After a few months of teaching the kids things about horses and how to work with a horse that’s standing still in the barn (how to groom and saddle, etc.), it was time to start getting them to interact even more with the horse, and teach them how to lead.
Some kids fell in perfect step with Zoeva.
Zoeva is easily one of the sweetest horses you’ll ever meet. She’s not fond of having her cinch tightened and she might squeal and squirm when you hurt her bad leg, but she’s an angel otherwise. One week to demonstrate what faith meant, I sat beneath her belly while she was tied and then left the rope hanging over her neck and had her follow me in circles around the riding ring, which she did despite me having never trained her to do so.
And yet, nearly all of the pre-teen girls were terrified of her and didn’t want to step up and lead her. N led the pack and led Zoeva around the round pen first, but since she knows the horse well and is fearless (in their minds), that did nothing to encourage them to do the same. I got a few of the other girls to take the pony out for a spin, but the others took more convincing.
The little girls were shy but fearless.
As a couple of them cringed away from her while declaring their fear and desire to NOT lead her, little Zoeva would turn her head toward them, ears forward, and seemed to be asking them why they were so afraid of her. I don’t know how, but every time she picked out the girl who I had asked to go next, and stared her down until she relented and grabbed the lead rope.
She wasn't a big fan of the "barrel race" I set up, but the kids got a kick out of it!
I walked with the last three, and a conversation that I had had dozens (if not hundreds) of times at the camp in Michigan came to mind, and so I began it with all of them as I leaned casually on Zoeva’s neck. I asked them what is bravery. The answer came quick: “Not being afraid.” I shook my head and told them, “Being brave means doing whatever it is you want even though you’re afraid. It’s ok to be afraid, but you can’t let that fear stop you from reaching your goals or from doing what you need to do.”