Have you ever rolled your eyes in response to your child’s eager cries of, “I want a pony!” Too expensive, you think. It’s just a phase, you assume. “Pick something else,” you tell her over and over again.
Now that I’m a mother, I am thrilled that my young daughter loves horses, and here are ten reasons why.
Horses teach a sense of responsibility.
Learning how to care for a living, breathing, complex animal requires dedication and a solid sense of responsibility. You don’t have to own a horse to experience this. Most lessons involve getting the horse ready and untacking afterwards. Riders are expected to dress appropriately, show up on time, and take good care of the lesson horses and equipment. As she earns the respect of those around her and learns new skills, your child will quickly learn that being responsible pays off.
It takes commitment.
How many times do kids start piano lessons only to let them fizzle out after a year or so? How often do we see a child obsessed with karate in 3rd grade, but hate it by 4th? Horseback riding takes commitment, and there’s nothing better than committing to lessons to help your child learn the value of sticking with something, working hard, and experiencing positive reinforcement.
Riding encourages a healthy sense of pride.
Horse enthusiasts will tell you that nothing feels better than mastering a challenging riding skill, whether it’s getting your horse to stop on command at your first lesson, learning how to change diagonals, jumping a full course, or achieving a goal in the show ring. Being able to successfully communicate with a 1,000-pound animal is a major confidence booster for riders of all levels.
Learning to ride well takes focus.
Ever notice when you focus on a single complicated task, you can’t worry about anything else? Horseback riding can do that for you! A rider must use his brain and body to control and communicate with his horse. For a tween or teen, riding is one time when your daughter can’t worry about what her friend said at school that day, or if she’ll get asked to the dance. During a ride, the mind has a break from other worries, and that’s a major anxiety-buster that can help your child develop lifelong emotional health.
Riding requires athletic ability.
Any experienced equestrian will gladly explain that you don’t “just sit there.” Riding takes strength and endurance. My entire body has been sore after countless lessons. You use your legs, core, arms, and back when you’re in the saddle. Riding is a full-body workout, and soon your child will feel empowered, strong, and confident in his or her body.
The stable can provide a healthy atmosphere.
It’s well worth the effort to find a riding center where you and your child feel comfortable. Fellow riders can provide a tight-knit group of friends who support each other away from the drama and stress of a school environment. I think the barn can be one of the most positive social environments available, connecting people of all ages who share a passion and love for horses. Sure, there may be competition involved, but isn’t that a part of any sport, and of life in general? The riding arena serves as a safe place to learn about healthy competition.
It’s a source of immediate happiness.
There can’t be many mood-boosters out there as powerful and medication-free as a rigorous riding session. Your tween might go into a lesson feeling down or edgy, but I bet more often or not, she will get off the horse feeling calmer and happier.
Riding is a special way to spend time together.
This is a major bonus to those of us adults who already ride or who have always wanted to ride. If your son or daughter is interested, riding is a fantastic way to spend time together. Any age and any level can ride together given the right environment. You’ll have a pal to join you for horse shows, equine volunteer work, or fairs and festivals. I’m already dreaming about all the horse-related fun I will share with my daughter in the future.
It’s a lifelong skill.
Unlike some sports that only capture a child’s interest for a season or two, or end with high school graduation, riding never has to stop. I rode as a young girl, and now I’m riding again as a grown-up in my 30’s. Where I ride, there are children up to adults in their 60’s and 70’s taking lessons and showing. You can always improve your skills, no matter your age. Most importantly, I don’t think riding ever stops being fun.
Working towards a goal is a key factor in the happiness equation.
We all want our kids to be happy, don’t we? Whether your child’s dream is to own a horse, run barrels, jump fences, master dressage principles, or anything else the horse world has to offer, working towards a goal is an essential element to happiness. The beauty of horses is that when a rider achieves one goal, success is celebrated, but there’s always another goal to strive for next.
The horse world can be a lifelong joy for your child and you. Instead of brushing off your son or daughter’s burgeoning interest, why not let them give it a try? It might just be the greatest gift you ever give as a parent.