By bringing people living with dementia and their care partners together with horses, Connected Horse facilitators help create a good experience for each participant. Through workshop activities, participants:
Facilitators help to bring these opportunities to life as participants work with horses. Staying in the moment, they observe subtleties in participants and horses as they move through activities. They accept what is happening between dyads and horses (unless it is unsafe!) without attempting to alter it to fit their own picture of “better”. All of this requires sensitivity, a keen sense of timing (hesitation is as detrimental as pushing), and the ability to partner with another species in the dance of initiating and being receptive. The facilitator must trust that the outcome is outside their control without becoming merely a spectator.
So what, exactly, is facilitation?
As you learned in Module 2, one picture of a facilitator is someone in the front of a room with a marker and a chart pad leading a group toward a specific educational or business outcome. Another comes from group therapy, where the therapist sits in the circle helping group members to acknowledge their feelings so they will advance toward their therapeutic goals. A third model is the side-coaching employed in improvisational theatre. The side coach is focused solely on helping the actor to move more completely in the direction they are already going.
Connected Horse Facilitators use elements of all three approaches. The clarity of a workshop facilitator needs to be there to set up an activity, create some structure and boundaries. A therapist coaching approach brings the sensitivity to timing and individuals that helps to modify and customize the programs for the group and individual needs. The side-coach approach brings curiosity, presence and goals into the program.
“Side-facilitation” is particularly important. Rather than being the focus of attention, the Connected Horse facilitator facilitates from the side, drawing attention to the horse-participant connection rather than to themselves or knowledge they want to impart. Knowledge that participants don’t need takes a backseat to what participants do need to be more fully in their experience.
The side facilitator takes mindful presence as their primary task. This mindful presence is the prerequisite for successful Connected Horse facilitation: connected, responsive and responsible. The CH facilitator is responsible for creating a safe container for participants and horses. While the activities are constructed with a goal in mind, their primary purpose is to create a container that enables a connection between the horse and participants. This opens up many possible experiences for participants and horses. The successful facilitator must respond, adjusting moment to moment.
Facilitating horses and humans does not yield to a cookie-cutter approach. Because we are working with living beings, the process and outcomes are unpredictable, and each instance must be assessed and handled according to what is happening right in front of us. A participant’s experience cannot be planned or anticipated, just as the horses’ responses cannot be controlled or managed. This is what gives the Connected Horse curriculum its power and freshness.
The qualifications of a Connected Horse Facilitator introduced in Module 2 are worth reviewing as we move into the specifics of facilitation, especially the importance of self-management.
A good facilitator can:
A Connected Horse facilitator must also develop horse sense, be willing to learn from and be led by persons living with dementia, understand family and relationship systems, and practice self-awareness.
Equine-Guided Skills/Horse Sense
This set of skills involves:
Willingness to Learn from and be Led and Delighted by Persons Living with Dementia
This set of skills involves understanding the basics of dementia in order to feel more confident around participants living with dementia. Participants and horses will be at their best when you are calm, relaxed and accepting of what participants and horses bring. Facilitating this is a pleasure. Enjoy yourself.
A Working Understanding of Family Systems and Relationship Dynamics
Connected Horse activities hope to affect the relationship between the person living with the dementia diagnosis and their care partner. The Bowen Family Systems Theory introduced in Module 5 gives you the tools to understand systems when they are under the stress of a dementia diagnosis, so you can make space for and stay out of the way of the horses as they recalibrate those relationships.