Horses and children, I often think, have a lot of the good sense there is in the world. ~ Josephine DeMott Robinson
Last week our little family took a vacation to Asheville, North Carolina to visit my very best friend, Ann. While we were there, my son got to experience his very first ride on a horse. It was an unplanned moment that presented itself perfectly. On a sunny, warmish Saturday afternoon, Samuel and I stood facing Ann’s big black mare while Ann groomed her. She would occassionally reach out her large, velvety nose and blow on Samuel’s hair, tousling it with her breath. He seemed unconcerned by her size and occassionally reached out to her as she lipped the straggling hay in the nearby trough.
Once Ann was done grooming the mare, she rode for a bit and then offered me a turn. We exchanged baby for horse and Samuel watched me the whole time. I was not surprised by this. I’ve been taking him to the barn since he was four days old and lately, while I teach lessons he has taken to watching the horses and reaching for them anytime they are near. So, when I sat astride Ann’s big, black Percheron mare, Samuel’s rapt attention wasn’t new to me. When we were done, Good Mare stood placidly while Ann and I discussed something. Samuel started fussing, then outright crying. He reached up to me and I thought, “Why not?” I hesitated for just a moment–Good Mare is BIG. But as Samuel cried and fussed, she stood rooted to the spot, head level with her shoulders, only her ears swiveling about to take in this noise. I reached out for him and placed him in front of me on her broad, flat withers padded by thick, long mane. He found his balance instantly and stopped crying. Ann walked at Good Mare’s head (Good Mare’s name is Libby, by the way) while I guided from her back. I offered Samuel some mane to hold but he found the reins instead. A broad smile spread across his face and he seemed quite content in the gentle sway of Libby’s walk. His first ride couldn’t have gone any better.
I’ve been telling this story all week to a variety of people. Every time I tell it, I think to myself that there is something magical about the combination of kids and horses. I can’t be the only one that thinks this either. Just look at all the therapeutic riding facilities available today. Horses do magical things for kids. They empower a child, free a child, teach them responsibility, patience, kindness, and love. They do all of this without judging or ever making the child feel like “just a little kid.” A child with a horse really is just magical.
I think about all the things a horse can do for a child–more so than a dog or another type of pet in my opinion–and it makes me glad that I am able to have horses in Samuel’s life at such a young age. I hope I can teach him not to take them for granted since they are a luxury, but mostly I am just eager to share this entire horsie world with him. I look forward to the lessons a horse can teach him, the friendship a horse can offer, the self confidence Samuel will develop as a result of working with horses…and the patience. I hope he will learn to balance softness with sternness, justice with forgiveness, responsibilities with pleasures, activity with quietude. And yes, I think he can learn all of this from a horse. Why? Because I did.
I was blessed to get a pony at the age of 9. She was followed by a horse when I was 14 and those two animals taught me more than I could ever recall for you all here. They were also like an anchor when I felt adrift in the sea that is being a teenager. I learned the value of life when my pony nearly died from a mistake I made, and then responsibility when I had to nurse her back to health and couldn’t spend my barn time riding her. When it was time to let another family have her, I learned how to say goodbye gracefully even though it broke my heart. My horse, Dash, could wash away my fears and stress if I would just sit quietly with him while he munched on grass. He also taught me that we must listen–really listen–if we want to understand all that is being told to us, especially by those without language. And let me tell you, that skill is invaluable now as a mother!
Having horses is not easy. They are expensive, time consuming, and–kept long enough–heartbreaking. But they have given me so much that I wouldn’t trade all of that for the world. So for that very reason, I will keep working hard to have them in Samuel’s life because I want him to experience that magic that you can only find if you connect–I mean really connect–with a horse.
I think I’m pretty lucky. Not only do I have horses in my life and have the ability to share them with my son. I get to see that horse-kid magic every week. Some of my clients are kids, ranging between the ages of 6 and 18. Some I’ve even been lucky enough to watch grow up with horses. Watching them learn with their horses and experience life with their horses…well, I’ve already said it–pure magic. A timid child becomes brave with her favorite horse. A child who had trouble concentrating can focus for hours when he struggles with his naughty pony. A child used to always following order can become a leader. A stressed and troubled child can become calm and happy in the barn. Fostered with gentle guidance from caring parents, a barn is a wonderful place for a child to grow up. And that is another reason why I hope I can keep horses in Samuel’s life and that he will want horses to be a part of it, even once he is old enough to choose for himself. Certainly, he is off to a good start!
Do any of you have stories to share about children and horses?