As I sit here in the last few uncomfortable days of my second pregnancy, I can’t help but reminisce about life with my first child and all the memories my husband and I have shared with her. I’m eager to start new memories with our new little girl, but I’m sad to know that this marks the end of our alone time with Gracie. Some of the best times I’ve had with her have been around our horses. She has always been included in my work out of necessity, but I have tried to share my love of horses as best I can. She’s only four, but she has done her fair share of barn work– scraping manure from stalls, feeding horses, cleaning water tanks, and essentially living the first four years of her little life outside, in a barn, despite the weather. My heart swells with pride when she helps me work.
Two years ago I made a resolution to spend more time with her in the saddle. She was getting a first-hand experience caring daily for horses, but her riding experience was limited. Riding horses has so many benefits for children. It gives them the opportunity to learn patience, responsibility, and trust-and how to learn from their mistakes. Here are some of the intentional things I started doing for her that I would also recommend to any other parents seeking to expand their child’s equine horizons.
1. I enrolled her in riding lessons. Gracie started taking lessons when she was three years old and I’ve watched her start from meek beginnings in the round pen to now trotting by herself in the outdoor arena. She is learning important lessons about grooming, handling, and riding horses. Lessons are perfect for young children interested in horses. It should always be the first step in introducing your child to horses and riding in general. Buying the horse can come later.
2. I took her to her first horse show. Personally, I am not a huge fan of horse shows, but one spring we did go to a small local show and let her ride in the lead line class. It gave her a chance to get dressed up, experience what it’s like to ride in front of a crowd, and then be judged. Unfortunately, it was an awful show. The weather was downright crummy, and my horses were ill-behaved, but Gracie placed second in her class and she was ecstatic. What seemed like a disaster to me has ended up being one of her favorite memories. If you already have a horse your children can ride, show quality or not, then showing in some capacity is a great experience. They will learn the value of hard work and patience, and they’ll learn how to accept a win as well as a loss.
3. I invested in her own tack. This is one part of my resolution that is still a work in progress. Starting on her second birthday and each subsequent birthday, we’ve given her a new pair of cowgirl boots. She looks forward to helping pick out her riding boots for the year. Hand-picked birthday boots make riding that much more enjoyable. One her fifth birthday she’ll be getting her own saddle, bridle and reins. The intention is not to give her an extravagant gift, but to encourage her in her riding lessons and teach her how to care for her own things.
Perhaps you’ve heard the Old English Proverb, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. But if you salt his oats, when you get him to the trough, he’ll be thirsty.” That is exactly what we’re doing with Gracie, and will continue with our new girl. We intentionally “salt her oats” so she looks forward to spending time outdoors, working with animals, and riding horses. Are some days harder than others? You bet. She’s still only four. I realize horses may not end up being her passion like they are mine, and if that happens I might shed a private tear or two. That’s perfectly allowed for a cowgirl mom, right? More important, we will have helped build a solid foundation built on perseverance, patience, and determination for whatever path she ends up choosing.