Do horses really teach anything? Or do they merely cost the owner tons of money with feed and vet bills? After working with youth in 4-H, including one of my own, and now having my grandchildren around horses, I believe they teach kids many valuable life lessons.
In fact here are eight of those horse giving lessons:
Teach responsibility – ownership of any animal teaches kids responsibility. Have you ever had a puppy? Crying and whining in the middle of the night? A bunny who needs its cage cleaned? A kitten to entertain and love? Sheep? Cows? Goats? Chickens? All the above need food and water. Horses need food and water, and they need exercise, training and maintenance, treats, combed, stalls or pens cleaned out. Horses are a lot of work, but so worth the money and time. Especially when children are involved.
Teach leadership – horses teach kids how to be leaders. It they don’t step up and take their horse by the reins, pun intended, they’ll soon be on the ground with their four-legged friend hovering over them. Horses like to know who’s in charge, as my nine-year-old niece, Becky, recently found out. I put her on my husband’s 15-year-old mare, Zoe. This horse is lazy and prefers one speed, walk. Actually she really prefers be in the pasture, grazing, lazing, and hanging out in the shade of the afternoon. My niece and I began our ride in the arena a few days ago. Day one. The next day, we started in the arena and headed out into the woods. Or so I attempted. I knew my niece could handle the mare. She was safe. Did I say she’s lazy? Big Zoe that is. But we couldn’t start the ride until Becky looked up and toward the gate and took charge. Zoe circled and circled, asking Becky if she was serious about leading. I just sat and kept repeating: look up where you are going, steer, kick….Finally she did just that and got Zoe out the gate. We had a wonderful hour horseback ride, but not until Becky decided to be the leader.
Teach respect – kids learn respect when working with horses. My niece, for example, probably weighs 90 to 100 pounds. Zoe weighs 1,200 pounds. If the rider doesn’t respect the mount she’s riding then the horse will not respect the rider no matter what she weighs. The only way to gain a horses respect is to be a confident leader and be able to move the horse’s feet and stop those feet at any moment. Period. I do a lot of ground work with my horses and teach it to my young family members. They have to know how to lead in order to be safe and have a fun ride. All of this comes through respect, all the way from the riders hands to the horse’s feet.
Teach love – How many Facebook posts have you seen lately about little girls and boys hugging horses. How many of you have been that little girl or boy who dreamed of riding horses since the first time you laid eyes one one? There are a number of organizations that use horses to reach troubled youth. Horses have a way of connecting with youth on so many different levels. Have you ever seen a child walk away sad, spend time with a horse, and come back a totally different kid? Heck, that happens to me all the time.
Teach bonding – I think, especially for trouble youth, there is a bond missing between child and parents for whatever reason. We live in a hurried world full of technology. Both parents have to work to make ends meet. Horses can teach a child how to bond, love and care for something, leaving their troubles behind for an hour or two. Pretty soon, between the responsibility of caring for an animal and shedding off survival modes, a bond forms between human and horse, which pulls youth into a place where they begin to care again. Where they desire relationships. Healing begins at this point as bonds form.
Teach teamwork and trust – some kids are fearless by nature. Others are not. When my five-year-old grandchildren climb up on big Zoe, they learn the meaning of teamwork and trust. There is a team of two, rider and horse. Yes, the riders needs to be the leader, but the pair work as one. Those little half-pints need to trust Zoe to keep them safe and take them on a fun ride in the round pen, and big Zoe needs to trust their ability to lead.
Teach kindness – my grandfather apparently was a cruel horse trainer. He was a typical old cowboy with old ways of “breaking” the horse. Yes, horses was broken and spirits were shattered. I prefer the term to “gentle” a horse. I rather have a horse come willingly with me, as a partner and team member, not out of fear. I believe in tough love, because all good leaders use it, but I also believe in kindness first. Simply ask a horse in the beginning and release with the slightest try. If they don’t do what is asked, turn up the heat. And then ask again. Nicely. The horse soon learns respect and finds they like to be with an owner who displays a deft, kind touch. I’m not saying baby these 1,200 pound horses, but use gentle and kind methods.
I use natural horsemanship methods that teach a horse respect, teamwork, trust. Then my horses can teach youth in return. There is nothing like a good kid’s horse that teach them how to ride. They bond and love. Kids learn leadership and respect skills that eventually spill into their adult lives.
So do horses teach kids? Or do they just cost horse trailer sized amounts of money? I say they teach more than we could ever imagine.
~ Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success. Henry Ford