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February 4, 2015: Once a Teacher . . .

I came by the ability and the desire to teach honestly. Both my parents were teachers. My father taught algebra and other math classes to high schoolers for many years. And my mother taught elementary school for many years. She became a teacher after she and my father parted company. My sister has been a teacher now for close to 20 years. She teaches in Portland, in a poor school district. Additionally, a good number of my best friends are teachers. This includes Christopher, my biographer.

No surprise, I have a degree in teaching college writing. I have not taught formally in twelve year because no teaching jobs at the college level have materialized here for me in Alaska. I have recently applied for two jobs, one in Montana and one in Utah. Been thinking about the Utah job and in my head putting together a presentation entitled “Don’t Dismiss the Student.” If called down for an interview, I’d put a presentation with this title together. (Seems like the presentation is a part of the interview process – you have to dance for your dinner.) I would talk about the similarities inherent to working with animals and students, focusing of course on the use of positive reinforcement.

It’s odd that I would be putting something like this together mentally because I just got the application in the mail two days ago. But, once a teacher, always a teacher.

Indeed, today I again worked with Dick Stoffel and his mare Jokla. I feel a special affinity for this horse because I named her. The English translation of her Icelandic name is “she who walks on glaciers fearlessly.” And she really is a fearless horse. Little seems to faze her.

Anyhow, my lesson with Dick was like others that I’ve orchestrated; I that it followed a predictable pattern. It began with a short lecture/discussion in which I continued to talk about specific aspects of centered riding, which is centering, breathing, balance, awareness, building blocks, and grounding. Today I also talked about proprioception. There was an article on this very subject in the most recent issue of Equus Magazine. According to writer Janet Jones, proprioception is “the sense of body awareness that tells you where your body is in space. With practice, your own proprioceptive nerves allow you to feel where your horse’s legs are, how they are moving, whether his back is relaxed or tense, whether he is calm or frightened, how he changes in response to your physical pressure and release. Equine proprioception, in turn, permits a horse to sense the pressures, location, and tensions within their own bodies and ours. At any moment when he carries a rider, a horse with sharp proprioception knows not only where his legs are, but also where your legs are and what they’re doing.”

Dick picked up a copy of the magazine that was sitting on the kitchen table and began reading it. And after we talked about it for a bit, he got it, totally. And he understood how this term related to what we’ve been doing both in and out of the saddle. I had once attempted to explain this to a woman named Julie, who was interested in doing TTouches on her dog. She didn’t get it at all, and in fact left my place sort of huffy. This was in part because I could not then explain it, and because she wasn’t at all receptive to what I was getting at.

I had in one of my handouts, a drawing of a skeleton. Last night I took this drawing and I highlighted the places that pertained to images. For instance, in regard to the image of one’s head being pulled up by a string, I drew this on the picture. What I was attempting to do here was to give a visual picture in relation to the areas pertaining to these images.

We next did a series of stretches and releases. I think that these are the things that Dick most enjoys doing. For sure, the degree of motivation is higher when it’s cold outside. Then next, we went outside. I did some body work on Jokla, my rationalization being that she too needed to be relaxed. I’d laid an entire course out in advance of Dick’s coming over – this included the corn oil jugs tied together with baling wine, the hula hoop, the rope and tarp, and the bridge. The latter consisted of two saw horses and poles on each of the four corners, and a tarp in the center.

I noticed that the minute Dick put the bitless bridle on Jokla that her eyes grew hard Once Dick was on her, she continually tossed her head. We finally loosened key straps, and she relaxed some. I also put a body wrap on her.

Dick also rode the obstacle course. It got better and better with Jokla becoming increasingly more calm. And when we went through the above-mentioned visualizations (that is the one’s on the sheet) she visibly relaxed, momentarily lowering her head.

So again, today, energy wise was a downward spiral. Each time I’ve worked with Dick and Jokla, things have gotten progressively better instead of progressively worse. If they got worse, I would abandon ship and get a job in retail.

Why, I’m wondering, don’t other instructors do what I’m doing? Takes time that’s for sure. But there is something very gratifying about doing things the way I am doing them with Dick and Jokla. Today, for instance, seeing Jokla relax and walk calmly was a high point in my horsey career. There has been no rope tossing or talk about dominance. Likewise, Dick and I agree that a horse should only get treats if it earns that treat. To which I say, give that treat immediately.

My limited success is impressive, given that I don’t have a like-minded instructor or anyone to bounce ideas of ff. I did take a few centered riding clinics a few years back. However, my knowledge is primarily book-based. Again, once a teacher, always a teacher.

Next: 36. 2/5/15: At Play on a Windy Day

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