What horses taught me about myself and raising children?
Horses have always at one time or another been a part of my life. During a very long period I did my best to refuse any knowledge of their existence. Carefully placing walls up around my feelings, hoping to keep them hidden for eternity. When people would broach the subject, my lips were sealed, if someone in the room asked: have you ever owned horses? My moral character would never allow me to lie in regards to the subject, but my explanation was usually short and sweet;
My parents owned horses; I was raised on a working horse ranch complete with 15 stall barn, paddocks, hot walker, roping arena and cattle chutes. We had a trainer for a while and the business always seemed to be the root of my parents quarreling. Dad was the president of a local horseman’s association and although at the time horses were not my favorite animals, some of my fondest memories were hanging out at horse shows, eating hamburgers and playing under the grandstands. The monthly meetings were also on my fond memories list. The people my parents associated with were all wonderful and cared about everyone’s kids! We sat at the bar, drank 7-up with cherries in them and overlooked the valley below. Can I ride a horse? Yes. Do I want horses? No! End of discussion.
What I never realized until just recently was raising horses as a child set me up for success as an adult. Learning to care for these creatures on a daily basis was actually the first step in learning to care for myself and others. I know it sounds crazy but it also allowed me the opportunity to fail miserably without actually harming anyone, as my parents were right there to chastise, redirect and place me back on the proper course with each and every animal regardless of how much I bucked the system. Horses are very forgiving animals, if you are late feeding them they won’t complain, missed cleaning their stall that afternoon, not a word said, didn’t get to riding them, they will let you know the first couple of minutes in the arena but it’s nothing a little re-direction won’t fix and after a pet or two on the head all is right with the world.
So how did horses re-enter my life and what does it have to do with raising children?
Married with children; horses re-entered my life under the guise of being for the children. I was pulled back into the equine world kicking and screaming by a wife wise beyond her years when it came to dealing with my absolute stubbornness. As I ranted and raved about reliving my parents quarreling over money and animals, as I clenched my fists and retorted with barbs about horses being the devil and all who possess them are crazy! My wife calmly reminded me it wasn’t about me, it wasn’t about the anger I harbored towards an existence that was a lifetime ago brought about by a mind not fully developed but mired in the process of youth. I regaled the horror of taking care of animals and how I didn’t want my children hurt, trampled, kicked, bit or thrown from these four legged beasts. My wife would remind me our children were already taking care of animal projects for 4-H and this was just an extension of those duties. Before long my grip on the past loosened, the mental walls were knocked down and we became horse owners. My children began riding, my wife began riding, I returned to the saddle and our future in the horse world was set on a collision course with my past.
Today; all of my children ride horses, one not as much as the other three but he enjoys cleaning stalls and helping out when he can. Our children are not left to sit on the sidelines as we were all those years ago.
They ride and they ride fairly well; they make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and look forward to every chance they get to “show” their horses. Do I expect them to win? No! Am I proud of them whether they do well or not? Yes! It will be some of the very best memories ever retained and upon my death bed, as my eyes begin to close and darkness overtakes me I hope to picture these children of mine smiling having fun, still small able to fit in my arms, full of love for their animals and their father.
I ride a cutting horse; as my parents rode in shows, I too am in the ring doing my best. We belong to an association and I became a board member. Cutting is always on my mind! How to become better, how to make my horse better, how to just relax and get the hell out of my horses way because she actually knows what she’s doing and on several occasions really just doesn’t need my help. Either way I am obsessed and cannot wait until the show season starts again.
My wife rides any horse she can get her hands on. The challenge of a new horse along with the exhilaration that comes from an unknown is always on her mind. Her personal horse is a gigantic Belgian draft who is sweet and believes to be a puppy dog. She follows you around everywhere, wanting to do everything to make you proud of her. She loves being pet, brushed and ridden, we couldn’t have asked for a better animal for our family. We have made friends with some very wonderful people through this process, friends I believe we will have for life. These fantastic people are of the very same character surrounding me as a child. My children are reaping the benefits.
We have many horses; we board a few horses, and have built up a very nice place for our children to be raised and their friends to come play. Nothing brings a greater joy to my wife and I then introducing a child to the joys of riding horses!
With time/age comes wisdom and with that wisdom comes the uncontrollable urge to share. So here are ten things horses have taught me about myself and raising children.
- Frustration manifests into anger and there is no place for either when training a horse or raising a child.
- Forgiveness is felt and received by both children and horses. If you show forgiveness, you teach forgiveness. Then forgiveness is shown in return.
- Trust is earned. You may not think you need to earn trust with your children but you would be dead wrong. The same goes for a horse. If a horse doesn’t trust you, your relationship is dead in the water.
- Having the ability to express love is one of the most important attributes human beings hold. Show that love in every aspect of what you do.
- Discipline must be fair, just and repeated the same each and every time. Then it should be followed by number 4, thus reaffirming your commitment.
- Talking will always calm their nerves. A nervous animal can be dangerous, so can quite a few children I have known over the years. Talking with them, showing interest and care usually will bring nervousness to an end allowing them both to build a confidence that will expand with age.
- What you put in their bodies will equate to what you receive in performance. If you expect your horses to perform, feed them well. If you expect your children to perform well, both educationally and athletically, make sure they have nutritious food at their disposal.
- Give them a warm safe place to call home. Everyone, even animals need a safe place to call home. It builds security and confidence, and grounds both animals and humans alike.
- When children or horses make a mistake. Forgive them, correct them and allow them the opportunity to get it right. We all make mistakes; treating either one as though you are perfect all the time will eventually lead you down a path of failure.
- Keep them clean and groomed. It sounds silly but as your child feels good about a new outfit for school, so does your horse feel about being clean, brushed and prepared for a day of being worked or ridden on the trail. It’s in our make up to always want to look good. You always notice that gorgeous stallion with the long flowing mane and tail, so does a mare. You also always notice the kid you took the time and effort to dress appropriately. Make that your kid and your horse.
As you can see my life has come full circle. My children take care of animals, feeding, watering, riding, and showing them love. It’s not always done right, but they try, we redirect and success is always on the horizon. The lessons of my childhood, expanded upon and being re-taught to my unsuspecting little sponges! Hopefully when they are grown adults our children will continue to expand upon these lessons and not place them in a closet of emotion wasting years on anger that could have been used to further enjoy a platform we have provided them for life.