Teaching a Toddler to Read a Horse

Can a 2 ½ year-old learn to read the body language a horse?  If you had asked me that question a year ago, I would have said I don’t know.  Today, however, my answer would be, “Yes.  Definitely.”

Recently, my 2 ½ year-old nephew came to visit.  He was enamored with shoveling manure and helping fill water buckets for the water trough.  When Chaco, my horse, came over to say hello to him, he hid behind his mom.  He was very much aware of how tiny he was compared to Chaco’s 1100 lbs.  While he hid behind his mom, we all enjoyed each other’s company, leaving the natural boundaries in place.  Chaco remained in his place, and let my nephew enjoy the comfort of hiding behind his mom.  The last thing I wanted to do was make my nephew over-ride his own personal boundaries and go pet Chaco.

At the end of their few-hour visit, it was time to say good-bye to the horses.  I picked my nephew up to make the rounds.  He was much more comfortable in my arms around these big horses.  We said goodbye to Chaco at his shoulder, and then moved a few feet away to give Chaco more space.  Chaco was relaxed, so I spoke to my nephew is a slow, low voice about Chaco’s eyes.  Since he had recently learned human vocabulary for body parts, he understood what I meant by the word “eyes”, and began watching Chaco’s eyes with focus.

To my nephew I said, “This is Chaco’s nap time.  Night.  Night.  Do you have night, night at home?”

The more I talked about Chaco’s nap with an increasingly quiet and slow voice, Chaco’s eyes blinked slower and slower.  Meanwhile, my nephew was mesmerized by Chaco’s closing eyes.  He even leaned forward slightly, intently studying Chaco’s relaxing eyes.

It was so peaceful that I did not want to interrupt the moment.  We remained like that for several minutes.  I continued to speak slowly and quietly, experimenting myself with how my voice was luring Chaco to sleep.

What a perfect end to the day.  I was pleasantly surprised by the focus and curiosity of my 2 ½ year-old nephew.  How great is it that at his age he is learning to read the fine nuances of the eyes of a horse?  I can’t wait to see what unfolds next in his understanding as he grows up.

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