You write the check for this month’s riding lessons and try hard not to think about the number. It always seems high for the amount of time your child spends with the horses. Sometimes you start to wonder if it’s worth it since it’s pretty clear there will be no college scholarships or financial return for these efforts. What is your child really getting out of his or her riding lessons?
At the barn, real life skills are being taught and learned in a relatively safe space. While there are still risks of broken bones and concussions, the skills of responsibility, inward reflection, perseverance, confidence, and humility are being developed regularly. If your child is passionate about riding, and it is a sport which you can afford, the lessons learned can provide your child with life-long advantageous skills.
There are many sports and activities that can teach many of the skills outlined below. This is not even close to a full list of benefits to riding, leasing and owning. There are many other aspects of riding (trail riding, riding bareback, ground work, etc) that all help contribute to the growth and maturation of our children. Suffice it to say, being a horseman is a life-altering experience and one that comes with more benefits than draw-backs.
Benefits of Riding Lessons
Riding provides a unique “head fake” - a space where real life skills are practiced and improved.
~ Your child is learning how to communicate, negotiate, and compromise with others. Horses communicate through body language and ill-applied force never works in achieving an outcome. Your child is learning how to work with another being with ulterior motives to attain a goal.
~ Your child is learning how to think and react logically under pressure. How often in life do you get to practice having to concentrate and think through a problem while your physical well-being literally depends on your ability to control your emotions and think through a problem? Frequently in riding horses, their basic nature takes hold and they become uncontrollable. Your child is learning how to handle his or her emotions to diffuse a situation.
~ Your child is learning how to accept critique and apply changes. A coachable child makes for an employable adult. Being able to recognize shortcomings while acknowledging strengths to improve oneself is an incredible skill that lasts a life time.
~ Your child is learning how to control his or her body. Since horses operate on reading body language, your child must learn how to control his or her physical motions as to elicit the intended response. Failure to do so can often result in undesirable outcomes.
~ Your child is learning how to control his or her emotions. There’s a saying that the only emotions that belong in the saddle are a sense of humor and patience. Emotional outbursts of anger or frustration will never get you what you want when it comes to horses and your child is learning how to maintain a cool head while trying to solve a problem.
Generally, lesson students are limited in how far they will be allowed to progress due to the taxing nature of the sport on the horses. If your child wishes to learn more, then the next step is leasing or purchasing a horse.
Benefits of Leasing a Horse
Once your child has learned the basics of riding and has a desire to learn more, your instructor may suggest leasing a horse as the next step in ownership responsibility. The benefits of leasing over just riding lessons is multi-fold.
~ Your child is learning how to connect to a single being on a deeper level. Riding lessons are great but generally your child will be changing horses frequently. This doesn’t allow for a connection of trust to form. When your child leases, he or she can learn to develop a relationship with a horse that is built on trust. This also means that your child will be responsible for maintaining the horse’s trust over a longer term.
~ Your child is learning how to be responsible for another being. A big part of trust is knowing that you can depend on the other party to be fair and kind. When your child leases, he or she becomes more responsible for the health and well-being of his or her horse. He or she learns that chores happen regardless of the weather. This responsibility carries over into other aspects of life as he or she learns how to be responsible for his or her actions.
Leasing requires some commitment but not as much as owning. Generally, your child will be limited by the horse’s owner in what he or she will be allowed to do with the horse.
Benefits of Owning a Horse
The next step in horsemanship is owning a horse. This is the ultimate level of responsibility in horse care.
~ Your child is learning how to achieve short-term and long-term goals. When your child owns a horse, his or her dreams become tangibly obtainable. His or her success now depends on how much effort he or she is willing to put into his or her skills.
~ Your child is learning how to properly train and develop an athlete. In owning a horse, your child becomes responsible for its well-being which includes learning how to properly train, feed, and prepare the horse in order to achieve your child’s goals.
~ Your child is learning how to develop a deeper connection and commitment to another being. Things will not always go well and when you own a horse, it becomes very difficult to give up and walk away. When you own a horse, your child is forced to learn about perseverance and learns how to work through problems instead of walking away.
~ Your child is learning about budgeting, both time and money. Horses are a commitment and require delegating time and financial resources responsibly. Your child becomes responsible for finding someone to exercise his or her horse on the days he or she can not. Your child is learning what things cost and how to allocate resources responsibly.
~ Your child has a safe place to go every day. If your child is at the barn then he or she is not at the mall. Your child is doing something physical and productive.
~ Your child has been accepted into the sorority of horse owners. If you stick a handful of horse people in a room, they can talk for hours. Your child will one day most likely get a job because he or she is involved in horses. It’s something unique and riveting that peeks the interest of many, including non-equestrians.
Benefits of Showing a Horse
Horse showing can be a difficult expense to swallow. Besides using horse showing as a measure of progress in skills, it provides quite a few other life lessons as well.
~ Your child is learning how to perform. Showing is essentially a job interview, over and over and over again. You dress up, perform your best and most likely alone, praise and critique your performance, and wait to be rated. It requires incredible confidence as well as self-reflection.
~ Your child is learning how to prepare. Preparation happens over months at home and requires the discipline to practice things that are not pleasant. Preparation also includes learning how to properly school your horse in order to peek at the right time. In the real world, this is similar to taking exams or preparing presentations.
~ Your child is learning how to set appropriate goals and obtain goals. Horse showing is a fantastic way of measuring your child’s skill improvements over a long time. It’s an easy benchmark by which to compare past and current performance. Horse shows are like exams to measure your skills and how well you can answer questions posed by someone other than your regular trainer.
~ Your child is learning how to lose. Learning how to win is easy but learning how to pick yourself up when you don’t is even harder. In showing you will lose more than you will ever win and being able to maintain a positive outlook in the face of losing is incredibly important. Your child is also learning
~ Your child is learning how to measure success not by ribbons but by progress made. There will always be someone better and someone worse than you are right now at any given activity. The important lesson your child is learning is to keep trying harder to obtain his or her goals.
~ Your child is learning how to be happy for others while experiencing setbacks of his or her own. Learning to be happy for others while things are not going your way is an incredible life skill of optimism and good sportsmanship. Knowing that one day the roles will be reversed also teaches humility and good sportsmanship skills.