Saturday, August 21, 2010

The value of horses

I am so lucky, because one of my children was born horse-crazy. Neither my husband nor I grew up around horses. We just had the little bit of contact with them that second-generation-removed-from-the-farm, suburban kids have: occasional rides on bareback with the docile old farm pony, summer camp rides for an hour or so. Certainly nothing about taking care of a horse. The bridle and bit seemed to be incredibly mysterious and complicated. No more.

DD3 was born with riding boots on, I think. From about the age of three she was obsessed, seeking all things equine out in books and at farms, wanting to ride, ride, ride. For a couple of years all the farms I could find just said, "No, too young, she needs to be seven, maybe eight." Until one day, a friend of mine, a rider, suggested I call her barn. And so DD3's love affair began in earnest at age six.

It so happens that as she was starting to ride, we had her learning disabilities diagnosed: an extreme deficit in short-term memory, particularly visual memory. (Can you say "sight word?") My poor sweet girl's confidence had been shaken mightily at school and she was unwilling to guess with anything. Our wise tutor knew she needed more than drills for memory and encouraged us to pursue the riding to build DD3's confidence.

Oh, how it worked! She embraced controlling this large animal using reins, legs and voice, and she welcomed the challenge of figuring out the tack. It makes me smile thinking of my sweet little thing holding a hoof in her hand and scraping out the ick, or pushing the horse's hindquarters around because he wasn't standing properly. And tack? It was no mystery at all.

My sweet girl became supremely competent at caring for a horse as well as riding it, jumping in the ring and taking the horse on trail rides. She learned how to be strong but gentle, with a firm hand to guide a feisty pony. And of course she continues to learn--she turns nine next week and shows no signs of tiring of her big friends!

Her little sister also rides. DD4 is a lovely, flightly girl who loves absolutely everyone and finds a way to put herself into the middle of anything that's going on. And she's blond, God love her. But for her, riding requires her to be more serious than at any other time. If she doesn't pay close attention she'll miss her jumps or not ride the correct way. For DD4 this level of concentration and quiet attention are a gift.

After seeing his two younger sisters ride, my oldest son decided to give it a go. This is such an unusual activity for a boy, even though many men are champion riders. DS1 is now a middle-schooler, and he has a tendency to be harsh. He is constantly reminded to temper his anger as he deals with an animal that may or may not be cooperating! There is NOTHING I can do for him (or to him!) that would give him this experience. But through this wordless communication he is learning how to be firm and determined but still kind and gentle. Great lessons for a young man.

There's also just so much stuff that goes along with horses: brushes, combs, sprays, picks, blankets, leather of all sorts. It all has to be cared for, especially because it doesn't come cheap! It is so wonderful to have them learn to take care of everything at the barn, part of learning the good with the bad.

We just went to a horse show this morning with our new pony Bailey. He did okay, but the kids did great managing this green little horse. So I've had horses on the brain. Just wanted to share a tiny bit of our experience. Yes, they are frightfully expensive but there is a lot to it, and I am so glad we've been able to give out kids this chance to learn from them. I can't encourage it enough.

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