BCI 2020 Program Recap
From May 31, 2020 through June 7, 2020, BCI hosted its second program - we have a BCI Class 1! In keeping with traditions we are creating, this year’s program kicked off with a casual get-to know-you dinner on Sunday attended by BCI founders Deborah Plum and Theo Windish, our beloved WSR program coordinator, Carol Bachmann (affectionately referred to since 2019 as “Herd Mare”) and, of course, our program participants: Lat Bowen III, Kenny Irwin, Steven Brown, and Leah Uerkwitz (“BCI Class 1”) and Lat’s wife Karrie Bowen. A special shout-out to Karrie for joining us as the only family member this year. As anyone reading this knows, the inclusion of family members is key to our mission and our success, so thank you Karrie for your bravery, good spirit, and invaluable feedback.
From the moment we sat down on Sunday evening, the BCI team understood that each participant was as curious about the coming days as they were excited, and as skeptical of the program model as they were willing to give it a try. We ended the evening knowing this was the best group we could have asked for to help move us forward from our pilot mode, and they certainly did.
Monday morning began with a round-pen demonstration by Carol at WSR, which provided our BCI participants with a valuable introduction to working with horses from the ground. The clinic started with some very important questions about what it means to be a leader, and a partner, themes that BCI Class 1 would engage with regularly throughout the week. Even in the extreme heat and lack of shade (duly noted, working on it for the benefit of BCI Class 2!), not a single member of BCI Class 1 said no when offered the chance to walk into the round-pen with Carol’s horses, and each class member wowed us with the gentle yet confident approach they used in that first encounter - natural leaders.
That afternoon everyone took the opportunity to keep learning, and signed up for a private BCI group riding lesson with Carol. Without spoiling the footage (yes, we filmed everything again) we will simply say it was there, in that dusty arena at 100 + degrees, that we began to hear the laughter, excitement, frustration, and determination that we associate with the magic of BCI. BCI Class 1 was already becoming a family.
For the next four days, each beginning at 6:30am, BCI Class 1 spent the morning working with mustangs at Dream Horse, AZ, under the guidance of our mustang program coordinator Jeff Cook and EAGALA certified equine therapist Tamara Clause. As was the case with BCI Class 0, no time was wasted, and on their first day BCI Class 1 was thrown right into the round-pen to start learning how to “drive” (to keep a horse moving forward along the fence) and to “draw” (to pull a horse toward them into the center of the ring).
Not a morning went by when BCI Class 1 did not stun us with their willingness to be vulnerable and emotionally honest. At one point, a member of BCI Class 1 decided to lay down with one of the mustangs, a moment that was as inspiring as it was nerve wracking to watch. On another day, multiple participants decided to sit down in the middle of the round-pen in the hopes of drawing the mustang they were working with towards them - without moving their hands or feet. On a number of occasions, each member of BCI Class 1 also utilized a more heightened and intense driving energy, which taught each of them quite a bit about body language, non-verbal communication, and how to be clear in their intentions.
Any lesson BCI Class 1 did not learn from the mustangs, they learned from each other. In every group conversation with Jeff and Tamara, BCI Class 1 held each other accountable for their actions, for the subtle non-verbal messages they sent the horses and each other, whether they realized it or not. The guidance BCI Class 1 received from Jeff and Tamara was instrumental in instilling them with the courage to challenge each other, and themselves. It must have been this sense of accountability and trust that enabled BCI Class 1 to master the group activity of “follow the leader” in record time! For a refresher, on the last day of our program at Dream Horse, the BCI class is asked to work as a team, with the goal of directing one horse to step over a wood plank placed at the center of the large arena. The following rules apply to the game: no touching the horse, participants have to stay in a straight line, only one person (the “leader”) can speak at a time, and all participants must follow the leader’s instructions.
Although most of our 2020 program mirrored that of our pilot, not everything was the same, and we made three important changes.
First, at the end of each morning at Dream Horse, BCI Class 1 was asked to say goodbye to their mustangs by brushing them, walking them back to their stalls, and then parting ways. Our goal was to emphasize the importance of ending a day of work positively, no matter the challenges previously faced. Jeff’s daughter, Christian, who formally joined the BCI team this year, was instrumental in implementing this daily practice in a meaningful way.
Second, while back at WSR with Carol, in addition to private rides and riding lessons, our participants were offered the opportunity learn more about horse-care though a lesson in how to properly brush and wash horses - specifically using the horses they spent the week riding at WSR. In doing so, we hoped to enhance the connection between what BCI Class 1 learned at Dream Horse with the mustangs, and what they learned at WSR with fully trained horses, and to allow all of our participants to interact with the horses they were riding on a more personal level. As anyone who has taken lessons with Carol can attest, our beloved Herd Mare is a firm believer in the importance of establishing a relationship with your horse, one that consists of a balance between open communication and clear boundaries.
Finally, once again using BCI Class 0 as our guinea pigs (thanks guys!), we tested out the launch of our mentorship program by inviting BCI Class 0 to meet BCI Class 1 toward the end of the 2020 program. While we plan to always organize our programs in a manner that allows each class to experience the week as a unit, we also understand the value of expanding our services, be that by providing individual equine therapy sessions with Jeff and Tamara, or through peer-to-peer mentoring.
By allowing members of BCI Class 0 to join at the latter half of the week, BCI Class 1 was able to connect with a potential mentor before leaving, and to learn from BCI Class 0’s experience about how important and helpful staying active in the BCI community can be. We are grateful for the ideas each class has submitted about the mentor program going forward, are glad to know that some important, challenging, and fun conversations were had between the two classes, and of course enjoyed watching them face off during team penning at WSR!
At our goodbye dinner, BCI Class 1 carried on the traditions that BCI Class 0 started, of giving each member of the BCI team a gift (this year we received personalized dog-tags and we absolutely love them!), and presenting the organization with a cowboy hat that is signed by each class member, and adorned with the pins that signify the branch of service our class members belong to. We cannot thank you enough!
What else can we say! The week was jam packed with emotional conversations, lots of laughter, and some serious muscle pain. We learned important lessons about helping our class members feel more prepared for the week ahead (packing list, packing list, packing list!), and once again, took home some truly beautiful memories and unbreakable friendships.
As always, we sign off knowing the work has only just begun. We are looking forward to following BCI Class 1 on their journey, as all participants have signed up with us for an additional six months of individual equine therapy sessions with Jeff and Tamara, and we are excited to hear updates about mentoring activities.
Until next time, with endless gratitude.
-The BCI Team
Photo by Anouschka Rokebrand