I’m an honest parent, or at the very least I try to be. Perhaps too much so at times. I’ll be honest with you, my friends- I’m not a helicopter mom.
I’m the old school- go play and use your imagination, call me if you’re bleeding- type mom. Click To Tweet
My children are hilariously funny, smart, and keep me on my toes. I’m just of the opinion that sometimes learning who you are and who you will become, happens when you are given a chance. Keep yourself busy, make your own decisions, and make mistakes.
Every Child Should Ride Horses
My favorite time together is taking my daughters with me to the barn. When I used to do turnout and feeding, my little ones would help me sweep the aisles, hay the horses, or even clean tack (their choice!). They girls would have plenty of time to play with the ponies or run around an empty ring pretending to jump fences as ponies themselves. But they have a strong work ethic and needed little incentive to contribute to barn chores. Often it was their own idea.
My oldest daughter has been riding horses since she was 4 years old at a local therapeutic riding center. She is tough, confident, and fearless. So basically everything that I am not as a rider. Does my Confessions of a Timid Rider series ring a bell? I cannot say that she wasn’t any of those things before she started riding- but it has helped to shape her into a well-rounded child that I hope will maintain that confidence and sense of self through her teen years.
After all, how intimidated will she be by mean girls when she is used to being assertive with a 1500 lb. animal who is feeling stubborn? She tells me that she wants to be a jumper, which is terrifying. She challenges herself every day and you know what? She’ll rock at it because she refuses not to be awesome.
In May of this year, my 6-year old twins started taking riding lessons. For those of you who think that I pushed my hobby on them- stop right there.
The twins have been begging me for three years to take riding lessons and I put them off. I would distract them and say, “Let’s try dance”, “Let’s try gymnastics”, or “Let’s try soccer”. As much as I love horses, it is an expensive hobby and I knew they would gravitate to it one day.
Who can put a price on passion?
At the end of the day, I wish I started riding when I was 6 years old. It may not have changed my anxiety to be the best possible rider I can be, but all the things I’m learning now as an adult would have been that much better when I was young.
Riding Horses Teaches Children Important Life Lessons
This should be a no-brainer. For those of you who think the horse does all the work, I suggest you mount up because you’ve probably done nothing more than a pony ride. Horse riding takes muscle, primarily your core and your legs. Quiet seat, quiet hands, and an effective leg mean muscle control and strength. Riding builds muscle and further it provides a cardio workout. Anyone who has ever collected their canter while doing circles has gotten a little winded- don’t try and lie. I can tell what shape I’m in by how many loops around the ring I can do without stopping to catch my breathe- hint: it’s not a lot.
Do you ever stare at your child on their phone, tablet, or watching tv and see a zombie? Growing up as I did in the 70’s, I would spend the entire day outside and only come home after dark. That’s different today with technology. Riding horses is an amazing way to get outside and spend time experiencing nature. Fresh air!
You have to rely on each other. Horses will test you. They will get away with whatever they can and so you have to be confident and quiet.You can’t be loud, obnoxious, and throw a temper tantrum when things are not going your way. Your ask nicely. Consistent but firm. You learn to work together.
Patience with your horse, but most of all patience with yourself. Giving yourself the room to make mistakes, understand what you are doing that isn’t working, and making it better. My trainer never lets me end a lesson until we do something well. Always end on a good note. You know what? Each time I get just a little bit better. There is nothing more satisfying than a job well done.
Equestrians never stop learning. The best riders in the world have trainers. Every horse has something to teach us. Every ride is different, every horse is different. If you have read my Confessions of a Timid Rider then you know that what we bring to the barn from our personal lives, affect us. The more practice my daughters have, the better riders they become. And they learn that hard work is necessary for success. In order to succeed you need to work hard.
How to Fall
It’s a fact of horseback riding that falling is inevitable. I do not look forward to their first fall. I’m cringing even thinking about it. I have a house full of drama queens. (As I write this my 6 year old is hysterical because she scraped her knee on the driveway. For 20 minutes she has been sobbing, screaming, and scooting across the floor because she doesn’t want to put weight on it. There isn’t even blood. You would think she’d broken a vital appendage).
I’ve fallen many times over the years. Some falls were unavoidable and others were because I wasn’t balanced. In the last two years I haven’t fallen at all. I guess I’m due. The important thing is knowing how to fall safely.
My funniest fall is when my girth loosened during a horse show as I was transitioning down from the canter. I called, “Hold Up”, and started slipping. I moved my horse out of the way and proceeded to slide steadily butt first onto the ground. Thankfully it was a schooling show. The judge actually gave me points for a graceful landing and because I stood up and bowed afterward. Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself.
In our lives, embarrassing or bad things happen. It’s a fact. How my children deal with disappointment is vital to their success.
How to Get Back Up Again
There is a well known saying “Get back on the horse”. Falls can be scary. Your adrenaline kicks in and all you think is protect your head and get away from the hooves. But, scarier than the fall itself is the prospect of getting back on. Because you do not want to fall again. If you let the fear build up in your head then you psych yourself out.
My children need to learn that just because you fall doesn’t mean you can quit. Sometimes things happen that we don’t like or we don’t expect- but we have to keep going.
Compassion is something that is extremely important to me. I want to raise my children to think of others and not focus so much on their own wants and needs. Narcissism is rampant in the world today. Riding horses is such a beautiful way for a barn rat to learn compassion. Equestrians learn very early that you must groom, tack, pick up manure, [ride], untack, brush down, and thank your horse. Riding is just a small part of horsemanship, although it’s one most people focus on.
Years ago I was on a trail ride with my business partner and trainer. We took our horses through the field and up into the woods. Almost as soon as we entered the woods, my horse Chico, started to rear a little. We were in the back and I called to my trainer. Something just wasn’t right. We turned around and I took up the back again.
By this time the horses were all acting weird. When my trainer got to the edge of the field her horse bolted. Robin jumped off, grabbed the reins, and called for us all to dismount. Danelle jumped off and her horse, Beach Boy, took off. Chico stayed with me until I jumped off. The second I left his back he bolted. The force of it pushed me off balance and I landed on my back hard. It was an awkward fall but I protected my head.
Getting up, I dusted myself off, and went to find my horse. There was no time for coddling myself. Heart racing, I felt something painful and realized I was covered in adolescent yellow jackets.
The entire time my horse was warning us and getting stung. The horses waited until we were safely off before running away. Something I did as well the second I realized I’d fallen in the nest. You can imagine how comical it was for my trainer to follow me running across the field and hitting me with a riding crop to remove the wasps.
The thing is, I was stung 7 times. I was shaking, adrenaline pumping, and fearful of an allergic reaction. Did I leave? No. We went and tracked down our scared horses. We hand walked them all the way back to the barn. Then we washed them down, removed the stingers, and treated their wounds. I didn’t have medical help until at least 1 hour and a half later.
The moral of the story is that equestrians take care of their horses. End of story. I will admit that getting back on a horse a few days later was scary. Our horses were not in the position to be remounted either physically or emotionally after their wasp interaction.
When I care about something, I want to succeed. I work hard to be better. I am hard on myself because I know what I am capable of in life. So when I don’t perform to my expectations, I lose confidence in myself.
Overall, riding horses has given me confidence I didn’t have before. I have my down moments, sure. However, I know that I can handle situations that used to make me run in the other direction. Working with a 6-year old off-track thoroughbred (OTTB) is a challenge that is making me a better rider. And I welcome it.
My children have the opportunity to work alongside these amazing animals. Horses have a lot to teach us about ourselves. To earn their trust and respect, is something special.
Horses are a lot of fun on the ground too! What is more fun than riding a horse? Pretending to be one yourself.
Let’s not forget that riding horses is a whole lot of fun. My youngest was nervous to ride her first lesson, but even though she was a bit tense, she had a huge grin on her face the entire time. The second she dismounted she asked when her next lesson was. It’s hard to put into words the feeling riding a horse gives you.
Everyone should experience it at least once. It’s not for everyone, but there is nothing else like it in the world. I’m so glad that my daughter’s can experience the same feeling I do.
A Parent’s Final Thought
Riding horses has taught me so many things. It’s taught me patience, humility, strength, empathy, and determination. Most of all, riding horses has taught me to fight for what makes me happy. My passion does not always end in a great day, and still causes me anxiety from time to time. But the good outweighs the bad. When I get on a horse, everything else is less important for a time. My head clears, and my endorphins kick in. Where even two years ago I would panic at being bucked, I now laugh and try to understand what I did to cause that reaction.
I want my children to get their hands dirty. To not be afraid to assert themselves with confidence. I am proud that my daughters share my passion for animals. Who knows how long they will ride? What matters is that they fought for a chance to ride horses, they worked hard to earn their lessons, and they are having fun. Will they decide to follow a different path? That’s their decision. The lessons they are learning now will be what makes them amazing adults that I will respect. Here’s hoping anyway.
After all, I want my children to know that if they want to be successful human beings they need to do at least three things: ask politely, work together, and keep moving forward.