Kids and horses... what ALL of us could learn from them.
I haven’t ever really fit “the mold” in the horse world, and to this day people are stumped when they ask what it is that I do, and I answer that “I work with horses and their owners.” “But what discipline?” they ask. “All of them,” I say. Of course this answer usually gets a “so you don’t really specialize in anything or know much about anything” sort of facial response. Which is fine with me, because it allows me to see someone’s perspective on the “horse world.”
Opening a horse facility in remote northern Idaho was not exactly a way to attract “big” clientele, but it definitely sorted out those who were “committed” and those that wanted it “easy.” There is no judgment at the facility, no “keeping up with the Jones’” mentality, just humble horse owners looking to further their horse experience in a positive and safe place. Last week I had three new students all driving two hours or more just for an hour lesson!
Yesterday I had a gaited horse learning to jump, a young colt being started, an ex-rope horse learning how to just “be” a horse, and an endurance horse learning that he had really did have brakes and felt better about life if he wasn’t going either 0 or 90mph.
My human students range from youngsters who ride better than they walk to older folks, who now also their bodies are slowing down, also ride better than they can walk! Students range from those who have never ridden to those with 30+ years in the saddle. The variation keeps it fresh and exciting for me and I never know what to expect; there is no routine or normal here at my facility, in my lessons or my training. And I’ve worked very hard to keep stimulating curiosity, commitment, dedication and persistence in both humans and horses.
This brings me to the topic of today’s impromptu blog. Most adult riders are happy these days just to “keep a leg on either side,” but with kids it can be a very different mentality. With kids even though most of today’s children don’t know who Annie Oakley was, she seems to have “inspired” their imaginations creating a zeal for horse adventures at high rates of speed, with the child envisioning their horse is loving it as they gallop through the fields. Of course reality offers a very different version of “going for a ride” for many kids.
Over the past 22 years of teaching I’ve probably taught close to 300+ children. That is a lot of kids. What inspires me most about kids is their “black and white-ness” in what information they accept, how they respond to it, and how in turn they communicate it to their horses.
I cannot begin to tell you how many starry eyed pigtailed horse obsessed children I have watched groom, bathe, brush, hug, braid and snuggle with their horses who stand quietly tolerating what the kid thinks the horse “likes.”
Then not fifteen minutes later, to watch that same docile horse, go from a “dead” walk into a jaw jarring, teeth rattling, wind-up-toy trot dragging their rider in the opposite direction from which the rider was attempting to turn. No matter how hard the rider tries to pull, that horse (or pony) pushes their nose down, pops their shoulder, and “leans” until ending up in the horse’s desired spot. Then, the horse stops and looks around with an innocent expression as if saying, “What’s the problem?” (Think Thelwell pony!)
Then there is the happily trotting steed who decides to “randomly” slam on the brakes to watch their tiny rider flip right off and down their neck as if doing a summersault towards the horse’s ears.
Or the “I didn’t know your leg was there” moments when the horse “accidentally” rubs the rider’s barely foot long leg against the gate or fence.
The blistered tiny palms, the raw legs, the sore backsides and the bruised egos, and yet these kids come back for more, and through it all, they still LOVE their horse.
I am always proud to recognize my students in a crowd; they are the ones who are circling, serpentining, leading if necessary, stopping and letting their horse look at the scary things, but mostly you can recognize them from how often they pat their horses. I joke and tell them I want to see raw spots on their horse’s necks from patting.
I can’t tell you how many circles some of these children have “put up with” me asking them to do with their horse, I’m sure the whole time they were thinking that they’d never get off a circle or a turn. Obviously the circle or turn is not the “fix it” but rather a tool to get the horse’s brain back with it’s rider. I’ve never taught or spoken to kids as if they were any less capable than an adult; and often I find they are MORE capable because they don’t carry a lot of the psychological “what ifs” around in their head as they work with their horse.
Often kids wind up on less than “broke” horses, and have to learn the “hard way;” my theory in teaching is that I teach a person how to work with ALL horses, not just the one they happen to be riding.
So after who knows how many lessons, practice sessions, practice shows, group gatherings, etc. to watch students who at the beginning had to turn or circle literally every five to 10 feet just to get down the long side of an arena to winning every competition they enter, is awesome. Of course I could care less about the ribbon or placing, but rather, that the child feels the fulfillment of the hard work, dedication and honest relationship they had to build WITH their horse is awesome.
The other morning I was teaching two students, both of whom have very young and inexperienced horses. Their horses still come up with moments of “excitement” but the girls actually gain confidence from helping their horses through those moments, rather than just trying to survive them. And every once in a while, I am more than pleasantly surprised when the students ask to do something they hadn’t done before. Below is a picture of what they came up with today:
So the next time you head out to work with your horse and are feeling a little frustrated, take a moment and try to find that "inner child" whose perspective may allow you and your horse to achieve more than you could have imagined.