“Pick out a horse that reminds you of you.”
Pam Stoddard, director and founder of New Arenas, stands near the gate of Henningsen Pavillion at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds in Placerville and instructs four people to follow these directions.
The members of the group walk toward the three horses in the arena, trying to decide which horse they want to choose. After bribing and persuading the horses, the animals finally follow the group members to the front of the arena where Stoddard is waiting.
This scene is not a horse-back riding lesson — it is an aspect of a program that will work in conjunction with New Arenas, a non-profit organization that specializes in offering experiential and service learning programs.
The proposed pilot program is set to go into place during the late summer of 2012. The plan is to develop a four-part service learning program where college students in various fields and majors will facilitate after-school programs for sixth to eighth grade students.
Some of these programs will involve horses, but all of them will feature initiative games and activities that embody the core values of individuality, awareness, collaboration, empowerment and curiosity.
New Arenas held a demonstration at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds last year in order to explain different parts of the pilot program. The activity described above was just one component of the proposed program.
Stoddard asked the participants in the demonstration to pick a horse that reminded them of themselves because it allows each person to evaluate their own personalities and traits.
After each member picked a horse, Stoddard asked why he or she picked the certain horse.
One woman explained that because the horse was friendly and made eye contact with her, she was attracted to the horse and made her decision based off of that.
Another girl said that she picked the horse with the spots because the randomness of the spots reminded her of her own “random” personality.
At the end of the activity, Stoddard explained to the audience the significance of what the members just did. She said that this activity not only promoted personal awareness — it also encouraged the members to think on their own and to not always depend on people of authority for solutions.
Stoddard did not tell the members how they were supposed to bring the horses forward once they chose an animal — she left it up to them to find a solution.
The pilot program hopes to encourage independent thinking, among many other valuable skills and assets.
“We want to use horses in a creative way for people to see themselves,” said Lori Larson, a marriage and family therapist who is involved with the program. “It’s not about therapy, but about personal awareness and personal growth.”
The rest of the demonstration was filled with initiative games and other activities with horses.
The proposed pilot program plans to have four parts. For college students interested in facilitating an after-school program, there will be a workshop, orientation, a facilitation of the 12 week after-school program, and a wrap up conference. New Arenas is currently collaborating with California State University, Sacramento and other local community colleges in order to gather interested students and get the program started.
New Arenas developed about a decade ago after a simple interest and idea sprouted in Stoddard.
“About 10 years ago, at about age 37, I decided that I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up.” said Stoddard. “And that was to help people grow and learn with horses. I knew that I didn’t want to be a trainer or give riding lessons, so I was thinking, ‘What can I do?’ It just so happened that I was taking riding lessons at the time, and the instructor told me about this program called EGALA, which is the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, and told me that they were doing a demonstration at the fairgrounds. So off I went and fell in love with the model … It’s really experiential, so everything that you do with the horses and facilitators is really about being yourself and discovering who you are in that moment.”
Discovery and changes
Throughout the time since New Arenas first developed, the organization has morphed into different things that it is going to offer. Its newest project is the hope to develop the pilot program by summer 2012.
Stoddard hopes that this pilot program will be a great learning experience for both the sixth and eighth grade students and the college student facilitators.
“I think self-awareness more than anything else,” replied Stoddard when asked what she hopes the participants will gain the most from the program.
“I want them to see who they are … not who their parents want them to be; not what society wants them to be; not who whoever wants them to be. But who they are and why are they here … what are they passionate about and what do they want to do with their lives,” she said.
To learn more about New Arenas, the proposed pilot program, and more about the core values visit newarenas.org or call 916-802-4886.