Horses––Benefit Youth or Cost Money?


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

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  1. Jean Sutton says:

    So true! Your grandchildren (my great grands) are learning each and everything you wrote in this blog. Thank you for being such a wonderful role model!

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Thank you! I think kids get so much out of not only horses, but caring for any animal. I know Carter says he wants to come back and live here. He had all the animals and wide open range.

  2. Laura Emerson says:

    Carmen, everything you’ve written here is so true, and applies to adults, too. I recall attending an all-day horsemanship training where I was a lucky observer. Of the dozen or so riders, one man just wasn’t getting it. His horse was not responding and he was taking out his frustration on the confused animal which was also upsetting all the other horses. The facilitator stopped the group lesson, had everyone else take a break and he worked with that rider for several minutes. You know the ending to this story – it was a happy one. Once the group lesson/demonstration resumed, all the horses and riders had a good time….and that man could not stop smiling.

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Thank you for sharing this amazing story, Laura. With great trainers there is only success. Trainers who take the time to work one on one with attendees is so very important, for horse and rider. Some of the best of the best include the Dorrance brothers, Ray Hunt, and Buck Brannaman just to name a few. So glad you stopped by and shared!

  3. Alice Trego says:

    I love horses, and being a “city” girl doesn’t present many opportunities to get to know these beautiful animals or ride them. I’ve often thought about taking riding lessons, too. However, this post certainly taught me a lot about the first steps needed to acqaint myself with horses before riding. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Alice is there a stable close by you could take a few lessons? I’m glad you stopped by and learned a little something! Thank you.

      1. Alice Trego says:

        I’ll have to check on stables nearby and make my dream of riding lessons a reality!

        1. Carmen Peone says:

          Alice, I agreed. There is nothing better, to me anyway, than the smell of a horse. I love climbing into the saddle and just being one with them. This morning I took my colt out, as I do most mornings, and I would work him around trees, walk, trot, up and down hills, and then just let him on a loose rein and just be his partner. Best times of my life is on the back of a horse. Yes, go after your dream and find that stable, that perfect partner, even if he, I recommend a gelding, belongs to another, and just ride. Keep me posted. 🙂

  4. Judy Esposito says:

    Very interesting and wonderful article.

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Thank you, Judy! Happy you stopped by.