Why horse riding lessons?
Specifically, what are benefits for your kids to learn to ride a horse — putting in precious time, money, and energy where there seems to be little productive outcome at the end? Chances are, they aren’t likely to get into equine-related careers. Being suburb dwellers most of our lives, we rarely get a chance to see a real horse, let alone trying to ride one.
But for so many little kids in America, girls especially, horse-riding seems like a rite of passage that they must go through, much like those gangly arms and legs they must grow into, pesky pimples to fuss over, social awkwardness to contend with, the search for identity to pursue, and countless other growing pains that must be dealt with.
When “horse craziness” hits, it hits like a sudden thirst that must be quenched by their hapless parents. Some would go on to love horses and riding all their lives, choosing either to work with horses or owning them. Most, I’d imagine, abandon the sport after a while, simply because it is too expensive and too impractical to either own or be around horses.
So why start such an “expensive hobby” as most would call it when the prospect of retaining any vestige of it seems so slim in the future? Here are my top three reasons for the readers to consider…
People on horses look better than they are.
People in cars look worse than they are.
A man on a horse is spiritually as well as physically bigger than a man on foot.
1. Riding a horse allows you to be a better version of yourself.
Much like reading a novel or play-acting in a drama, this is a unique escape route to your own Camelot where it allows you (and in this case, your child) a safe place to dream, to pretend, and to be larger and stronger than she really feels. Chances are, she really is stronger and more mature than we give her credit for. After all, to successfully maneuver a thousand-pound animal who has a mind of its own is no small feat at all. The love, patience, and respect your child has to afford the horse, and the working out of two wills to complete any task are some valuable lessons that can only be taught and learned in the process of doing.
A little neglect may breed mischief …
for want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
for want of a shoe the horse was lost;
and for want of a horse the rider was lost.
Poor Richard’s Almanac, preface (1758)
2. Caring of a horse demands patience, strength, and diligence.
None of those three characteristics are likely to be attributed to a small child unless he is determined to ride his horse. Almost all ranches require their students to groom and tack the horse before lesson begins, little ones included. Grooming is not ceremonial brushes across the horseback but some hardy scrubbing off of dirt that could potentially injure the horse (in the form of saddle sore) and serious cleaning of their hooves as well. Frankly, it was quite a heart-pounding experience for me (who has no horse background whatsoever) to watch my child (who weighs little more than 60 pounds) to lift up each of the horse’s legs and try to gouge out compacted hay and dirt and sometimes smelly infectious material out of the “frogs” of the horse’s hooves with a sharp object.
The perceived “dangers” are manifold: the horse in question having complete will of its own, being free to decide when it’ll pound its leg down out of discomfort or defiance with occasions of it stomping on one of the child’s foot; the menacing look of the cleaning tool that closely resembles a one-prong garden rake wielded by a small child, to be dug into and pulled along the horse’s hooves with reasonable force while holding desperately to its leg; and the drastic contrast between the insurmountably huge horse leg and my stick-figure like child. But suppressing my maternal urge to protect them from all possible harm, I managed to watch them clean those hooves week after week with varying degrees of success, with only one minor incident in a few month’s span. Patience, strength, and diligence — nothing that any house chore is likely to instill. (Unless your house is a ranch!)
It’s a lot like nuts and bolts – if the rider’s nuts, the horse bolts! ~Nicholas Evans
There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse. ~John Lubbock, “Recreation,” The Use of Life, 1894
3. Learning to ride a horse requires good sense and rewards you with good feeling.
Most domesticated animals have learned to read their humans very well. Observe dogs and their owners. Some humans are perpetually dragged for a walk down the street by their small and aggressive yippers. Some take leisurely strolls, with two, three, or five hounds in tow, showing no sign of anxiety. Why? Because dogs know who’s in charge and willingly and happily follow. The same thing can be attributed to a riding lesson well-learned.
At the first few lessons, the horses simply sized up our girls and decided to carry out every command with minimal effort and maximum attitude. They would linger particularly longingly where we, the parents were standing, outside the ring and gave both of us the most pathetic and accusing “take-your-child-off-of-me-or-just-kill-me” looks as they went by, with our girls being alternately tense, wary, excited, and irritated.
Gradually, as the girls learn to gain better control of the horses and are firmer and surer with them, the animals (girls and horses) trot on happily and proudly, realizing in their hearts that a kind of mutual respect and understanding have been achieved and that both breeds are being simultaneously fulfilled. While the child learns the instantaneous consequences of every subtle pull, tuck, and loosening of rein, every careless sideway glances versus a purposeful concentration on the path ahead, the horse is quick to either reward with well-mannered and steady maneuvers or punish with lethargic movements or wild and unruly gallops. No amount of well-meaning lectures can beat learning from consequences. No better compliments can compare to mastery of a new skill.
While I could cite many more benefits as to why horse riding lessons are good for children (and for parents, too), suffice to say that these three reasons alone already make perfect horse sense to me!