As springtime sets in we usually get a new influx of students that want to take up horseback riding. Our standard new student demographic is elementary-aged girls, usually from 6-9 years old. Barn rats, as their called.
These girls are also usually in dance, just finished basketball or tennis, and also scheduling around soccer. All of these sports teach kids amazing life lessons, if one looks hard enough. Most, however, do not have the same amount of prep work before and after the actual drills and games as horseback riding. For instance, before every ride there is a minimum of 30 minutes of prep work before the riding can begin, as well as 30-45 minutes of followup work. In tennis, you need the time to make sure your racket is strung correctly and shoes are tied tight, but from the time you arrive to the court to the time you begin play you're looking at only 5 minutes, give or take.
New riding parents often become concerned that during one of our 45-minute lessons at least 20-25 minutes is spent on the ground. They expect 45 minutes of riding. So the next question arises: what do you want your child to get out of lessons/barn time?
I know what I want them to get, as the trainer. I want them to learn that is something is difficult they will try to find a way to complete the task themselves before looking for help. If the bridle is hung too high for a 6-year-old reach, I want them to become resourceful and search for the stool (that has been provided in the same convenient location every time). I want them to learn that when the saddle is a little too heavy to easily lift on the back of the pony that they can let out a big grunt and heave it up there. I want them to learn that they much diligently check all FOUR feet, not just the three that were easy to pick up. And I want them to learn that the faster they get at these mandatory preparations the quicker they get to the fun part: riding.
The reason I want them to learn this self-capability is because I know how important it will be later in life. When they are adults and their spouse is away and a hurricane pops up I want them to recognize that there is a task to be done, understand the importance of all the prep work necessary to safely hunker down or evacuate, and then be able to complete those tasks in a timely manner so they can be safe. I want them to feel the confidence of weighing 120 lbs and still being able to affect a 1200 lbs animal. Moving mountains, I believe it's called.
I want them to learn to compete with their friends without alienating each other. I want them to be able to celebrate each other's wins while dealing with losses of their own. I want them to learn how a failure to accomplish something is the best teacher of all. I do not give out participation trophies. Disappointment is inevitable in life, I'd like them to learn how to handle it in a healthy manner now before they are asked to do it on their own in college.
Horses are amazing life teachers. I want the kids to come here and listen to what they have to teach. They will learn through tears, falls, jumps, ribbons, casts, and trophies. These lessons are learned in the tack and out, but we should strive for these children to learn all of the lessons, good and bad. To the new parents: let you kid spend 30 minutes trying to buckle the bridle. They will learn perseverance through frustration. Let us end the riding lesson with fifteen minutes left so that we can make sure they understand the importance of putting the horse away correctly; maybe they'll improve at putting their toys away? Let us, and the horses, teach as many of these life lessons as we can through our own special medium. Then lets see if what your child gets out of barn time is worth the time and money tradeoff.