Misunderstood: Teens & Horses

Good Morning Beautiful Human

I’ve been thinking lately about the horses who come into our lives. In my life as a horse trainer people rarely come to me with “well behaved” horses but it does happen from time to time.

One of my favorite horses I work with is named Diamond and he is such a “good” horse. He is responsive, wicked smart, and has a wonderful sense of humor. My impression of him is that he hasn’t known many harsh days in his life, and what a gift that is for him. In horse training, much of the work is more human related than horse, so even though Diamond responds well to me as his trainer, he likes to push the boundaries with his human and see what he can get away with. Overall though, he’s what I would classify as an easy horse.

I get a lot of horses in training that are not “easy”. They are often scared, usually shut down, sometimes angry, occasionally dangerous. These are the horses who have had their contract with humanity damaged or broken. These are the horses that we as humans have failed. These are the horses who get labeled “Bad” because they have to shout louder than the “good” or “compliant” horses, in order to be heard. (read: bite, kick, rear, buck, refuse, panic, attack)

My thoughts turn to the human world and how this dynamic is paralleled with kids.
I was often labeled a “good” kid, I didn’t really act out much and I was very respectful of adults but I struggled mightily in school. The system failed me as it does so many of us who don’t fit the mold. By the end of my Sophomore year my counselor had told me I would either need to do Summer School and extra credit until I graduated or maybe I just might be better off dropping out and getting my GED.
I ended up going to an Alternative high school for my Senior year.

All of us who attended Mclain Community High School were not what polite society would consider “good kids”. We were all misfits. We were all kids who ditched school, acted out, didn’t no homework, smoked cigarettes and weed, had criminal records and displayed other various and unique unwanted behaviors.

We were the kids society left behind because we were hard. Like the horses who get passed around because they are hard.

It’s not like we set out to be “bad” kids. Very few people saw us. We had to get louder than the “good” kids so somebody might pay attention and give us a hand up. The “normal” school systems and our family systems didn’t have the tools, so they passed us off onto someone else.

Luckily, the teachers of Mclain were like the new generation of horse trainers. The approach was something entirely different. They treated us like humans, capable of achieving the tasks set before us. They were all so kind. We were given the option to work our way to freedom – Fridays off from school if we completed a certain amount of reading every month. They taught us life skills like resume building and how to interview for a job, and they encouraged exploration of hobbies like hiking, videography, even horses.

Under the guiding hand of these kind individuals, who did not abuse us, who treated us fairly, who spoke to us like capable adults, my graduating class was full. I even completed my Senior year early and had landed a job with the skills the job preparedness classes taught me. I stayed with Apex Park and Rec for 9 years before building and launching my coaching business.

Under the guiding hand of a good trainer, the kind of trainer I strive to be, I’ve watched the “hard” horses soften. By teaching the humans that they must be prepared to heal the damage and the rift between the horse and humanity with fairness, kindness, gentleness and above all else, unconditional love and acceptance for where the horse is in the process, we begin to change the story.

So what’s the point?

Horses and Teens must both be given a safe space. They must be given room to grow. They must be held as capable and whole, not broken and damaged. They must be loved without an agenda. They must be cherished, because they are fragile. We so often treat kids as if their hearts are made of rubber and horses as if their size makes them immune to pain. In fact, they are both tender and vulnerable. Abusive actions and hurtful words leave marks that can take a lifetime to heal.

If your horse is acting in a way where your first reaction says “Bad”, please pause.
Instead of coming from a place of judgment, seek your curiosity. What are they really saying? What need is not being met? What is not being heard?

If your teen is driving you to distraction, and your first reaction is anger, please pause.
Come from a place of compassion and curiosity. Find out what they need from you. You might have to dig deep, because once that trust has been fractured they may not feel like you’ll hear them, or that they will get in trouble. Be soft. Act from your highest self. It’s not an indictment of you as a parent, it’s really not about you at all.

These are not “Bad” beings. They’re misunderstood and they’re tired of screaming to be heard. So Listen.

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