Connected Horse workshops involve a lot of new information and sensory stimulation for participants, including:
From the moment you introduce yourself at the beginning of the workshop, you will need to communicate in ways that address communication and social skill losses in participants living with dementia. Here is a sample greeting.
(Looking eye to eye with John) Hi John, I am Sally (point to name tag). I am one of the facilitators for the workshop. We all have these name tags and dark blue shirts on so we are easy to see in a group. My role is to introduce you to the horses. I will also be explaining the activities. You can ask me any questions. Do you have any questions for me now? (Wait 10-30 seconds. If no response, continue explaining each step of the activities.)
It is important to remember that although a person’s ability to communicate may decline and eventually disappear, the person’s feelings and emotions do not. As a facilitator, you need to pay attention to what you communicate with tone of voice, gestures, body language, and facial expressions.
You will need to modify your speaking patterns and methods of communicating to fit the capacity of the person with dementia, and to use all possible techniques to facilitate understanding. These guidelines will help.
Activities at the Connected Horse workshop may seem simple, but participants will need to understand and follow several steps. For example, to introduce themselves to a horse, they need to follow these steps:
Remembering recently acquired information or instructions and following multi-step sequences may be difficult for some participants. These guidelines can help.
It’s not all about what you say. Only 7% of what you say makes an impact. 93% of how you say it—meaning tone and body language—makes an impact. Imagine, if you are a person with dementia who has trouble with language, how small a percentage of the actual words that the person is saying will be meaningful to you. Your pitch, tone and body language become even more important! The following two scenarios make this clear. In both scenarios, facilitators and participants are out with the horses and running behind schedule.
Facilitator (frowning and looking at watch): We need to keep moving because we are running behind. John, I know you want more time with the horses, but we need to leave now! You need to come with me right away or I’m going to get your wife. (Sighs and grabs John’s arm.)
Facilitator (relaxed face and arms): John, you and your horse Dusty look so peaceful together. I’m glad you got this time together. It is time to say goodbye to Dusty now. Here is how I say goodbye to a horse. (Demonstrates gentle pat on the neck and a verbal goodbye). How do you want to say goodbye? (Smiles and points to Dusty. John pats Dusty and says goodbye). I like that! We can go back with the group now.
Every facilitator, horse handler and volunteer has to take responsibility for the energy they bring to the group. If you feel yourself getting tense or worried about time, an outcome or a response, stop, take a deep breath, observe what is going on, and proceed in a way that is say and respectful. That doesn’t mean that you ignore time, but it does mean that how you move participants from one activity to the next is more important than getting all the activities completed in the time frame.
People who struggle with recalling recent memories and newer information may repeat themselves and/or ask the same question over and over. To help them retain their dignity, you should react as though you are hearing the information for the very first time. It’s important NOT to say things like, “I just told you that” or “Don’t you remember, we just talked about that!” Never remind them that they or forgetting and avoid “quizzing” them by asking questions such as “do you remember my name?”
For example, in the Connected Horse workshops we have heard people tell us about their experiences with horses each time we ask them to share. We have heard the story about Tex bucking off John as a young man a half dozen times. And how his father made him get back on that horse and finish the ride up the trail. Each time the story is repeated our facilitator listens and comments about how much courage it took to get back on the horse, or she would like to have met Tex, or she won’t make him ride today.
This is respectful to the participant and it also shows the whole group how to be in the moment with each participant. It doesn’t always matter what someone is saying. It is that someone is listening.