10 Ideas for Kids and Parents or Guardians

posted: 05/15/12
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Riding offers much more than equestrian know-how. Here's why horses can be a life-enhancing choice for your child.

When 4-month-old Andrew fell and smacked his head on the kitchen floor, his young mother knew just what to do. She calmed the baby, checked his vital signs, then called the doctor. By the time a nurse practitioner was on the line, the mother was able to supply all the information the nurse needed: pulse, respiration, pupil size, whether the baby's eyes were "tracking." Impressed, the nurse asked, "Are you an RN?"

"No," replied the young mother. "This is just what you do before you call the veterinarian." Yes, Margaret Coon learned her first-aid savvy and composure under pressure through participation in the United States Pony Clubs.

Margaret's mother, Ruth Harvie, says the incident is but one of many involving her children, all raised with horses. "I can't tell you how many times my husband and I have thanked God for Pony Club," she says. Her sentiment, perhaps surprising to the non-horsey set, is common among equestrian families.

"I don't know of a better way to raise kids," observes Darwin Pluhar, the father of three young horse lovers, all of them involved in the Texas Quarter Horse Youth Association. "They learn to think on their feet. They learn respect. And they learn to accept responsibility for their actions."

Parents' perceptions of the impact of horses on children are now being borne out by research. One study, sponsored by the American Youth Horse Council, found that horse activities do indeed enhance a range of life skills for children.

Previewed at the AYHC's National Youth Horse Leadership Symposium in February 2005, the study looked at youngsters involved in 4-H, Pony Club, the American Quarter Horse Youth Association

"If your child likes animals and you're concerned about that child's problem-solving, goal-setting

Another study, conducted by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, found that 4-H horse shows were much more than just an enjoyable "activity" for children.

"Clearly," says Kathy Anderson, Ph.D., the study's author, "participating in these shows enhances a child's life skills, including goal-setting, self-reliance

If you're an equestrian, you already know the benefits of horse involvement for children. If you're not, you may be surprised to learn just how beneficial such involvement can be. Here's a quick rundown of what "growing up with horses" can mean for your child:

- Wholesome fun. Horses make wonderful childhood companions.

- Children are naturally attracted to them, and that makes horses a desirable alternative to TV-watching, Internet-surfing or just "hanging out."

- Horseback riding also puts children in touch with nature, and can be enjoyed alone or in groups.  When the whole family gets involved, the time spent together with horses can enhance the bond among family members and become the stuff of treasured childhood memories. Moreover, the benefits of horse involvement are enduring, as a child's "horse habit" can evolve into a rewarding lifelong hobby.

- Character development. Handling, riding and caring for a horse or pony can develop a host of positive traits in a child, including responsibility, accountability, patience, level-headedness, empathy, kindness and self-discipline.

In Dr. Anderson's survey of youngsters competing in 4-H horse shows, subjects ranked learning to do their best and developing self-respect as among the greatest benefits of their involvement.

"The most important thing I've learned," wrote one 17-year-oldstudy participant, "is that hard work and believing in yourself can get you anywhere."

Equine nature itself can also exert a positive influence on a child. "Horses can't be made to feel guilty, or talked into saying yes when they know they should say no," observes Dr. Janet Sasson Edgette, an equestrian sport and child/adolescent/family psychologist, and author of Heads Up: Practical Sports Psychology for Riders, Their Families and Their Trainers. "They simply respond to what their rider is doing in the present or has done in the past. In this way, riding enables kids to realize how their choices, attitudes and behaviors affect the other living creatures around them," she adds.

Scholastic enhancement. The perseverance needed to ride a horse well can translate into improved performance in the classroom. "Riding increases a child's focus and intensity," observes California trainer Carol Dal Porto, who prepares youngsters to compete on the Appaloosa circuit. "You can't let your mind wander when you're riding a 1,200-pound animal." This learned concentration later shows up in kids' schoolwork, "to their parents' delight," adds Dal Porto.

Leadership training. Especially if your child becomes involved with a group like Pony Club, 4-H

Health benefits. Riding is great exercise. "People who think the horse does all the work have never really ridden," notes Katie Phalen, an instructor at Waredaca Farm in Gaithersburg, MD. Apart from its aerobic benefits, riding also helps a youngster develop balance, coordination and flexibility, notes Phalen. Moreover, the activities involved in caring for a horse -- grooming, hefting buckets and saddles, cleaning stalls -- can make for a great upper-body workout.

Then, too, as children learn how important good nutrition, veterinary check-ups, dental work and regular exercise are to a horse, they begin to appreciate their own health needs.

Reprinted with permission from Growing Up With Horses, 2005. Published by Primedia Equine Network. Click here to order a copy or call (301) 977-3900.

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