Now that spring is coming, our thoughts turn to outdoor activities. What do we want to do outside and how can we get our children outdoors? One outdoor activity that is always popular with children is horseback riding.
Except for children with certain kinds of physical disorders, riding is probably the least important part of being around horses for children. It is being in the barn and being responsible for the horse that has the most benefit for young people. Horses require a great deal of care and attention before and after riding. These needs can teach children to be responsible, on-time, compassionate, strong, resilient, and committed.
Here are some of the benefits of learning horsemanship and spending time with horses.
One can’t simply “ride” a horse. A person must develop skills and a relationship with the animal in order to be an effective team. This means working daily to improve communication skills. Horses respond to how a person uses body language to communicate with them. The best riders are those who can communicate effectively with a variety of horses. This communication takes years to develop and hone, but is priceless both in and out of the arena.
One of the most important things children learn riding horses is leadership. Horses are herd animals. They have a very strict pecking order in the herd. A rider gets a horse to respond to them by being the leader. Those great horse/rider teams – the one where the horse will challenge its own fear to do as the rider wants – come about because the rider has shown leadership to the horse.
Horses also teach children discipline. Horse have to be fed, watered, groomed and exercised. Their stalls and equipment must be cleaned. These are daily chores. Horses teach children to be disciplined and work hard. One can’t put off feeding their horse until “later” and then expect the horse to respond well. A good horseperson takes care of all a horse’s needs first and promptly, no matter what else they have going on in their life.
Horses give CONDITIONAL affection. They react to the emotions presented to them. If a person comes into the barn angry or stressed, the horses react to that. They are therefore very effective in therapeutic situations because they can help people see their emotional states.
A child who is taught horsemanship, which is different from simple riding, will learn humility. There is always more work to do and more to learn with horses. People working with horses will find their deficits and limitations. Those who learn from those experiences may dig deeper and push themselves harder. Horses can teach humans the real meaning of humility – to be modest and respectful – not just with horses, but with all beings we encounter.
Having an animal as large as a horse do what you ask it to do is a confidence-boosting experience. So many people are afraid of horses because of their size and the threat they pose. Someone who can get a horse to do what they want it to do will glow with confidence.
There’s also confidence in a job well done. Some kids don’t have terribly well-trained horses. They don’t win horse shows or go on to be lifelong horsemen/horsewomen. But they do gain confidence by setting goals and working toward them.
There is also confidence to be gained by cleaning your equipment well or running a personal best in a practice round for a rodeo or learning a difficult skill or helping someone else at the barn learn a skill you have mastered.
Horses can teach children patience and to learn from their mistakes. Horses have minds of their own. A rider has to work with the horse to get it to perform as desired. It is a partnership, and one that doesn’t always go well. Children learn that they don’t always win the horse show. Their horse may be lame when they want to go riding. They will be frustrated when the horse won’t do for them what it will do for their trainer. These are all learning opportunities. And they are worthwhile.