By Margie Sugarman
My daughter has decided that she wants to ride horses. She is 11 years old and deals with some emotional as well as physical challenges. We aren’t a wealthy family. However, I’m willing to do for my daughter what needs to be done to afford her the opportunity to grow, mature and function as normally as possible. Will riding help her develop emotionally and physically?
If you are contemplating venturing into horseback riding, or supporting a child who is interested in riding, it’s sometimes easier to rationalize the expense if you understand all the benefits of the sport.
Balance is essential to keep the rider in the saddle. Each step the horse takes requires the rider to make slight bodily adjustments to remain in the saddle with the proper form. Furthermore, coordinating the use of aids signals the horse as to what he is supposed to do. Aids are more than just kicking, clucking or pulling on the reins. Leg pressure applied, duration of the pressure and mixed use of aids is what is needed to achieve the desired results. This is a learning process and can vary from horse to horse and situation to situation.
Sitting upright with the correct posture and neutral spine ensures the correct position in the saddle. Poor posture can impact the horse as well as put strain on the rider’s neck and upper back. Proper posture on a horse positively impacts how one walks and carries their body on the ground.
There’s rarely a time when a rider won’t admit that their heart beats faster after an intense riding lesson. Different horses present different challenges when being ridden. The beginner lesson horses are usually more physically challenging to ride than a more advanced horse. Why? These horses are used to teach the beginner riders. Consequently, their responsiveness, or lack thereof, to the rider’s aids impacts the amount of effort and strength needed to get the appropriate response from the horse. Furthermore, the horse’s gaits and stride play an important role in the physical effort needed. A bumpy, short pony trot is a lot tougher to sit to than a horse with a smoother stride.
Like an unpredictable friend, horses can sometimes throw curve balls. When this happens, it’s one’s instincts and reflexes that respond and determine the outcome. With continued riding, those reflexes also continue to develop. Those unpredictable friends better take heed!
Riding is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to muscle development and increasing strength.
Think about the care of the horse: brushing, bathing, clipping, total body care. How about the mucking of stalls? How about lifting large pellet bags into storage containers, lifting the saddle onto the horse’s back? Wheeling a wheelbarrow filled with manure? Muscle and body development in a young rider certainly challenges the development of the young person playing games on their phone! Moreover, due to the excitement associated with riding, young people often don’t see it as a chore.
Stress Management and Emotional Balance
Studies indicate that riding increases the mood-enhancing hormone serotonin more than many other types of exercise. What’s interesting is that an amazing side effect of riding is how it helps one to disconnect from worries and stress. The mind engages on the horse, the surroundings, the fresh air. Stress levels are lowered when around horses, allowing many children to focus better and ultimately lead to enhanced confidence and self-esteem.
Riding has been proven to improve cognitive abilities in children. Additionally, it activates the sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates the brain in ways that enhance learning, memory and problem solving.
The horse community is friendly and compassionate, and enjoys welcoming newcomers. What child wouldn’t want to go to the barn to ride in a lesson with friends or go on a trail ride (and escape from homework)? Building rapport with a horse can improve a child’s skills with human relationships. Children looking to form relationships not only have a common bond but also take what they’ve learned from their relationship with their pony or horse and apply it to their interactions with peers.
This hobby is a journey comprised of constant learning. It can improve a child’s ability to deal with their feelings, build strength from weaknesses and enhance physical and mental fortitude. To answer your question, I believe this endeavor would truly fulfill your child’s needs in a fun, healthy and positive way.
Riding fulfills a child’s needs in a fun, healthy and positive way.
Photo by Ali Kelman