Copyright 2009 Spirit of Sunka Wakan 
Why Horses?
“For horses can educate through first hand, subjective, personal
experiences unlike human tutors, teachers and professors can ever
do.  Horses can build character, not merely urge one to improve
on it.  Horses forge the mind, the character the emotions and
inner lives of humans.  People can talk to one another about all
these things and remain distanced and lonesome.  In the
partnership with a horse, one is seldom lacking for thought,
emotion and inspiration.  One is always attended by a great
Charles de Knuffy
International Classical Dressage Trainer
Why Horses?
Experiences with horses frequently have calming effects on people.  I believe the
peacefulness comes because horses are coherent which encourages and allows
people to match their own energy states with those of the horses. When individuals are
calm and coherent, they can access what is really in their hearts, express their deepest
desires, and recall poignant memories.  By being in the present, and absent from worry
about failure and feelings of self-consciousnesses, we are able to get in the flow that
allows us to learn and have new ideas and feelings about what we experience.
In addition, according to Linda Kohanvo in Riding Between the Worlds:
“In order to survive, animals preyed upon in nature have to be sensitive to
emotional energy and the intention behind it. Horses, zebras and deer will often graze
unconcerned as a lion which has recently eaten a big meal walks right through their
pasture. Yet when an agile carnivore is on the prowl, the herd will scatter long before the
cat can get close.”                                                     
“The experience of living with human beings has given domesticated horses even more
sophisticated skills. I have seen even the gentlest of geldings become noticeable
agitated when his handler wore a mask of confidence and well being to hide anxiety. It’s
as if the person appears out of focus to the equine awareness system. The body
language of someone "putting on a happy face" is incongruent with the rise in blood
pressure, muscle tension and emotional intensity transmitted unconsciously by an
individual who is actually afraid, frustrated or angry.”
Why Horses?
While The Spirit of Sunka Wakan attends to the whole
young person academically and emotionally, it also
focuses on safety.  Before each equine activity, students
will demonstrate responsibility for class safety and their
own safety by reviewing safety precautions and stating
their commitment to this safety agreement which was
borrowed from Barbara Rector, considered by many the
“grandmother” of Equine Experiential Learning: “My
name is _____ and I agree to be responsible for myself
today, and thus contribute to the safety of the group.”  It
is important that students understand why they are
making this statement and agreement.
Involving students in their educational decisions as Confucius pointed out 2500 years ago
is important to their mastering concepts and achieving success. Inspiring students to want
to make bigger investments of time and effort in their education will help address the
needs of the school districts. Their goals are aimed at promoting academic achievement
and social skills, decreasing dropout rates, increasing graduation rates, promoting health
and wellness, maximizing opportunities for lifelong learning, and preparing students for
fulfilling vocations. Federal and state requirements for increased academic test scores are
forcing educators to focus on the academic parts of the curriculum. The spending of a
disproportionate amount of time and resources on the academic program leads to the
neglect of the physical, social, and vocational skills. Respected researchers have shown
that directly teaching social skills not only improves students’ relationships and attitudes
toward school, it also improves their academic achievement. The Spirit of Sunka Wakan
Learning Program was designed to assist the Anchorage School District in motivating each
student to value education, find his or her personal mission, acquire the personal, social,
and academic skills to complete high school and continue his or her education and
participation in the community as a fulfilled, contributing, and altruistically motivated
Why Horses?
The Spirit of Sunka Wakan Youth Empowerment
Program offers life effectiveness skills for 6 students
ages 13-19 through a ten day curriculum. 
Outside reading and activities will be required to earn
a semester of high school credit in Applied
Psychology. The program has borrowed and
incorporated ideas and beliefs from Native American
philosophy of core values.
The state certified teacher, Francine Reuter, will
promote growth through Cultural Responsive
based on the philosophy of experiential education and
The Spirit of SunkaWakan Youth Empowerment Summer Program addresses
established Alaska state academic standards in:
English/Language Arts
Skills for a Healthy Life
Developmental Assets
Social and Emotional Learning 
Graduates of The Spirit of SunkaWakan Program will:
Increase effective leadership characteristics 
Gain skills to increase self awareness
Practice setting boundaries 
Learn emotions are information 
Improve communication skills
Deepen trust and respect for self & others 
Develop a personal mission statement 
To evaluate the effectiveness of the program each participant will complete a LEQ
questionnaire. The Life Effectiveness Questionnaire (LEQ) measures self-concept, self-
efficacy, and coping skills.  According to the designer, James Neil, “The LEQ focuses on
measuring the extent to which a person's actions/behavior/feelings are effective in
managing and succeeding at life, or more specifically, generic life skills.”  It is also an
efficient tool to develop documentation of the program’s effectiveness.  The LEQ is
considered easy to use and is reported to have been used successfully in twenty large-
scale research studies.  The questionnaire is designed so that test directors can gather
additional information by varying or adapting the last few questions to address a specific
agenda.  Some of the tested areas include creative self-expression, healthy risk-taking, goal
setting, respect/boundaries, communication skills, and conflict resolution. This instrument is
extremely valuable in monitoring the progress and providing crucial data of The Spirit of
SunkaWakan Youth Empowerment Program.
“Tell me and I will forget,
Show me and I may remember,
Involve me and I will understand.”
Confucius 500 B.C.
Working with you taught me that I wasn’t as
patient as I had originally thought. Working with
you and the horses taught me to slow down and not
always rush ahead but stop and think. I also
learned to trust my instinct. For example sometimes
you would ask me why I thought a horse was acting
a certain way. If I didn't have any idea why, I
would just trust my gut and usually, I was right. It
was a long time ago, but I definitely remember all
of your horses and how much fun I had. I guess one
of the things I remember is when I moved around
with your little horse and we sort of explored each
other's personal spaces. It showed me that alot of
times I am afraid to stand up for myself and tell
someone when they are in my space or have crossed
a line.
~ Alex Forsyth
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