On August 9th, I returned to Ocean Riders of Marin for a very special morning. There is always activity around the place, but usually it is members tending to their boarded horses or preparing to go out for a ride. This morning’s visitors were from Coach Bob’s Adventure Camp: seven children (ages five to ten), two young counselors, and Bob. For some of the children, this was their first up-close-and-personal experience with horses.
Their first activity was the most unique of the day, as one by one they spent time in the arena with Jessica Pinto and her very special buckskin, Lucky Little Bear. Jessica is a Marriage and Family Therapist who uses Equine Therapy as one of her methods to help people who struggle with developmental or social challenges. As she explains it, “I consider myself a ‘translator’ for the client and the horse as I have been consistently inspired by the profound impact a horse can make on our sense of self and our way of being in the world, if we only allow them.”
In fact, anyone can benefit from what Jessica and Bear teach. The children listened with rapt attention as she spoke of the three important elements needed to work successfully with a horse: trust, respect, and communication. And all three must go both ways. Horses are very intuitive animals with a strong desire to please. But, in ways that can sometimes seem very human, they will occasionally choose to do as little as they can get away with. Jessica met each child where he or she was in their level of confidence around horses, and coached them to be assertive.
Bear has been trained in Natural Horsemanship, so he responds to body movements and signals that are based on horses’ natural way of communicating with each other. Jessica carefully taught each child in turn just how to “talk” to him. Imagine the feeling of empowerment derived from making a 1000-pound animal back up with a simple waggle of your finger, or watching him step toward you when you invite him in with a bow from the waist. The expressions of wonder and pride on the children’s faces were priceless.
Bear also responds to praise and thrives on positive attention. His favorite trick is to stand on a stump in the arena and strike a regal pose. The campers rewarded him with a very satisfying round of applause.
Next, we walked to the nearby pasture where each child was taught how to lead, ride, and groom a horse. Frankly, being in the arena with Bear was a hard act to follow, but taking a slow turn around a big meadow on such a beautiful day was pretty cool. Once again, the experience was a lesson in give and take. The kids enjoyed their rides, and the horses appreciated being brushed and combed so diligently.
Ocean Riders is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), along with their neighbors at the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. Their harmonious relationship extends to the organic gardens at the Zen Center. Maureen Pinto, Ocean Rider’s Manager, explains it this way: “We at Ocean Riders know it is a privilege to have our horses in this special watershed, so we have to take excellent care of the land. The horses thrive on the grasses in the pasture and what they don’t need goes back to the land. But we must move it to cook in the compost for it to nourish the land… a full cycle of life.” Not even waste is wasted. The campers final task was to clean the pasture and walk the wheelbarrows full of manure over to add to the compost piles. I’m not sure the pasture was ever mucked so enthusiastically.
A lot of personal growth and learning happened while these kids were having fun. It’s an experience they may never forget.
And it all happened before lunchtime.