Meet HEAL Facilitator Judith Kay (HEAL class of 2009), and her miniature horses Peanut and Little Juan (L.J. for short). Judith is a tutor for children and adults contending with a emotional, learning or behavior challenges. I am always inspired by Judith’s simple yet brilliant implementation of the HEAL Six Key Model, and I am very grateful to Judith and her student and student’s family, for allowing Judith to share this glimpse of HEAL in action. The information and accompanying photos are shared exclusively with the HEAL Newsletter, with the full written permission of the guardians of D. No other uses are permitted.
First introductory meeting. D and his family (mom, dad, sister) came to meet the horses and me. C (the school psychologist) came, too. It was a very pleasant time and D expressed a desire to do more sessions with the horses. We scheduled four consecutive sessions.
GREETING: D and I walked to the barn. Both horses had their backs to us. Little Juan turned around and walked toward us. He stopped to poop! I asked D if he wanted to help me clean it up. He did! I gave him a small mucking fork. I had a fork, too, and a bucket. We took turns scooping and putting it in the bucket. (Later with his sister he told her it was fun.)
PEANUT: D wanted to work with Peanut first. He got P’s halter and lead rope. Peanut was standing by the house at the far end of the back round pen. I put the rope around P’s neck and showed D what part of the halter went over P’s nose. P stood very still and D slipped the halter over his nose. I showed him how to bring the halter rope behind P’s ears and fasten it. D did it all except for tying the knot. D stroked P’s forelock for a very long time. He was very quiet and Peanut was very still. After a long time I asked D if he was feeling calm. Yes. I suggested if he was ever in a situation where he felt tense or anxious to remember Peanut and how this felt. I asked if he wanted to walk Peanut. Yes. I showed him how to hold the lead rope and give the command, “Walk.” Peanut walked right next to him. D and Peanut walked over the entire property several times. D ended up walking Peanut into the barn, removing the halter and lead rope and hanging them on the appropriate hook.
LITTLE JUAN: D brought back L.J.’s halter and lead rope to L.J. who was standing in the barn. When L.J. saw that D had the halter, he walked out of the barn and around the entire property with D, following behind. Later, C asked D, “Who was leading? You or Little Juan?” D answered, “Little Juan.” NOTE: this could be significant because one of the things we are working on is helping D to be comfortable with FOLLOWING, rather than always needing to be first. Finally, Little Juan walked back into the barn and stood quietly while D put on his halter. D mastered clipping and unclipping the lead rope.
Once D haltered Little Juan he petted Little Juan’s forelock just as he had pet Peanut. It seemed like a meditation for boy and horse. Both were very quiet. After awhile he took the lead rope correctly and walked L.J. out of the barn, around the property several times and back to the barn. I asked D if he would like to “trot” L.J. He said no. C asked if he knew what “trot” meant. He said no. She identified the round pen in front and described getting L.J. to trot. D didn’t want to do it. He took off L.J.’s halter and hung it up.
RED BALL: D spotted a red exercise ball behind one of the panels. He asked about it. I told him L.J. was afraid of it. Peanut was not afraid. We opened the panel. Peanut went right in. He wanted to get to the wisps of hay on the ground and inadvertently moved the ball. L. J. saw this and left the barn. D picked up the ball and followed L.J. L. J. moved farther away. D sat on the ball. I got cheerios which I use for treats and gave some to D to put on the ball. (He was still sitting on it.) He put some on the ball and L.J. ate them off the ball! They played for a bit…. Sometimes L.J. ate cheerios from D’s hand, sometimes off the ball. D stood up. L.J. moved toward the barn. D kind of rolled the ball toward L.J. L, J., frightened, did a kind of jump/turn in the air and hurried into the barn. “What just happened?” I asked. D said L.J. got scared. We went into the barn. L. J., Peanut and the ball were in one quarter L.J. was kind of cornered and D was pretty close to him and Peanut. I asked if he could tell how L.J. was feeling. He said, “Scared.” I started to say, “Let’s give him some room,” but Peanut moved out, thus giving L.J. room and L.J. moved out, too. At the end of the session D and I talked about L.J.’s fear, and ways we might be able to help him overcome those fears and we agreed to work on it again next session.
NOTE: At one point when I mentioned how lovely it was to see D petting the horses and how quiet they were he told me he was building trust with them.
FEEDING: D and his parents and sister helped me give the horses hay for their lunch.
At the beginning of the session C told D that she and I had talked about her taking pictures of him with the horses. We thought he might want to keep those pictures with him for extra comfort! He gave his approval for her to take pictures.
SIGNS OF PROGRESS: C mentioned that on Friday, D took himself to the “cool down corner” several times. With C’s “Okay” I congratulated D on doing this. I asked what made him decide to go to the cool down corner. He said he felt frustrated. When his family came back to pick him up we talked a bit about what we did in the session. I took him aside and asked if we could tell his family about his making the decision to take himself to the cool down corner. He said we could tell them and we did. Everyone praised him. Some one asked why did he go to the cool down corner. He said he felt angry.
During the session he told me he saw some poop and wanted to clean it up. We got the bucket and he took two rakes and gave me one! As we were cleaning I noticed that D persevered when some of the “matter” got away from him or was hard to pick up. He just kept at it until he got everything. I complimented him on being patient and continuing to work at it until it was finished. I asked if that reminded him of anything he was doing at school and right away he said, “Stacking Cups!” With his permission, we shared this with his family, too.
SESSION 2 activities:
D walked each of the horses around the property several times. I showed him how to ask the horse to “Wait” when going through a narrow space, going through first and having the horse follow him. This requires a lot of coordination. At first he was quite timid about trying this but I noticed he kept practicing (quietly!) and by the end, got the hang of it. He walked quietly and thoughtfully beside each horse. He determined when he was finished with a horse, lead him into the barn, took off the halter and lead rope and hung them on the correct hook!
At one point, C talked about what a good, fast runner D is. She asked if he wanted to run with the horse. I noticed D picking up his pace and kind of running a few steps but Little Juan did not follow his lead and D stopped “running.” D said something to me about wanting to get the horse to trot. We closed the gates to enclose the round pen. I had D take off Little Juan’s lead rope. I showed him how to give hand and voice commands for “wait,” “back,” “come.” He did all of these with each horse and used cheerio treats to get the horses to come to him. I asked if he wanted to get the horse to trot in the round pen. Yes. I showed him how to twirl the end of the lead rope… slowly for “walk” and faster for “trot,” and tapping the horse on his back end to encourage him.
NOTE: At this point I think D was tired. Twirling the rope, giving the command, “trot,” and keeping the horse trotting requires a lot of thought and coordination. It isn’t easy and it wasn’t easy for D. I helped him and he had some success but he seemed discouraged. Perhaps he felt he “should” get it right, immediately. I am not certain what he was thinking. When we were finished and D had put away the halters and lead ropes, he walked to one of the pen panels. Peanut came around and stood next to him!
It turns out that shortly after our session, D came down with strep throat and the flu. This may explain his seeming discouragement toward the end of our session. C brought photos she had taken of D with Peanut and D with Little Juan. She caught D’s calmness and the gentleness of each horse. She gave D’s mother copies of the photos, too. My hope is that he will be able to look at those photos when he needs help calming down. I framed my copy and hung it in the barn. I took D to the barn to see the photo.
D chose to work with Little Juan first. He got the halter and lead rope. I helped him halter the horse. He remembered the command, “Walk On.” He also remembered how to hold the lead rope. He walked Little Juan around the property several times. After a bit he remembered to give the command, “Wait” when going through a narrow opening. I showed D how to stand with his hip next to L.J’s shoulder, stop next to the horse saying “Whoa” or “Stop” and take one step backwards, saying “Back” to the horse so they step back at the same time. This requires a lot of coordination as well as some exactness. If D moves away from the horse, even slightly, the horse won’t move straight back. D tried this over and over again until he finally mastered the maneuver. After he had mastered it I asked, ”How many times did you have to try before you got it?” He said, “Lots!” I complimented him on his never giving up and never getting frustrated. I asked him to remember this victory and keep trying when he is learning something new at school.
He walked Little Juan into the barn, took off his halter and lead rope and hung them up. I asked if he wanted to walk with Peanut. “No, thank you.” All of us stood quietly. I asked what he would like to do. He put his finger to his lips as though thinking. Peanut walked into the barn and up to D. He licked D’s coat. D still didn’t want to walk Peanut. He walked over to the shelves and asked about a rubber ball that was tucked away. I got it out and showed it to him. I asked if he wanted to see if the horses would play with it. “Yes.” I gave him the choice of this ball or the red ball. He said, “This ball because Little Juan is afraid of the red ball.” D was very gentle, showing the ball to Peanut and Little Juan. He waited patiently. Neither horse showed much interest in the ball. We put the ball away. I asked if he would like to walk Peanut now. “Yes.” We haltered Peanut and D walked him around the property several times. He also practiced saying “Whoa” and stepping back with Peanut who stepped back with him! He took a few quick steps forward with Peanut. Peanut didn’t trot. I think he wants to trot with the horses but he doesn’t feel quite ready.
D and his sister raked the barn together while D’s mother and C talked. They helped me fill the feed bags with hay and fasten the bags to the panels in the barn. They swept the extra hay off the deck for the horses.
LITTLE JUAN stood and watched D walk toward him. D and I stopped in front of L.J. and watched him twitch his ears. We guessed about what he might be communicating. After awhile, D walked past L.J. into the back round pen where Peanut was rooting through some dead leaves. He stood close to Peanut and watched him. I asked if he would like to walk with one of the horses. “No, thank you.” I asked if there was something he would like to do. “Yes, get the red ball.” NOTE: 3 sessions ago, D had accidentally frightened L.J. by moving the red ball too quickly toward L.J. We talked about how we might be able to help L.J. overcome his fear.
RED BALL: D got the red ball. Peanut and Little Juan were in the back round pen. D walked very slowly/deliberately toward them. He was rolling the ball with his fingers walking along the top of it. He kept stopping to watch Little Juan. He was extremely careful. Little Juan was watching D and the ball. At first he kept his distance but as time went on, he began to move closer to D. L.J. NEVER left the area! D NEVER rushed the process. We were watching a kind of slow motion dance. D rolled the ball a little bit. L.J. moved around the round pen a little bit, always watching D. After a long while, L.J. came up to D and the ball and put his nose on the ball!!!! NOTE: last week I had mentioned to C I thought one reason D enjoyed these horse visits so much was because he can take all the time he wants to do what he wants to do with the horses. Today, there were times when I wanted to speed up the process by using treats to encourage L.J. I am so glad I waited because in the end no one needed treats. D and L.J. just needed time to let everything unfold. After L.J. put his nose on the ball, I applauded and congratulated D on his success in helping L.J. overcome his fear.
WALKING WITH L.J. Now when I asked D if he wanted to walk a horse he said yes. He got L.J.’s halter and I helped him put it on. He remember how to hold the lead rope and give commands, “walk” “wait” “whoa” “back” He remembered to have L.J. wait so D could go through narrow places first. Today, L.J. often stood with feet planted, stubbornly still when D asked him to “Walk on.” I talked to D about INTENTION. D found a stronger voice! He is still quite tentative but L.J. is helping him find his assertiveness. D is now executing the exercise of “Walk on” “Whoa” and “Back” staying next to the horse and moving in tandem 95% of the time. It is beautiful to observe!
TROTTING: I’ve seen D take a few quick steps with L.J. My feeling is he wants to trot with the horse but isn’t quite sure how to get it to happen. Today, as they were walking in the round pen I said, “Faster” and I walked with them, quickening my pace… “Faster” and they began to pick up speed until, at last, D and L.J. were trotting, side by side. I could not see his face but C told me he was smiling broadly as they trotted. I gave the command, “Walk” and both slowed down. Then I said, “Whoa” and both of them stopped. We repeated this pattern several times. After awhile, D walked L.J. into the barn, took off his halter and lead rope, and hung them up.
END: Catherine came to pick up D. While I told her about the session, C and D filled hay bags to give the horses for lunch. Catherine and I went into the house for a moment. When we came out, D and C were still holding the feed bags filled with hay. The horses were following them! D’s mother told C she heard D say, “Patience,” to Little Juan!
ANOTHER NOTE: C had told me that in school D wants to be first and wants to be in control. I am wondering if he had been afraid to trot with a horse because he might lose control. If that is the case, this was a good experience for him because L.J. slowed down and stopped alongside D, when we asked him to.