By Diane Turner Maller
There was a time when it was common place for parents to have at least one tale from a childhood memory that involved an encounter or “wild ride” with a horse to share with their children. Fewer and
fewer parents now have direct horse knowledge from our own upbringing. In finding horse centered opportunities for our children, we can learn along with them.
Therapeutic riding programs have proliferated and the benefits of spending time with a horse grounds any child in present time sensory experience. Consider simple ways that you could introduce your child to the extraordinary world of horses.
Attend a horse show. Depending on your location, horse events may be more plentiful than you think. A local 4H Chapter may be a source of not only the 4H Club activities but also the broader circuit of local horse driven affairs. Feed stores feature bulletin boards that highlight upcoming events with flyer sized photos of horses in action.
When you get to your selected event, watch how the horses are handled. Decide which rider seems to do this better than the others and why. Help your child learn to distinguish between the various breeds of horses. Can you tell which one is a Morgan? Do you like the coloring of the Appaloosa?
Notice how individual horses have their own personality. How do horses communicate? What does it mean when the horse moves his ears forward and back? What makes the horse lower his head? Revel in the pure joy of movement that can be seen and felt from the horse who is allowed to run free in the arena with head held high, tail lifted, and mane flying.
Find friends or neighbors who have a horse. Maybe there is a neighbor who pastures a horse or two at the end of the road past the last house of the subdivision. With permission from the owner, a young child could feel the soft muzzle of a horse’s lips while feeding a carrot or apple. “Hold your hand flat” is the primary precaution to offer a child who is reaching through the fence toward the on-looking horse’s mouth. In general, horse owners are happy to share opportunities for friendly interaction between a lonely horse and a cheerful group of neighborhood children gathered by the fence who are eager to offer attention. A friend may take riding lessons and would be willing to invite your child along to help with feeding chores or to watch a lesson. Always check with barn policies first before joining in. A waiver of liability form will likely be required to enter the premises.
Take riding lessons or attend a camp. Programs that offer lessons usually provide lesson horses for beginning riders. As with many other activities, word of mouth is often the best way to hear about who the best teachers are. Distance from home may ultimately become the deciding factor in where you find an equestrian program suitable for your child. As an alternative to local stables, a week or month long summer riding camp may be a good introductory opportunity where your child could learn about horse care and take in some lessons. More than one style of riding could be experienced this way.
Look for cooperative opportunities. Our family dentist, Sandra Galloway, shared with me recently how much she loves boarding her horse. She pays for full care and doesn’t have to worry about the daily feeding times. Additionally, she leases her horse to a young woman who is an active show rider. The arrangement turns out to be a win-win for her as a horse owner and for the young woman as a horse rider. Sandra takes care of the boarding costs, veterinary bills, and hoof care. In exchange, Sandra and her young children are able to enjoy their calm, well mannered, and well trained horse from the hard work and expertise of a rider in training. All parties benefit: the horse owner and her children, the competitive rider, and, of course, the horse. As experience is gained and as you and your child meet more people in the horse world, opportunities to lease or to trade work for riding privileges are bound to present themselves. In all of your “horse trading,” be sure to document the details and expectations in writing.
Horses are exceptionally sensitive creatures and have much to teach those who form relationships with them.
Diane Turner Maller is a freelance writer who, thanks to her grandfather, has been a horse lover since childhood.