two or three participants could be in the arena doing mounted work at a time. The other students were obligated to wait in the classroom until their turn to ride.
After brainstorming, the team developed rotational breakout sessions to fill the rest of the class time, including Arena, Ground, Education, Literacy, and Yard Walk.
Mounting up for exercises and games on horseback,
either astride one of our program horses
or our new mechanical horse, the MiraColt.
Interacting with a horse in the barn or yard,
learning safe handling practices
and basic leading techniques.
Delving into the world of equine care and barn management in a classroom setting,
with excursions into the barn for demonstrations with the horses.
Tutoring with creative, hands-on projects
incorporating horse facts.
Presenting the opportunity for sensory development
in the stimulating environment of the great outdoors.
The rotations lasted approximately thirty minutes, with enough time allowed between sessions for students to transfer with their leader from one group to the next. While one “cohort” of two students put on their belts and helmets and mounted up to ride in the arena, another would be in the classroom learning about (and touching samples of) what horses eat. At the same time, another sat around the table in the kitchen getting instructions for their literacy activity; another moved into the barn’s center aisle to meet their horse of the day. Another headed out to the yard for outdoor exploration led by a volunteer with professional experience in the field of pediatric occupational therapy. As a complex machine with many moving parts and varying numbers of students, the rotational model is always a logistical challenge. Still, we have found it very effective in maximizing the therapeutic benefits that our school programs can offer each individual.
Every student is unique in their particular set of needs, but they can all benefit from the stability of consistency and routine. For example, on our first day of class, one five-year-old girl spent the better part of the sessions on the floor in a tantrum. A group of staff members and volunteers surrounded her, pulling out all the stops to find activities to engage her focus.
“They’re not going to get her on the horse,” the aide stated flatly. But miraculously, they did. And once atop the gentle beast, she became calm, listening to and following directions from the instructor. Not only that, but her behavior was moderated for the rest of the class.
After that, her instructors decided she would be the first to ride every time.
Now every week as she arrives, she is greeted by her volunteer, who shows her a sequence of pictures of that day’s activities — always in the same order. With the stability of routine, she knows what comes next, allowing her to respond to prompts. She assists her teacher and has even shown a bit of a mischievous streak during games in the arena (don’t let anybody ever tell you these kids aren’t smart!) — a dramatic difference from Day One.
As the year 2021 draws to a close, we hope you realize how grateful we are for your support. We look forward to partnering with you to enrich our students’ lives every week in our 2022 spring semester.
From all of us here at The Right Path, we wish you a wonderful Christmas season and a peaceful transition into the new year!
~ Bandy Mills