Horsey Therapist

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Scratching Cone

Finally, weather and mood and stars lined up for an easy exit from house, out to play with horses. Truly with play in my heart, not just in my mind, pretending to play when I felt like work.

Rusty and Soli were in the play pen. Soli left when I arrived with an orange cone, an orange floppy foam pool noodle thing, and a purple nylon 'flag'. Rusty came right over to check out the toys.

After he touched everything with his nose and set into chewing on the foam (now in two pieces and no longer an optional free-play object), he resumed his munching on the itsy bits of green growing there.

Hmmm, what will I do?

Ah, I think I'll see if I can communicate to him that when he touches the cone, I'll scratch his belly. Scratches are major motivators these days, since the arrival of black flies, mosquitos, and who knows what else.

He was motivated. AND I remembered what I learned recently from an inservice about teaching therapeutic riding to people with autism, or "on the spectrum" as some folks called it. The spectrum of autistic disorders includes Autism, Aspergers, Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), and possibly by now, some other variations of the autistic theme.

So I interacted with Rusty as if he were a student with a moderately severe communication disorder. I'm very pleased that I didn't once get frustrated or angry, and if you are wondering why I would even mention that, it has to do with my horsetime of recent days, not with my human teaching time.

My changed mindset was effective. When Rusty didn't seem to quite understand what I was asking, I asked again in a more simple way, anything to help him get the right answer. After he seemed to 'get it' a few times, he seemed then to not get it. So I retreated to an easier request from me, to which he responded albeit slo-o-o-o-o-o-owly.

I checked my urge to repeat, repeat, repeat, and thanked him for his interest in this activity with me, and wandered off toward the barn, arms full again with orange and purple objects.

Sofia came to greet me. She had been watching from a distance. Hmmm. Maybe she would like to play the same game? She was on the cone with her curiosity via her mouth in a jiffy. My cue to start scratching. No question that she liked that part. Her extended quivering upper lip was a clear give-away of her secret pleasure.

I stopped scratching and moved the cone off to the left. She reached for it, nudged it, and I started scratching. This fun exchange went on until Rusty sauntered over and in typical Rusty fashion, asked Sofia to move ("MOVE! NOW!) and he hesitated for a moment before lowering his head and touching the cone with his muzzle. Me? Scratch, scratch. Scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch. Scratch, scratch, scratch. I moved the cone a few feet ahead. I knew I was testing his understanding and his desire. Yay! He took a wee glance in my direction then stepped over to the cone and touched it... and I resumed my scratching.

All in all, a very successful experiment. And a very remedial chunk of horse time for me. Horse time is healing time.

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