“There was a girl in the village who loved horses… She led the horses to drink at the river. She spoke softly and they followed. People noticed that she understood horses in a special way.” And so begins the story of a young Native American girl devoted to the care of her tribe’s horses. With simple text and brilliant illustrations. Paul Goble tells how she eventually becomes one of them to forever run free.”
The third graders are reading The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble this week. There were so many beautiful images in this story. Vocabulary words like “Vanish” and “Pursue” led me to consider the community and folklore from the Native American tribe the girl “who loved wild horses” were from.
At age 13 my family traveled to the Great Plains and I was invited to participate with an indigenous tribe and participate in their tribe’s circle dances. Their language is of the Algonquian language family and the pow wow (a sacred and social gathering) and circle dances may have been close to the capital city, Cheyenne. The Cheyenne comprise two Native American tribes, the Só’taeo’o or Só’taétaneo’o (more commonly spelled as Suhtai or Sutaio) and the Tsétsêhéstâhese. At the time, I felt open and full of curiosity. I know I presented an open spirit because the dancers of the tribe spent a lot of time moving with me and working with me. I remember the grandmother-looking dancer and several of the warrior dancers wanting me to stay in the circle for a long time. I thought it was so I could get the steps. I was worried I was stepping wrong. Of course, as a young performing artist, I thought there were specifications for the direction, force, and dynamics of the step stomp in a technical way. They just wanted me “to get it”. They wanted me to feel it and enjoy it. NOW….as an adult, I understand they were enjoying my energy and inviting me to enjoy theirs too. I would love to go back in time and throw my hands up allowing the brazen sunshine to drench me and for us to enjoy the movements together, playfully. I now understand exchanging energy in ways that are sacred, enlightening, fun, fulfilling, and beautiful. The appreciation of our customs was well spent those many years ago, and I cherish them today. These tribes merged in the early 19th century. Today, the Cheyenne people are split into two federally recognized Nations: the Southern Cheyenne, who are enrolled in the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma, and the Northern Cheyenne, who are enrolled in the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana. We went all over the Great Plains that summer, and I do not remember if I was in Wyoming, Oklahoma, or Montana when I joined the circle dance. It was endearing to see two of my third-grade classes learning about Native Americans and having a ball passing invisible energy around the room. I can consider the story. There was a young girl leaving her tribe because she felt so connected to the wild horses. She wanted to live among wild horses and enjoy the wild horses playing with her while they longed for her to stay a little while longer. …now, I understand the steps.
Step stomp step stomp step stomp step stomp
How fun it was to share my circle dance experience with the students today. After warming-up, we felt our hearts. Lub-dub, lub-dub was in tempo and the speed was different among the young artists. So, we practiced breathing together in the circle. We played a game of passing some smooth energy around the group, then, we pat our chests together, lub-dub, lub-dub. With time and practice we were able to find a unified tempo for our heartbeat.
Next, students identified their right and left feet. The right foot would be the Lub and the left foot would be the dub. Standing together, we worked in unison for our steps to match our hearts. Then, we used the locomotion of our soles to propel our circle into motion. As students looked around the circle working to stay together we agreed we would keep both shoulders facing the inside of the circle instead of only looking toward the person on our right (as we were headed counter-clockwise). I asked them, “Would you notice if someone from your tribe vanished? Would you pursue them?” It was a strong heartbeat now.
We discussed the tone of voice in the sacred drum and Native American music we danced to. Students raised terrific questions about the origin of the movements, music, the symbols used for communication, and costuming.
Maybe my personal understanding of the tribal experience in 1986 finally settled into my soul! Enjoy using this beautiful story with your class! This lesson could certainly expand into a larger unit! Wow!
P.S. Here’s a video! I shared the lesson across many grade bands and here’s how it turned out. Gotta love it when students share dances at the dinner table.