So your child wants to ride. Wonderful! Spending time with horses has tremendous benefits for our youth when it is done in a way that honors the horse and prioritizes a safe and positive relationship between horse and human. This is an opportunity that can have long-lasting and substantial positive impacts on your child.
Before you sign your kiddo up for
lessons or take them to the barn down the road, there's some information I want to share.
Please be intentional and so careful with where your child goes.
Please do not give in to a whim that at best is less than desirable and at worst can result in catastrophic injury and/or fear.
Horses are amazing, kind, generous animals. Researchers have documented a number of benefits - physical, mental, emotional, social - that we can experience under the right circumstances with horses.
But not every experience is equal.
The vast majority of opportunities with horses are designed to give the rider an experience at the expense of the horse, quite frankly, and with that there are many unattended consequences.
Our children are taught to push, pull, kick, even hit another being to get what they want.
Our children are taught to ignore their intuition and fear, "being brave" even at the expense of their sense of wellbeing.
Our children get hurt.
Our children are taught to disregard consent to another body and their own, ignore the needs and communication from another, force themselves on another being for their own personal benefit.
Our children are taught that a good partner does what they are told, at all times, no matter what. Or else.
This doesn't account for the effects on the horse of being treated this way. It may sound extreme, but I have seen and heard it from countless sources.
Kids leave horse activities because they didn't like the way it felt.
Kids stay and believe that it's the only way to be with horses. Perhaps they internalize the messages of dominance, control, force, and submission at their own expense.
Kids grow to believe that horses break down, lash out and are excessively fragile or excessively durable - but these are the result of horses living commodified lives.
It most often is subtle and perhaps even imperceptible. But more often than not, it's there.
So parents, please, for the sake of your child and honestly for the sake of horses everywhere, be diligent when it comes to your child's horse experiences. Educate yourself, do your research, and listen carefully as you ask explicit questions about your child's potential learning. Observe the horses, the equipment used on them and the messages that students receive about working with them.
Teach your child that compassion, understanding and empathy are the building blocks of any relationship with an animal. That first we learn about the horse and their needs, we care for them and practice critical skills, we work on US, before we ask them to carry us. And yes, we ASK. Teach your children that they can always say no, the horse can always say no, and no one has the right to force themselves on another. Don't let your child be taught that their interests are more important than the wellbeing of the horse.
And if your child only wants to ride, doesn't want to participate in those other activities? Think carefully about the message you are sending. Consider if this might be the right opportunity for your child to learn a valuable lesson in caring for others, or simply not participating. A suitable option is that, IF they want to pursue horse activities, the first step is to learn about the animal and build a positive relationship with them.
I have yet to meet a parent who regretted putting their child in an empathetic, horse-centered learning environment as opposed to a traditional riding program. I am often told how much parents appreciate what their child learns and practices. I have kids tell me that they would rather not ride today, thank you, they'd like to learn more about working with their horse on the ground and enjoying that relationship. They see how everything they do with the horse is of value (and by the way, leads to better riding experiences in the future). These are kids that are growing a desire to have horses in their whole lives and even dream of a career with horses.
We need these kids, and the future adults they will become, to make the world a better place for themselves and others. Even the horses.
Thanks for reading,
Program Director, Ruby's Home for Good