Why horses?

Saturday morning I was able to reconnect with the Minnesota EAGALA community at Acres for Life in Chisago City. I had invited my elementary SONY DSCscience methods class to spend a morning in a horse arena to talk about the art of teaching. We began in a circle. Lynn asked what thoughts of the experience ahead had brought them. One student replied, “Intrique. I tried to explain to my dad that we were going to spend the morning with horses to talk about teaching. He thought I had to be kidding – didn’t make any sense.”  On the surface, it does not make any sense. So what were we doing here? The EAGALA method is founded on research pointing to the natural inclination of our brains to seek understanding through metaphor. Yes, we were spending the morning with horses, but more importantly, we were spending the morning traversing our metaphorical landscapes surrounding the art of teaching.

SONY DSCWhy horses? Why not dogs, cats, hamsters, or any other animal? Some insightful ideas were expressed in response – all prior to any direct contact with the horses.

“They are so big.” Horses are large animals – far from the cuddly nature of a lap dog. Their very size positions the horse as worthy of respect and caution. 1000+ pounds of muscle and bone could so easily overpower anything we might attempt to do with them. We enter the arena as their guests. Only through a respectful getting to know them might we begin to act in productive unison.

“They make me feel vulnerable.” We only make change in our thoughts and values when we are confronted by something powerful enough to bring about a sense of disequilibrium. We grow the most when we navigate the edges of our comfort level. Even those that have grown up around horses maintain a profound respect for their ability to back them into a corner. For those that have only experienced horses through picture books, looking up directly into their faces, with no protective fences between, quickly arouses that feeling of vulnerability. All EAGALA sessions, learning or therapy, require the presence of a certified mental health professional. Their role is to monitor what happens to participants at this stage of vulnerability. Their role is to keep these discussions focused on the learning objectives and steer them away from the more intimate waters of therapy.

SONY DSC“Horses are far from my daily experience.” There is great power in the unique. Traveling into new venues lacks the trappings of the familiar. We enter the arena with a clear slate – primed for the new metaphorical adventure awaiting us. None of this group had prior experience with horses. To establish an objective for the teacher to move their students (horses) through a lesson pushed them to assess what was both feasible and worthwhile – with limited prior knowledge. When facing these situations, we are forced with a return to the basics, and slowly build new grounds of understanding.

“They have a language I don’t know.” The purring of a cat or wagging tail of a SONY DSCdog sends a familiar message we can easily interpret. How does a horse communicate? What body posturing movements does a horse make that communicates messages to other horses? and to nearby humans? The only way we can enter any meaningful relationship with horses requires us to first observe, gently interact, ask questions, and seek to understand. We must enter our students’ world and learn from them before our relationship can move forward.

This discussion set the stage for the upcoming adventure through the metaphorical landscape presented in the arena. Each of these responses speaks to the power of the use of horses as a vehicle to seek new meaning. We were soon to discover each of these characteristics to play themselves out as we entered the arena and moved into our encounters with the horses.  From those experiences, we would be positioned to make the requisite shift in understanding from the direct experience with the horses to our growing understanding of the art and craft of teaching.


About wlindquist

I'm a career educator currently teaching pre-service teachers at Hamline University - Master of Arts in Teaching program. Interested in science education, inquiry-based science, and the intersection of science and literacy.
This entry was posted in EAGALA, Education, Educational Psychology, The Art of Teaching and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Why horses?

  1. Pingback: Trust the Process | The Purple Crayon

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