Claire has loved horses for as long as I can remember. For her, it is much more than a passing phase. Of course, living in a neighborhood full of equine enthusiasts amps up her desire for her own horse, a desire I’ve been reluctant to fulfill.
Last fall, Max was teasing her, as most big brothers do, and found her “diary.” In it, she wrote, “OMG, my mom is so pasave agresave because she won’t buy me a horse.” Of course, I had to share on Facebook. It’s pure comedy, as most days with Claire are. A local friend, after saying how much trouble I am in, suggested that I get her riding and learning about the equestrian world before I even consider buying her a horse.
And I know. As a fan of all animals big and small, I know there is a lot more to horse care than mucking out stalls and buying hay. It’s the little things I don’t know that will get me in trouble, I’m sure. So, I’m trying to learn as much as possible before being responsible for the wellbeing of a 1000-pound flight animal and an over-confident 7 year old. I’m sure it’s not just me looking at that as a recipe for disaster without some proper preparation.
I knew Claire wanted to jump; she knew what a parallel oxer was before she knew how to read. I myself still am not entirely sure what a parallel oxer is, but I’m certain I will one day see Claire jump a horse over one. She sets up boxes, toys, and anything else around the house and jumps them while whinnying. Santa was generous enough at Christmas to help out with a helmet, riding pants, gloves, and boots, and her first official riding lesson at Shasta Riding Club was on New Year’s Day 2016.
As I watched her ride, it became ever more apparent how good riding is for her. And over the last couple of months of riding, I’m seeing shifts and changes in her attitude that are quite positive. Riding is helping her in ways I never imagined. With the challenges she’s had at school this year, riding has been the one good experience every week. She’s found a place where she can do what she loves while diving into the responsibility of horsemanship.
Not only does she ride, but she learns about riding gear, called tack, how to put it on the horse, clean it when she’s done, and how to be safe around horses over ten times her size. Though the horses and ponies at Shasta Riding Club are all great with kids and very safe, safe riding habits make worried parents less worried.
I love watching her ride, hanging out around the barn and watching the horses. They are all such happy and playful horses, and I love getting to know their personalities. This is Ferris. If I forget to say hello to him, he knocks on his stall door.
Because Claire is so dedicated to her riding, we decided that it made sense to support one of the horses at the riding club. So, we’re sponsoring Tequila, a gentle older horse, half arabian and half morgan, that is the closest thing to owning a horse that Claire’s going to experience for now. He’s a great horse that does exactly what is asked of him, but not much more than that. Which, if you think about it, is absolutely perfect for a beginning rider like Claire.
How Riding Benefits Kids
Subtle communication. Claire has always been a strong-willed individual that always finds a way to get what she wants. When she was a toddler, I could tell her no for something she wanted and she would go to every other person in the house and ask them. We joke that she’s a natural salesperson, as hearing “no” does nothing to discourage her from getting what she wants.
When she rides, she has to learn that there are many ways to ask a horse to do what you want it to do. And she’s learning that she can ask gently and get what she wants. She’s learning an art of communicating with her horse that might not have worked in a classroom full of kids or even at home amongst people older than her.
Clear communication. And yet, she has to be very clear about what she wants the horse to do. She has to be clear and firm, and she has to let the horse know she’s serious and clear about what she wants. She has to be clear within herself about what she wants. She can’t think left and ask a horse to go right. There is an intuitive component of communicating with horses, and that inner and outer alignment of intention gets real when you’re in an arena with a horse.
Confidence and self-esteem. As she works with a horse that listens, and forgives when she is learning, she experiences a mastery in the riding arena. Horses don’t have to cooperate. But these horses do. She has a pride in taking care of them and knowing she’s done a good job.
Work ethic. She learns to clean tack, groom horses, clean their hooves, muck out stalls, and take care of the barn areas. Taking care of horses is a lot of work. Life is a lot of work. But when it’s work related to something or someone you love, it’s easy to do.
Listening and following directions. Claire doesn’t like being told what to do, and she’s a perfectionist (where on earth did she get THAT trait). Yet, her desire to ride overrides her stubbornness. She lets go just enough to learn because her desire to learn is stronger than anything else, and she focuses that perfectionism on really assimilating what she learns.
Responsibility. Along with developing her work ethic, Claire has a level of responsibility with riding. Because we’re sponsoring Tequila, she has to earn the money to pay for the sponsorship. She does so by helping around the house and helping me make products, Claire has a level of awareness of her responsibilities and the benefits of that work.
Connection. Spending time with animals, big or small, provides connection and reduces stress. Horses are wonderful companion animals, and Claire has craved interaction with horses since she was a small child. Going for a walk in our neighborhood necessitates at least 5-6 carrots to stop at all of the pastures to visit with our friends.
Clarity. I had listened to a podcast last fall with comedian Whitney Cummings on which she discussed how equine therapy had helped her significantly. When you’re tasked to lead an animal or a team of people, there has to be a level of clarity within yourself about who you are, what you want, and what you need others to do. In the arena, there are no games. Being “pasave agresave” gets you nowhere with a horse. The horse sees you, feels you, and knows you. You have to be completely congruent inside and out with what you want from a horse. You have to let go of the data, the emotions, and the junk of relating that we pick up over the years. You have to show up open-hearted and ready to be who you really are.
And this to me is the biggest gift that horseback riding will give Claire. She’s young enough where she hasn’t picked up too many games of relating that so many of adults have. Now that she’s homeschooling, some of those troubling behaviors can fall away. She’s fairly aware and clear (Claire!) herself, and she gets to solidify that as a part of her character.
I know as she rides more, these positive character traits will become second nature, naturally ingrained in her ability to navigate life. Claire, as you might be able to see in her picture with Tequila, is blissed out at her riding lessons. She doesn’t even realize how much she’s learning. And really, isn’t that the point of all of this parenting stuff… to give kids experiences that will help them throughout their life in ways that make them happy?
In some ways, watching Claire develop her equestrian skills makes me a better parent. Intuitively, I see what she’s getting from the experience, and I can step out of the way and let that experience unfold for her, knowing she’s getting all she needs.