“There’s something very powerful about being face to face with these creatures who are large and who mirror our energy,”
Mooch, the 5-year-old mustang with the mischievous eye, was getting all the attention.
As three teachers tried to coax him to the end of the arena without benefit of halter or lead rope, Henry waited passively to be called on, his attention wandering off to a pair of horses stalled nearby.
“We felt like Henry was going to cooperate no matter what,” said Kathy Hayes, a Prince George County elementary school resource teacher, explaining why her team chose Mooch for the exercise.
“So tie that to the classroom,” Barbara Morgan, associate professor of psychology at Richard Bland College, asked the teachers. “What happens to those who cooperate?”
“They get overlooked at times,” Hayes said. The attention goes to “the one we know is going to be the challenge.”
But in this equine-assisted learning class offered by Richard Bland, it was the horses doing the teaching.
The challenge for the students was to interpret the shifting body language of horses as a lesson in self-awareness they could take back to school.
The weeklong teacher recertification class focused on coping strategies and stress management intended for “helping professionals,” said Morgan, a licensed professional counselor, marriage and family therapist and a certified psychotherapist through the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association.
Horses make excellent teachers, Morgan said.
“There’s something very powerful about being face to face with these creatures who are large and who mirror our energy,” she said.
As prey animals, with their survival at stake, horses constantly monitor their environment and the dynamics of anyone around them, Morgan said.
“They are highly emotionally intelligent and good sources of information about what is happening during an activity involving them,” she said.
Through its new equine center, Richard Bland also offers a three-course Equine Therapy Certificate, a credential for students enrolled in the college’s associate in behavioral science degree program as well as for licensed professionals seeking additional skills.
In both equine-centered classes, the horse is a key member of a team whose role is to serve as a metaphor for self-reflection, Morgan said.
“It’s not about horsey magic or petting the pony will heal you,” she said. “It’s really a learning model.”
The classes are ground-based — no one rides the equine team member.