River shifted in her crossties, taking small steps with her hooves. “I’m so tired of standing here!” she thought to herself, exhaling hard. She lifted her left front leg to paw the ground. Right at that moment, she heard a familiar voice. “Hi River! How are you doing today?” She looked to her right to see a smiling child walking towards her. He stretched out his hand and gently stroked her neck and shoulder. River immediately felt the anxiety coursing through her lessen as she relaxed into his soothing touch. “My friend Steven* is here, thank goodness!” she thought to herself with relief.
Steven proceeded to groom River, starting with the rubber curry comb in gentle circles, and slowly moving on to the stiff dandy brush and the soft body brush. River remembered when she first met Steven, he had been quite nervous around her, and unsure of her as well as of himself. She had tried her best to be very patient with Steven, as she taught him her likes and dislikes, and how to be a kind, assertive friend with healthy boundaries. Now, Steven was much calmer whenever he came to visit her, and he helped her scratch all her itchy spots with great gusto! As the dirt flicked out of her silky coat, River started to relax more and more. She began to lick and chew, a display of a truly relaxed horse. River felt safe in Steven’s presence; his new-found calm, assertive energy allowed her to stand still and focus on him and what he was asking her to do.
Once River was spotless, Steven clipped a lead rope onto the bottom ring of her halter and unsnapped the crossties. With his Urban Stable instructor beside him, he asked River to step forward, out of the grooming stall. He led her into the arena, and they began to go for a brisk walk around the perimeter of the ring. River stretched her legs with delight, pleased at the chance to get moving after all that standing still! Steven paid close attention to his horse, inhaling, and making a clicking sound when he asked her to move forward, and exhaling and saying a firm “Whoa” when he asked her to halt. River thrived from the clear instruction, happy to understand exactly what Steven wanted her to do! She loved being a good teammate to her human partner, and his excellent leadership made her confident in her ability to trust in him.
Once River had finished her warm-up, Steven guided her through a series of gymkhana games using orange cones and poles he had set up earlier in various patterns throughout the arena. He asked River to move her body in different directions and sometimes she even had to spin in a tight circle around one of the cones! He walked beside her, between her head and her shoulder, holding the lead rope loosely in his hands. At times he asked her to halt, and he would pet her neck lovingly and tell her she was such a good girl. This was River’s absolute favourite!! The more Steven told her she was doing a great job, the more she wanted to keep trying as hard as she could for him! Steven seemed eager to spend more and more quality time with River. The longer River knew him, his focus and attention span increased, and he was less frustrated learning and practicing new skills compared to the beginning of program. River could tell that she had helped make a big impression on Steven, and this filled her with joy. “All humans deserve to unbridle their potential,” she thought to herself.
Steven played a few more games with River, ‘Red Light/Green Light’, a dice game with addition and subtraction math skills, as well as a game describing positive traits one might have. River was enjoying herself so much spending time with her friend Steven, that she lost track of the time completely! She tried to be a wonderful teammate to her two legged companion because he made her feel so special and secure. She could tell that Steven was having a ton of fun too. His smile got bigger and bigger the longer he was with her! This made her even happier, and when class was finally over and Steven had to go, they were both in a state of comfortable bliss. Steven had learned so much at Urban Stable; how to be a leader, how to be a good friend, and how to work as an amazing team with his horse, developing empathy and compassion. “Steven should be so proud of himself!” River reflected, “He deserves a whole bucket of carrots for his hard work and achievements!”
Steven said goodbye to River and spent a few moments sweetly caressing her soft coat. “I’ll see you next week River!” he exclaimed as he headed out the door, beaming from ear to ear. River nickered a soft farewell and wished her friend a fantastic day. Her Urban Stable instructor led River out of the barn and turned her back into her pasture with all her horse friends. River walked over to her hay and snatched a mouthful with a smile on her face. “What a great day” she mused to herself as she munched away peacefully. “I couldn’t imagine a better life than helping humans build confidence and trust” she thought with contentment as the birds sang in the trees beside her and the soft breeze ruffled her dark mane.
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*Name and photo changed to protect their identity