Colonel and Jugsy Therapy

Every Wednesday, Robert and I bring a packet of carrots to The Bridge Center.  We divide the packet into two halves.  The first one is for Jugsy, a veteran horse, who lately enjoys his corral for the most of the day as he is recuperating from leg surgery.   The second half is for Colonel, who took after Jugsy the responsibility of teaching Robert to ride.  Of course, there were other horses before and they taught Robert a lot about riding:  from not bouncing in a saddle to keeping balance, from good posture to careful grooming, from names of equipment to joy of riding.

Jugsy, however, is the first horse who listened to Robert.  Jugsy allowed Robert to lead him around the walls of the arena.  He let Robert weave  between orange cones. He turned right when Robert told him to turn right and he turned left when Robert asked him to.  He went around the barrels and, with some reluctance, walked over the posts.  Jugsy stopped when  Robert ordered him to stop and resumed walking when Robert  gently touched horse’s sides with his feet.  In a horse’s language that touch must have felt more like a whisper than a loud command.  Nonetheless, Jugsy listened and walked.

After Jugsy,  Colonel took over the teaching. Colonel put emphasis on a clarity of communication.He listened as attentively as  Jugsy, but wanted Robert to improve the intelligibility  of his “speech”.   Gentle touch would not suffice to move Colonel. Robert had to kick the sides of a horse a little more assertively.  To convince Colonel not to avoid walking over posts, Robert had to hold the rains very firmly.

Jugsy and Colonel  listened to Robert, so  Robert kept on “speaking” to them for 30 minutes every week.  I don’t think there is another creature in the whole world, who has listened to Robert as much as those two horses have.  By attentive listening and calm compliance both horses installed in Robert the strong belief in the power of communication.

Of course, it has to be said that at this phase Robert is mostly a translator.  He translates commands given by instructors into horses’ language.

The instructors say,  “Go to the letter A (letters are attached to the walls) , turn left, and weave”, or” Tell Colonel to stop at letter B”, or “Tell Jugsy to walk” and Robert translates those directions into the language horses understand.  In this way Robert is a medium between trainers and horses.  This has a positive impact as it forces Robert to listen and process directions while engaging in the activity.  It is a good exercise for both: working memory, and attention.

For the most of the “typical” riders that would be enough.  From that point on they would take over and make their own decision as to where and how they want to ride.  But for Robert making and/or expressing his own preferences  as to where and how to lead the horse is  almost impossible.

I am hopeful, however,  that Colonel and Jugsy with  the help from the riding instructors will encourage Robert to  find his own words, and make his own choices while in the saddle and everywhere else..

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