I came home from a long day at my job as a “computer nerd” for the local school to find Zach working with a young horse in the round corral at the end of our old barn. Up until then my day had involved an hour-long drive to get to work, a finicky computer in need of an overhaul and the witnessing of an interesting interaction between a student and his teacher. The good thing about living an hour from where you work is that there is plenty of time to reflect on things and on the drive home something about that classroom interaction was on my mind.
As he walked into the room, late, I saw a student having a bad day, displaying all the signs that he was not in a place where he was ready to learn. The teacher saw a disrespectful student that did not immediately acknowledge her as he moved from the door to his seat across the room. I saw an opportunity and a challenge to connect with the student and help move him from upset and not ready to learn to a place where he could make something of his day. The teacher saw a challenge to her authority and an opportunity for the kid to disrupt her classroom. To make a long story short, what started with a student not wanting to look at his teacher ended up with him being sent to the principal’s office and more trouble in an already bad day.
Flash back to the round corral at the end of the barn and Zach working with a young horse. The similarity in the two situations was uncanny, a troubled young subject in an uncomfortable situation and a necessary interaction with an authority figure. If the similarity was uncanny the difference was remarkable. In the classroom the teacher was not willing or able to assess the situation and as a result the student was made to suffer. In the round corral Zach was aware of the situation and had an idea of what he wanted to do to make the situation work out to the advantage of both parties involved.
What stood out most to me was the initial look I witnessed in both situations. I saw the student intentionally not look at his teacher as a way of protecting his emotions, and I saw the horse intentionally not look at Zach in an effort to maintain control over its personal space and thus his safety. The look on the two subjects faces was exactly the same. My dad used to be fond of the term “look askance”, and as a young boy I never knew what he was talking about, so I looked it up. Looking askance means to give a doubtful or mistrustful sideways glance, which is almost the exact description of the looks that I saw.
After a moment of epiphany I realized that the connection between humans and horses went a lot deeper than I had ever considered. In a conversation after Zach and the horse found a good place to stop, the idea for Project H3LP! was born. If I could find more behavioral similarities between horses and humans maybe I could use horses as a catalyst to affect change in human behavior.