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Killacky: New Challenges

12/29/10 7:55AM By John Killacky
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(HOST)  As he anticipates the start of a new year, commentator John Killacky, Executive Director of Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, is thinking about the challenge - and excitement - of learning new skills.

(KILLACKY)  Right now I'm learning from a 400-pound animal with the brain of a three-year old child, as I train a Shetland pony to pull a cart. Ponies, like horses, are prey animals whose first instinct is to fight or flee, so this can be a daunting and humbling task.

My CEO/Executive Director-self has no gravitas here. At the barn, I am a beginner. My teachers range from teenagers to one amazing horsewomen in her eighties. I also work with a very patient and experienced trainer. We never discuss one’s day job; all conversation is through and about our animals

Being a novice at mid-life is rejuvenating. I love grappling with new skills that take a long time to master. Laughter at failure and learning from mistakes propel improvement. My competitive self is satisfied with a training session well done, thrilled that Raindrop and I have done our best for that day.

In working with my pony, I must first understand the world through her eyes, her smells, her experiences, her fears, and her relationships. Equine logic is quite different from human thinking. And what we learn together going to the right often has to start all over again when we change directions.

Winter has us training in the indoor arena. We lunge, jump, trot, and walk our animals in spiraling circles and figure-eights. The ever-changing herd hierarchy is fascinating to watch: one animal is in charge until a new one is introduced and then a new order must be established.

Apple treats reinforce learning, but also guarantee affection. It is so fun to be welcomed with a whinny, as her furry head juts over the stall door. And there is nothing better than warm pony breath and velvet nose nudges after a stressful day at work.

Pony precepts have taught me a lot of things, some of which apply to human interactions. Meeting colleagues on their terms, starting where they are, seems like a pretty good idea to bring back into the office each morning, after I finish mucking her stall, of course!

(TAG) To see videos of John Killacky’s Shetland world, visit PonyManSF on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06c25xwzn8Y

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