Recently, I wrote an article about how several university professors who visited us said they were interested in doing a short film on our home schooling methods after seeing how the kids use horses in school. I mentioned that I would write more on why I think every child should own or at least work with horses.
When I was a teenager, I was not a 'horsey' girl lusting after everything equine, but when my mom decided to get an Arabian gelding, I immediately fell in love with him and wanted to spend every moment with him. He was boarded at Plum Nearly Ranch in South East Texas several miles from my home. I would ride my bike or beg my parents to drop me off there where I would volunteer my time learning to wash horses, scoop poop, and feed them. I even assisted in an artificial insemination process! Needless to say, I learned a lot more than just 'riding;' however, I did learned to ride and even competed in a few horse shows. I found that my time with my horse was some of the best moments of my life. The sweet smell of hay, horse poop, and oats is a part of my soul now that brings back fond memories of crisp cool mornings, and the feelings of learning responsibility. During this time, after 18 years of marriage, my parents were getting a divorce. On top of this, I was going through puberty and was not very 'pretty.' We built a new house and moved every 3 years, and I found that it was difficult for me to fit in at school.... but my pony, he didn't care about all that. His warm breath was a comfort to my soul breathing life and hope in me that I could leave all that mess and stress behind and fly away with him carrying me.
After going off to college, my dad decided to sell my horse without telling me. He bought me a new, white, 1993, Toyota Celica hatchback. I didn't know how to feel. I was grateful for my new car, yet, so sad to let go of a friend. Fast-forward to my grownup years, my daughter Butterfly was given a horse book by Rod Hatch when she was small. She would talk about horses and look through its pages every day... so when we got our small farm, my first thought was to find a horse. I wanted my kids to experience horses, and here are twenty reasons why I think you should make the investment, too:
- Discipline-- It comes as no surprise that owning a horse teaches discipline. There are many safety rules when dealing with horses such as wearing boots to protect feet, helmets when riding, and back protectors when eventing. In fact, 75% of owning a horse is done with feet on the ground and not riding. It takes patience and discipline to own a horse.
- Responsibility-- by 8 am, my kids have to feed horses. They brush them, clean their hooves, and make sure they are healthy by checking for any scratches or issues. My kids learn responsibility through owning a horse. The horses are fed 4 times a day (in our case, but usually two at most places). The kids must bring them in, feed them, etc... four times, every single day. And they do it!
- Humility-- horses keep you humble. Not only do you have to deal with their poop, slobbery kisses, and messes, they are huge animals. Bad attitudes do not go far around horses. If someone does not respect the animal, they can get hurt. Humility is learned rather quickly.
- Challenges--Children learn to embrace and persevere through challenges that arise with owning or renting a horse. In some cases, challenges are having a lame horse that forces you to wait MONTHS before riding. Other challenges may be the physical ones you experience while learning how to ride properly, and the challenges you face as you ride over or through new places! Every time we get on the back of a horse, it is a new challenge since horses are cognitive beings with their own personalities.
- Bravery-- Our minds have to learn to trust in the horse and in ourselves. It takes a certain amount of bravery to ride a horse and to get back on if one falls off.
- Intellectually stimulating-- Learning to put tack together (trust me, it can be a puzzle), how to care for hooves, measuring feed, calculating percentage of rider's weight to horse's weight, learning anatomy, and how to fit a saddle properly, calculating distance in a circular round pen, or measuring stride between jumps... there is so much room for intellectual growth when working with horses.
- Physical education--in our case, this element of our education system comes mostly from outside play, and horse riding. Riding is exercise. Learning to canter and rise in trot requires physical strength. Even a 'walk' strengthens one's core which is why we use the horses for physical therapy for our disabled friends. For the older kids, leading their younger sister on a pony requires a great deal of walking/jogging. Lunging horses also takes energy. Lifting hay bales, feed sacks. large jugs of water, jump poles, and going in and out four times a day to feed the horses is physical work in of itself. It keeps my kids outside for large portions of the day.
- Friends/acceptance--Horses are friendly. They love you no matter what. They can listen to hours of talking and still look back at you with those big, beautiful eyes.
- Competition-- Home schooling, there is not much competition when you are the only student in your class level. I find this the biggest flaw with my educational choice for my kids, but here in Kenya, there is a community of horse folks who put on shows and actually compete! We haven't entered any shows yet, but this is an element we are hoping to delve into. I think a competitive spirit is good for kids, and teaches them to have drive to succeed.
- Socialization-- Living in Kenya, my pale kids stick out. It is difficult to connect with village kids who constantly stand in awe of our 'paleness' unable to go beyond that feature even after years and years of living here. Home schooling also means my kids don't have many people they can relate to or with whom to interact. There is a surprisingly large community of people who ride horses in our neck of the woods. Riding horses gives my kids an element of 'connectability' to kids who also do so. Not every one has our circumstances, but this element of having a horse is still true for kids all over the world. It gives kids a place to 'belong.'
- Emotional management-- There is no room for emotional outbursts around horses. Horses are mirrors of our souls. They will reflect what we are feeling inside. If you head out to deal with horses while angry, the horse will respond accordingly!
- Adventure-- Horses can take you exploring through forests, trails, hillsides, etc... hacking out with your horse buddy is an amazing adventure that connects one with nature and stimulates the imagination! You can be a princess on a unicorn, a knight in shining armor, or an explorer like Lewis and Clark, or imagine you are Sacagawea.
- Patience-- This is a HUGE part of owning/caring for a horse. For example, today, Emma had to wait 20 minutes of me lunging her pony before she could ride today. She sat and watched--waiting patiently. Butterfly has had to wait MONTHS for her horse to get sound after an injury. In the meantime, she has groomed her and doctored her wound, learning how to treat her horse during this time, but has been a huge test of her patience while the rest of us who are lighter can ride the ponies.
- Something to do/keeps kids out of trouble-- Having a horse costs time, energy, and money, and this is not a bad thing! Where your money is, your heart is, too. Having to work for something is a great motivator and keeps kids out of trouble. Instead of going out to parties as a teen, I was heading off to the stables volunteering. Instead of getting into mischief, I was having sleepovers in the barn with some of my friends and practicing our riding the following day. On a personal level, now, living in Kenya where there are few other activities available, horses give my kids something to do beyond just reading books indoors.
- Bonding-- having time with your child on a horse hack provides loads of bonding time between you and your child. It opens room for conversation. And if your child is riding alone, she will bond with her horse.
- Transportation-- Horses carry us. We live on a hill. I am lazy. I ride up and down it.
- Coordination/balance-- "Kick with your inside leg." "Keep your hands down." "Don't pull in her mouth." "Rise on the correct diagonal." "Stay balanced!" There is a certain amount of acquired skill that comes with riding.
- Language-- I have read of many accounts of how riding a horse causes children to learn to speak. It has to do with the rhythm and balancing on the horse's back that taps into the language part of the brain. One of our Kenyan daughters didn't speak to me for years until we got a horse.
- Empathy-- while interacting with a horse, a person is encouraged to imagine how the horse feels and put himself in the horses shoes.
- Birth control (for us grownups, haha)-- I have six biological children. I find that I get 'broody' when my youngest child reaches a certain age; however, now that I am 'into horses,' I find that having a toddler is hindering my ability to ride and train the horses, and therefore, preventing me from even CONSIDERING another little human running around. Horses fill that 'need to be needed' void as well. It is very difficult when you follow attachment parenting methods like I do, to have a small person who is still breast-feeding and being carried when you want to go out on a long adventure with a horse, or when you need to train them for (in our case) equine therapy sessions.
So there you have it! I can think of even more reasons, but I think 20 are enough! This doesn't even scratch the surface of therapeutic benefits! So parents, when your child mentions s/he wants a pony, why not consider volunteering at a ranch nearby and see how you get on?