By Margie Sugarman
Childhood is a critical period for developing essential life skills. One unconventional yet highly effective method of learning many of these skills is through a life around horses. Equine activities can be a powerful tool for both teaching and learning how to handle many meaningful issues.
Horseback riding is both a physical as well as mental activity. When young people engage in this sport they learn to deal with fear as they face various obstacles. Falling from a horse, failing to be able to always control one’s mount or not achieving the desired outcome in a particular situation are all common experiences for equestrians. These situations teach young people how to accept defeat as part of the learning process, persist in the adversity of the situation and ultimately learn through the challenge of trying to achieve a skill or attain a goal.
Responsibility and Accountability
Caring for a horse teaches both responsibility and accountability. Young people learn that these animals depend on them for proper grooming, feeding, exercise and love. This responsibility fosters a sense of commitment that is so essential to other aspects of life.
Patience and Persistence
Horses can be unpredictable, so riding them requires patience and persistence. Consequently, riders learn to adapt to different horse behaviors by developing problem-solving skills and an understanding that hard work leads to progress. This patience becomes a life skill that helps them persevere through various life challenges.
Communication and Empathy
Effective communication with one’s mount is vital in riding as horses respond to subtle cues. Young riders learn to express themselves clearly through understanding their body language. This enhanced communication also promotes empathy, as they become attuned to the needs and emotions of their equine partners.
Stress Reduction and Mindfulness
Riding encourages the individual to be present in the moment, fostering mindfulness. The environment and the bond with their horse can aid in reducing stress and anxiety, allowing many to develop emotional resilience.
Teamwork and Competitions
In both group lessons and at horse shows, young people experience the importance of teamwork and cooperation. They learn to work harmoniously with peers, trainers and their horses. These skills carry forward and are essential components in both the social and professional settings.
Dealing with Defeat and Jealousy
Horseback riding often involves competition and just like in any other sport, there are winners and there are losers. Children learn to deal with defeat as they compete against others and learn that not every competition will end in victory. This experience can be particularly valuable in teaching them to manage jealousy and understand that others’ success is not a threat to their own growth. We learn big lessons and, consequently, should grow from understanding our errors. It encourages empathy and the ability to genuinely celebrate the success of others.
Loss and Transition
A horse can be a young person’s best friend and the bond with these magnificent animals can be profound. However, a child might have to deal with the loss of an equine partner for a variety of reasons such as a sickness, finances or skill growth that requires a new mount. These are poignant life lessons that teach about grief, coping with loss and the inevitability of change. The experience of saying goodbye to one equine partner and welcoming another can help to develop emotional maturity and the adaptation to transition.
Accepting Constructive Criticism
In the equestrian world, learning and improvement are ongoing processes. Riders continuously receive feedback and constructive criticism from trainers, judges and peers. They learn to accept criticism as a means of growth rather than as a personal attack. This skill is transferable to other areas of life, such as school, work and personal relationships,where constructive criticism is crucial for personal development.
Horseback riding offers children a unique and enriching experience through which they can learn essential life skills. The ability to cope with defeat, manage jealousy, handle loss and accept constructive criticism are all valuable skills that can be cultivated in the equestrian setting. Ultimately, the development of these life skills will serve the young rider well as they grow and meet new experiences throughout their lives. By fostering resilience, emotional intelligence and adaptability, horseback riding can be a powerful tool for shaping these young people into more well-rounded individuals of the future.
Riding and spending time with horses and ponies offers children a unique and enriching experience through which they can learn essential life skills.
Photo by Ali Kelman