Experiential learning is simply learning through exploring, experiencing, creating, discovering, relating to the world around us.
Working with horses and riding is an excellent example of this literal hands-on learning! I cannot tell you how many children I see that struggle in traditional classrooms yet can effortlessly identify up to 20 parts on a horse and explain in detail how their digestive systems work or the differences between multiple breeds.
Learning to work effectively with a flight animal (any animal that flees as protection instead of fighting to defend themselves), such as a horse takes knowledge, skill, and patience but the rewards are empowering. Not to mention the natural lessons of compassion and respect that are learned. Confucius said, “Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.”
Because so much communication with animals happens non-verbally, children respond especially well to working with the horses. Both teens and horses have little tolerance for adults who say one thing and do, or mean, another.
Like the horses, teens appreciate authentic communication and people who “say it like it is”. At least twice a week I say, “Mean what you say (consequences – If you say WHOA, the horse must stop, 100% of the time) and say what you mean” (clarity – Don’t ask a horse to slow its speed while still pushing them forward).
At the same time, children need to respect their ‘elders’ – a behavior that horses have modeled for thousands of years. The leader of any horse herd is the Alpha Mare – she is in charge no matter what – even the stallions(s) listen to her – and has years of experience and skill behind her leadership. Horses are masters at sensing our body language and emotions. They have an uncanny ability to read energy and respond to it – they always know when we’re in a hurry or a bad mood or need a lesson in humility. They respond to our behaviors, attitudes and intention with direct, non-judgmental and authentic feedback.
What a great lesson to ‘experience’.