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Educator Articles

Horse Sense

By Chick Moorman


Leesa Massman doesn't teach algebra, social studies or penmanship. She fills out no lesson plans, she has no scheduled bus duty, and she spends no time in the classroom. Yet, Leesa is most certainly an educator in every sense of the word. She is also a Spirit Whisperer.

Leesa teaches children, young and old, to ride horses. She is not a professional educator. She has had no formal training in teaching. She knows horses and she knows children. And she knows how to effect the spirit in each.

The first time I observed Leesa giving a lesson to a young child, the horse stopped abruptly and the child slid off. She seized the moment and went with what had been presented to her as a teacher. "Ball up and roll," she told the startled youngster. "Roll with the punches. If you're going to ride horses, you're going to fall off. It goes with the territory. Even the most experienced riders fall off once in a while. Roll with the punches. Don't fight it or resist it. Just go with it. And get back on right away. That's what we do in life and that's what we do with horses." The child got back on and the session continued even though the main lesson had already been delivered.

During another session, I watched Leesa work with a youngster whose horse was making the mistake of taking off on the wrong foot when he switched gears to a faster speed. The rider was upset with herself for not cueing the horse correctly and was becoming frustrated. "What makes a good rider," she told the concerned student, "is knowing how to fix errors. All students and all horses make errors. The trick is in knowing how to fix them. The only way to know how to fix things is to make a lot of errors. Then you get good at fixing."

The rest of the lesson was spent on making errors on purpose and fixing them. When the child or the horse made an error, Leesa had the student and the horse exaggerate it. "Notice how it feels so you'll recognize it if it happens in the show ring or when you are practicing on your own," she challenged. "Now let's work on fixing it."

On subsequent lessons I heard the following remarks as Leesa helped her students ride horses and learn valuable life lessons.

"Think confidently. If the horse senses your uncertainty, he'll take advantage of you. If you are not confident, it's ok. Just act as if your are."

"Don't gauge your progress by one lesson. Gauge it by the week."

"I like the horse that is a mental challenge, because they make me think. Your horse is good that way. He is making you think. He is making you a better rider. Appreciate him for that."

"She just did something smart horses will do. She distracted you from doing something you wanted to do. If she does anything evasive, put her right back on track."

"Nip the problem when it first starts or it'll get out of hand."

"Here's your homework assignment. This week as you ride, figure out what the problem is. You can't solve a problem until you know what it is. Then figure out how to solve it. Remember, the same method doesn't work for every horse. If it's getting worse, what you are doing is not helping. If it's getting better, keep doing what you have been doing."

"Appreciate your horse's problems. It's like working with an engine. If you only work with new engines that work effectively, you'll never learn how to fix engines."

"Always pick the weakest spot and work on that."

"Give your horse the opportunity to make the choice. The best thing to do is to let it be his idea. If you don't, someday when you least expect it, he'll have the opportunity to make a choice and it might not be the choice you want."

"Nothing gets solved immediately. It might take a few rounds."

"The more you force, the harder they fight."

"If you're inconsistent, that's when they get resistant."

"Your horse can't beat you if you never run out of options. Act like you are in control and that you know what you are doing."

"The horse will take on your attitude whether you are depressed or full of energy. Become an actress. Pretend like you have a positive attitude."

The lessons Leesa teaches have to do with more than just horses. They are lessons about life, attitude, energy, perception, persistence, personal power, confidence, self-responsibility, and control. Her vehicle is horses. Her destination is a child's spirit.

(To contact Leesa Massman, e-mail lmassman@aol.com.)