The Official Texas Pony Express is an Immediate Intervention Equitherapy program designed specifically to help severely abused children immediately after Child Protective Services places them in a crisis center or shelter. The program has numerous goals:
- Allow access to the second level of the five levels of human/equine bonding.
- Nullify existing trauma.
- Provide a physical/emotional niche from the outside world and the opportunity to become one of those elite humans referred to as “mounted.”
- Create/enhance self esteem, self-confidence and assertiveness.
- Instill life/survival skills through program lessons that directly correlate to their interactions with the horses.
- Create a substantial base for future EAP/EFP therapy.
- Instill appreciation and respect for the horse, interactive horsemanship skills and safety procedures.
- Create opportunities for therapists to reach a client that would not be readily accessible through verbal therapy by offering interactive metaphors and correlations to real life issues and treatment.
Articles acclaiming the program have been written in the Dallas Morning News, the Ellis County Press, Cowboys and Indians magazine, City and Country Pets, Today Newspapers and Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s “Perspective.”
Letters of referral from various shelters, pastors, therapists, Boys and Girl’s Clubs, Dallas Coalition on Character and Values, Sierra Club, Dr. Laura Schlessinger Foundation, and other reputable individuals and organizations can be faxed or emailed. A radio interview on 6/23/01 on the Rick Lamb “Horse Show” about the training and our program can be heard at: http://www.thehorseshow.com/banner.html
Therapists, foster parents or supervised adults working with an abused child are extended an open invitation. In ten years of operation, we have never charged a fee for our services, relying completely on our own initiative and private donations. Below is the Training Evaluation all program horses must pass before any interaction with their young clients is allowed.
OTPE Equine Training Evaluation ©
(Adolescent/Equine Group Interaction)
The following evaluation was developed as a minimal guideline for horses interacting with children between the ages of six and seventeen utilizing group Immediate Intervention Equitherapy. It was developed for the sole purpose of minimizing physical and/or emotional trauma caused by negative interaction between horse and client and is quintessential for any type of adolescent/equine group function. It was not created as an ultimate evaluation, but rather, a minimum standard of training/preparation for independent interaction. The Official Texas Pony Express ETE is a simple guideline of interactions that the horse must learn to accept as commonplace, to protect the children from their own lightning-quick impulsive, emotional actions and reactions. Though difficult to believe, it is an established fact that, as adults, we seem to be unable to predict exactly what a child will do next when interacting with the horse! While Friendship Training Methods are not mandatory to produce highly acceptable results, it has, in general, been found to be more efficient and easier on both the horse and the human than traditional training formats. Specific items such as “sheet over the head,” “gunshots,” etc. may be added if applicable for a specific program. Example; horses used on a trail-ride/camping trip would be conditioned to flapping bedding, clothing, pup tents etc. in the event of an unexpected high wind or storm. Again, it is to be regarded as only the most basic of minimum standards necessary for any adolescent/equine group interaction. It is taken for granted that the final judgment of whether a horse is ready to independently interact with any group of children on any given day, lies with the handler/trainer of that particular horse. Each horse has its’ own individual overreaction and sensitivity to flying insects, gusts of wind, seasonal changes, abnormally windy days, barometric and humidity changes, estrous, recent ascension or descension in herd rank, chronic, mild but initially undetectable colic, preference to male or female riders and numerous other factors beyond normal observation or control. The old saying “Know Your Horse” should obviously be escalated to a new level of meaning and significance in any type of group adolescent/equine program if the safety and welfare of each child we serve demands the same degree of responsibility as the next, sacred.
The horse being evaluated must have the other horses present that it will be working with during the entire evaluation, duplicating as closely as possible the normal working conditions. Severe negative interaction between the test horse and any other program horse automatically disqualifies both horses involved.
“Test clients” referred to in this evaluation shall be any adolescent male or female between the age of ten and seventeen that the horse has never seen, smelled or heard.
Except for riding segments, test horse is to wear a halter but have no halter rope or lead line attached. In the riding segments, a western saddle and a mild or rubber coated bit is recommended. Handlers of “partner horses,” handler of test horse, evaluator and test clients are to be the only personnel present. Handler of test horse must at all times remain a minimum of five feet away from the horse (except for riding segment) and at no time attempt to physically or visually restrict the horse in any way. Two verbal/hand cue commands to “stand” are allowed throughout the entire evaluation. A step forward or backward by the test horse is allowed provided it could not have caused possible injury to the test client. Walking or running away constitutes automatic failure.
Automatic failure will be due to aggressive behavior displayed by test horse at any time during evaluation includes: tail tuck or tail switch warning of impending kick, head swing with ears pinned down and/or teeth bared, constant apprehensive head throwing and pawing the ground, constant irritable shifting of weight from side to side, turning on fore or hind legs or side passing evasively to avoid interaction with client or aggressively pushing client away (not to be confused with rubbing forehead on client to relieve itching which must stop immediately after verbal command from client or handler is given to stop.)
I. Head Touch
Client approaches horse from front and stops directly in front of horse. Client then reaches out and rubs gently on nose, muzzle, forehead and chin for one minute culminating with an index finger gentle wiping approximately one and one half inch deep into each nostril depending on size of horse and nostril. Horse may momentarily turn head away but must return it to normal position upon request. Client gently runs fore finger on lips from one side to the other while occasionally pushing down gently with a thumb or finger to momentarily expose the test horse’s teeth.
II. Ear Touch
Client stands on right side of horse facing forward, rubs base of horse’s right ear with left hand, then grasps ear gently but firmly and pulls head toward him. Nose of horse must move a minimum of three inches. Repeat on left side. Client then positions himself in front of horse and while holding one ear gently in each hand strokes inside top half of ear with an upward motion and then lays ears down flat against horse’s head.
Using a suitable stand or platform, client mounts bareback horse unassisted on the right side while laughing/giggling loudly and dismounts by slowly sliding off the rear of the horse.
IV. Body/Belly Bump
One client on each side of horse brushes with finish brush for approximately one minute. One client stops brushing while other client continues to brush. First client steps back four feet and immediately returns swiftly bumping shoulder or chest into side/rear of test horse giving no warning with enough force to cause horse’s rear to move at least one inch. Repeat on opposite side. Both clients resume brushing. Client on one side brushes in middle of test horse’s body and begins to brush lower toward belly until he has crossed under to the other side. While crossing under, he/she bumps belly firmly with his/her head.
V. Hoof Check
Client picks up hoof, simulates cleaning, and sets back down very slowly a minimum of five inches to the front or rear of horse’s normal standing position. Front or rear position to be determined by evaluator before picking foot up. Repeat on other three feet. Client then stands on right side of horse in front, bends over and picks up left foot and simulates cleaning it. Repeat on left side picking up right foot. A minimum of twenty seconds of simulated cleaning is required. Horse must not at any time attempt to pull it away, “stomp” its’ foot down or show the slightest fear or apprehension at having his off foot picked up by the client.
VI. Grooming/Kill Kick
Two clients begin brushing on each side of horse (oval, smooth wood base finish brushes). Client on left rear brushes belly and bumps udder or penis on the side causing it to move toward the other side a minimum of one and one half to two inches. Repeat on other side. Clients resume brushing while client on right rear drops brush, jumps back a minimum of three feet while screaming loudly and holding hands above head. Repeat on left side. Clients resume brushing while client on right rear grasps tail and moves it to the left while brushing next to anus and down back inside of leg to hock. Repeat on left side. Clients resume brushing while client on right front turns his back to the horse, walks away three paces and immediately walks backwards as quickly as possible and without stopping and bumps into the horse with his back. Repeat on left side. Two clients then resume brushing on one side while the other two clients begin screaming and yelling at each other while facing each other approximately two feet apart in a confrontational mode. They continue yelling and shouting at each other arguing while slowly circling the horse never getting more than five feet from the horse until they have made a full circle. Three clients then remove themselves from the immediate test area and the fourth client (proportionate to size of horse) begins brushing the inside of the back legs underneath the horse and continues to crawl out between back legs while pushing the tail to either side. Client then reverses procedure from outside to crawl underneath test horse and out on either side.
Client brushes horse on side for several minutes, stops, touches horse lightly on side and gives verbal command to move over. Horse may hesitate then must move one step sideways but not overreact apprehensively or move more than two steps.
With mild or rubber- coated snaffle, closed rein and western saddle, client rides around in a minimum fifty-foot diameter circle in an open area with the instructor or handler in the center. Client then trots horse twice around circle, stops, reverses and begins to trot. Client then screams and drops reins. If horse does not come to a stop, Handler is to stop the horse using only hand signals and verbal commands without moving toward the horse. At handler’s discretion, he/she may then walk to the horse after it stops or call the horse to him/herself. Horse must stop all forward movement within a quarter of the circle after handler gives command to stop. Client then resumes trotting around the circle and with no verbal warning pulls back swiftly and hard enough on the reins to pull the horse’s head up from it’s normal position. Client then begins shaking the reins loosely but violently while screaming or yelling “Stop!” or “Help!” repeatedly. Handler procedure is the same as before. At no time should the horse panic or overreact.
IX. Saddle Slip/Fall
Girth is then loosened enough to allow saddle to easily slip to an inverted position but not so loose as to endanger horse. Client then mounts horse with assistance, sits sidesaddle, and begins riding at a walk. Client then slides off while pulling saddle to an inverted position and yelling anything except something similar to whoa or ho. Horse must immediately come to a stop with no cues or commands from handler and show no sign of apprehension or fear. Girth is then removed from saddle and positioned so it will fall off after client starts to lead horse away. Horse must stop when the saddle hits ground or calmly step over at client’s request but must show no sign of apprehension or fear.
X. Rope Burn
Client ties one end of a 1 ¾ to 2-inch wide roll of black, brown or dark purple crepe paper to the halter of the test horse where lead line is attached. Client then proceeds around rear of test horse starting on the left side and ending up on the right side front. Roll is kept just below height of hock as client proceeds around horse. Client then secures horse by holding the halter in one hand and pulls on the strip of crepe paper until it breaks and verbally reassures horse if necessary. Handler may at no time intervene physically or verbally. Test horse may step uneasily in place but must not make any type of violent movement that would jeopardize the safety of any child standing close in front of, behind or on either side of the test horse. Client then ties a six foot long piece of the same material to each of the horse’s back legs just above the fetlock. Client then leads horse a minimum of thirty feet, stops, gives voice and/or hand signal to stand and removes strips of crepe paper. Test horse must not at any time make any type of violent movement that would endanger any nearby child on any side of it or behind it. A white-eye, tense “freeze” that signifies probable fear/flight bolting automatically disqualifies test horse.
XI. Tail Pull
Client is positioned behind test horse at arms length away from horse. Client grasps end of tail in both hands, raises arms to shoulder height while stepping back and creating a gentle but firm, steady pull and tells test horse to back up. Test horse must back a minimum of three steps and not display any type of hostile or aggressive behavior.
XII. Hugs and Kisses
These are optional but accelerate second level bonding remarkably. Kiss: Client stands in front of and perpendicular to horse and requests a kiss. Horse than touches and momentarily holds nose gently to client’s cheek. Hug: Client stands in front of horse with arms outstretched and requests a hug. Horse then approaches and places chin on right shoulder of client allowing client to encircle neck and complete the hug.
- Preparation The Training Evaluation the horses in our program must pass is almost identical except some things are more intense and stringent. There is one thing that is not on this Training Evaluation. At anytime, without notice or warning, when their head is down to get a drink of water or eat a bite of grass or hay, I will crouch down and sneak up behind them and walk/run bumping into their rear, clasping my arms around their hindquarters and lightly slapping my hands on their sides or back as my chest simultaneously thumps into them. I would not expect a child as test subject for a horse’s evaluation to do this. But it is my personal belief that ANY horse interacting with a child should also be habituated to this level of interactive assessment. It is IMPOSSIBLE to predict any child’s action at any given moment, much less a group of children interacting independently with a small herd of horses. The liability of a child growing accustomed to horses that accept these actions and interactions as commonplace (and thereby place the same confidence and trust in an unqualified horse) can easily be nullified by playing “Strange Horse” at various times for periods of short duration. This will help imprint the differential between the horses they are currently interacting with and the “next horse” they may interact with at a later date.
- Teaching versus Training/Friendship versus Submission The restriction free relationship building format used to prepare the horses for independent interaction with children is unlike any other training format in the nation. It not only establishes unprecedented levels of trust and communication but actually causes the program horses to look forward to the company and care of a strange child.
- Personal Responsibility. It is also my very sincere personal belief that anyone that is forced to tell a child to “Be careful behind the horse (or horses) they are interacting with “because they might kick,” (due to a lack of training and preparation) is the most ludicrous breech of trust and safety anyone in the horse industry can commit. There is absolutely NO reason to put a child in harms way (ESPECIALLY a child needing the emotional support of an equitherapy program.)
Sincerely, Chuck Mintzlaff