MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER Calif. -- The horse galloped around the inside of the pen, kicking up dirt from the ground and the excitement of the 12-year-old boy at the center. As he calmed himself, the horse took notice and calmed down to a trot and then a slow walk. The boy approached the horse and put his hand out. The horse trusted him and moved his head in to be petted.
This was the scene at the Blue Barn Ranch, where 18 Combat Center kids visited to learn leadership skills, as a part of the Youth Leadership Series, Aug. 1.
The series is a partnership between the School Liaison Program and the L.I.N.K.S. Program to develop leadership skills in military children along or through the course of eight weeks of classes, activities and field trips.
The group’s trip to the ranch gave the children hands-on training as they stepped into the ring and took charge of a horse.
The class was led by Susan Lilly, marriage, family therapist, and Angie Sheer, equine specialist, beginning with leadership and its relations to the 1,000-pound animals.
Lilly and Sheer work for Equus Medendi, an equine assisted learning and therapy group and certified charity.
The instructors taught the students that horses are herd animals, whom work together and follow one leader. When a person confronts a horse, the horse feeds off the energy and can tell the difference between confidence and anxiety.
“What matters to the horse is your intention and you’re honesty,” said Lilly. “You have to be real and genuine.”
After their instructional period, the students took turns gaining the trust of a horse and establishing themselves as the leader. They followed the direction of Sheer and Lilly, first calming the horse down, proving themselves as a friend, and finally leading the animal around the ring.
“When you first get in there and see the horse staring at you, it’s a little nerve racking,” said Jaden Rosamilia, 12. “If you warm up to it, it will warm up to you.”
Their last exercise was focused on team work. The group worked together during a game of horse billiards, where the group had to work together to lead the animal into all three pockets at the corner of the ring. The challenged required them to coordinate with each other and think outside the box in order to complete the task.
The leadership event at the ranch was just a taste of a six-day course provided by Equus Medendi for service members and their families. The free course utilizes horse therapy to help with confidence, relationship issues and mental disorder.