“But Ms. Rebecca – this is haaaaaard.”
It was a whiny tone more appropriate for someone vastly younger. I had to decide if I was ready to address this bad attitude and resulting power struggle or not. Having had two cups of coffee and a handful of M&Ms™, I felt pretty well equipped to see it through to completion.
“Of course this is hard, Tara*. If it was easy, everyone would be a horseback rider. But you’re really smart, and I’m sure that if you keep trying you’ll figure out how to do this. I have seen you be persistent.”
(Persistent? I wanted to say “strong willed,” but we try to keep it positive.)
She tried again…but only for a moment. “There. I tried. I just can’t do it.”
I thought about the task. Just the week before, a child half her age and much smaller completed it in less than ten minutes. Yet Tara stood there with her arms folded, determined not to do what I knew she could do. I looked her over, searching for non-verbal clues about how to proceed. Knowing Tara, I decided blunt truth might be best.
‘It’s not that you can’t do it. You just don’t want to, do you?”
Tara dropped her arms and opened her mouth. I tried again to halt the possible power struggle before it started. “Look Tara, I know this is hard. It might take awhile, but I know you can do it! All the other girls have completed their responsibilities. I completed mine before you got here. Now you need to finish yours. It’s your choice. You can continue putting effort into your task until you complete it, so you can move on to the fun activities we’ve planned, or you can choose not to. It’s your decision.”
I walked away to supervise the other girls as they finished saddling their horses. My responses to Tara were very standard. I don’t give you work that you can’t accomplish. We all have barn responsibilities, I know you can do it. Yet with each typical response, it always feels like a gamble. Will it work with this child? Will this make them try extra hard, or will it make them quit on the spot? Each child is beautifully different and unique. Loving and working with foster children should probably be categorized as an art rather than a social science.
As I supervised the younger girls, I glanced over my shoulder at Tara. She had to learn this lesson. She had to understand that she will only get back the amount of effort she puts into something. She needed to learn this lesson with a small, insignificant task in the arena, so that she’ll be ready for difficult life occurrences that are much more important.
Nothing, and yet everything, was at stake.
Tara gave us a sideways glance. The other two girls were laughing as they picked out their favorite saddle blankets. They helped each other tack up their horses. “Good job!” I told them. “That was really hard for you a few weeks ago, but now you did it almost perfectly!”
Moments ticked by. Tara slowly leaned into her task. She struggled at first…got some things right, then struggled again.
I held my breath.
“Ms. Rebecca, can you please show me how to do this again? I forgot which part comes next.”
That day was a success! No, Tara didn’t finish in time to ride, but she did finish. That day wasn’t about riding and having fun. For her, it was learning that when bent in the right direction, her strong will – I mean, perseverance – could allow her to triumph rather than hinder her.
Equine Program and Barn Manager
*name changed for sake of confidentiality