Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Taking Steps, Missing Steps, Stumbling, and Moving Forward

Because I compare everything in my life to horses, I've been thinking about my daughter's education and the horse training I've done.

Last night was Girl's Grade 8 Graduation.  Yes, she was lovely.  Exquisite!  She looked so cute in her black and pink polka dot dress: very pretty and elegant, but not too grownup.  She smiled, she stood up straight, and she walked in those high heels like she'd been doing it for years.  (Actually, she has. She's grown out of all my high heeled boots so she had to get her own!)

I was so proud of her.  And I had so many conflicting emotions during the ceremony.  Any mother will feel that her kid ain't ready for big bad scary high school.  I really honestly feel that she is ready.  BUT.  I've had many long conversations with her school about her math problems.  She's smart enough to get good marks, but those marks don't show her frustration and discouragement.  It doesn't show that after years of not quite getting it, she kind of doesn't give a crap about math anymore.  Most of all, those high marks do not show that there are a lot of gaps in her education.

Because of her Attention Deficit Oh Shiny, she was in Unicorn Land when certain mathematical things were being taught.  Anybody with ADOS will tell you that there are complex coping strategies invented to get through life in a Focused Punctual Organized World.  She's got a huge network of inventions.  She could have fooled her teachers but she couldn't hide if from me.  

So here we've got a child who could potentially have massive problems next year.  I don't intend to let that happen.  I spent an hour and a half at the school this afternoon, hashing out a plan to get her the special help she'll need in Grade 9, getting the paperwork together, finding out who I speak to next.  I have my own coping strategies.  When my hands started shaking with anxiety around the 70 minute mark, I placed them on my neck, or in my lap.  I sipped water to keep my mouth from drying up.  I found spaces in the conversation to exhale so that I wouldn't hyperventilate.  I blinked when my mind wandered.  I hated doing this meeting.  It had to be done.  My daughter is missing a few important steps in her education.  I have to make sure this gets solved.

I'm her mother.  Nobody loves her like I do, or cares more for her future.  This is what I do for her.

So now you might be wondering how this relates to horse training.  Let me tell you about a petite mare who you know as the Little Lady (even though that isn't her real name.)

We got her as a tiny little yearling.  She'd been picked on quite a bit by the other foals, which is one of the reasons my friend DW sent her out to Dad's place for the summer.  Well soon we'd fallen in love and I made the deal with my friend for us to keep her.  Instead of paying for boarding the other two horses she sent over that summer, she gave us the filly.  (I always wanted one of my friend's foals, and I'm so glad we got this one!)

She was meant to be my kids' horse.  She has the perfect temperament for it.  However, because of her tiny size and an injury to her hind leg, I waited until age three to start her under saddle. I was too cautious to start her at age two.   

Meanwhile, she had all those steps in place to be able to mentally handle what life was throwing at her: She'd been handled gently and firmly by humans for her whole life.  She knew that she could trust us.  Being led to the barn for a scoop of grain and flake of hay was not much different than being taken into her stall to have a vet look her over. She was never allowed to be rude, but she knew that it was nice to be with people.

Keep in mind, I don't live with the horses.  I knew with my limited time with them, it was going to be a long, slow process to get her trained.

I spent her two year old year doing all kinds of groundwork, but no lunging because I didn't want to run her in tight circles.  I took no chances with that leg.  I draped saddle blankets all over her body, flipped ropes over her back, around her legs, under her tail... all of which she reacted to by blinking those big eyes.  

If her reaction was any stronger, I backed off.  I went back to something she was okay with.  If she didn't like the rope under her belly, I went back to laying it over her neck.  I watched her reactions and body language because that's how she told me how she was doing.  Eventually I saddled her, but just left it there for awhile, maybe rode my other horse while the filly stood saddled and tied to the barn.  Later we worked on putting a bit in her mouth and letting her flap her jaws til she got used to it.  

I might have had a total of four days each month to work on her.  It's not ideal.  They need to keep things fresh in their minds.  I think I got away with it because A) she's smart B) she's not rebellious at all, and C) I had decided not to rush her, ever.  Even if I had to recap over and over, I didn't rush.

The day I first sat on her back was totally anti-climactic. She was tied, in her usual spot, and all saddled up.  I put a foot in the stirrup.  I took it out.  I did something else for a minute, came back, foot in, foot out.  Went away.  Came back.  Foot in stirrup, held the saddle horn and bounced on my leg a little.  Did the whole go away come back thing.  Worked my way up to putting weight on that stirrup, then standing in it, then leaning my body over the seat.  This took about an hour.   That's how slow I went.  Finally I swung a leg over.  I reached down, stroked her neck a few times, talked nice, and then dismounted.  

Then we were done for the day.  

It was tempting to try to ride, but she wasn't ready.

She's seven now, and I realize that her training level really lags behind other horses her age.  She has lovely manners, and she does a great walk and jog.  She steers well, neck reins, and moves off the leg.  She has a great stop.  Her lope is still sketchy, but what she knows, she knows well.  It's very basic, but it's there.

She's got a home with us for life.  She's remained sound and healthy.  She's our kid horse, and will be a trail horse too.  If my kids let her out of their sight, she might even help me teach a few lessons.  She'll never need to know how to run a reining pattern or how to jump a hunter course.  I expect the basics from her, and she'll be fine.  What she knows now, she knows well.  And she's good at it.

So transitioning from my petite mare to my petite daughter... Girl didn't have the benefit of one devoted teacher working with her.  Where Mare showed her knowledge gaps to me quickly, Girl could hide them in a classroom.  I made time to go back a step and make sure Mare knew her stuff before we moved on; Girl's teachers never had that time luxury.  

It would have been nice, and totally unrealistic, if the Girl could have been taught in a similar process to how the horse was trained.  A little step at a time.  Make sure she knows it.  Go back and do something easy before relearning the next step.  This just isn't the way the school system operates.  It can't.  

If I really look for comparisons between my daughter in school and my horse in training, I can see that like the sweet little horse, my kid is smart and easy going.  She has a basically good attitude.  I believe that she can overcome any gaps in her education.  She'll never need to know some things they'll try to teach her at school, but the stuff knows, she knows like it's always been part of her.  What she's good at, she's very very good at.  

The more I move through my life, the more I see that it's all made of up of little steps.  If you try to skip a step, you can fall flat on your face.  I'm doing all I can to guide her along, and believe me, with the mental state I've been dealing with, it hasn't been easy.  But I keep moving forward.  Some days, just getting dressed was the small step.  It's still forward movement! When I was teaching the filly to move forward at my cue, I'd tap her until she moved.  If she so much as leaned forward, not even taking a step yet, I'd let off the pressure and fuss over her to let her know that she did the right thing and I was pleased. It was the smallest step, and the next was bigger.  I've encouraged my child to do her best , not take shortcuts, and build her knowledge on what she already knows well.  I have total faith in her.  

I think we'll talk more this summer, she and I, about those tiny important steps in life and in learning.  She's become an excellent horse-helper and I figure we'll spend a lot of time in the barn together for the next couple of months.  

I have a hope that she'll end up with a teacher in high school who also happens to have trained some horses...


JKB said...

She will be able to do this, I have total and complete faith in you. And her. And I'm so PROUD of you! It had to have been difficult going through all that paperwork and uncertainty, and you DID it!

You rock!


CindyDianne said...

I just love it when you write about your kids.

I am proud you had those conversations.

I am positive she'll be just fine - she has an amazing support person!

Heidi the Hick said...

Oh boy sometimes it is totally exhausting, holding it all up. I often wonder if I can keep doing it, but it's not like I have a choice. The kid needs me.

Is horse training easier than child raising? You can haul off and smack your horse if he does something boneheaded!

All worth it though. The look on her face when she marched up to me to hand over her elementary school diploma... man. It was all her. The teachers had a hand in it, and we parents helped with what we could, but SHE is the one who earned that piece of paper.

(I am so tired!)

JKB said...


You will.

Your kid is lucky to have you (as are the horses, send one my way!!!!! Uh, either one really - kids or horse LOL) :)

Olly said...

You are so on the right track with her. Making sure she has some extra help before she even gets to high school in the fall is the way to go. My son (the one with Down's) is going into grade 12 in the fall. I can't begin to count the number of meetings (and some serious head butting) with schools. It was all worth it.

Anita said...

What a great mom you are! She's just as lucky to have you as you are to have her.. :)

jules said...

You are such a great mom!

Heidi said...

I am so impressed with your persistence in making sure your daughter is protected and taken care of. It's HARD to do what is uncomfortable for you to do what is best for her, and the fact that you do it speaks volumes to your strength as a mom.

Like Patricia Wood said in Lottery: We all end up in the same place; it doesn't matter how long it takes us to get there!

dilling said...

what a good mom....will you adopt me?

Lynn Sinclair said...

This parent thing sure is hard work, isn't it? But the benefits are worth all that anxiety, hair-pulling, and hand-holding.

She's lucky to have you following up on her education.

coffeypot said...

I don't have much faith in government schools, but I'm not worried about Girl; she as a great support group at home to help her over the bumps. You are right; she will develop and learn at her own pace, not at the pace of the school system. It's a pity that they can't see that. They are too worried about moving the kids along and getting good grades on standardizes tests. She will do just fine with a little coaxing from Heidi and Jethro.

Heidi the Hick said...

oh my gosh, you guys flatter me too much. You should see me barking my kids into bed at night. yelp yelp yelp!

But I appreciate it. Mothering is pretty darn tough sometimes and it does boost the self esteem to hear affirmations like this.

Dilling, sure I'll adopt you, but I insist on getting M and the critters too!

Coffeypot, Yeah. She will develop and learn at her own pace and I encourage that. She'll never fit into anybody's standards. She doesn't just think outside the box. She thinks outside the shoe or the satin purse or the snow globe, she don't even so no stupid box!