By Abigail Boatwright
Encourage a lifelong love of horses in your child with these tips.
Many of us grew up horse-crazy: galloping toy horses around our bedrooms, reading horse magazines cover-to-cover, and begging our parents for one more pony ride while daydreaming of having a horse of our own. Perhaps you’ve achieved your dreams, and you now have horses that you love with all your heart; or maybe you still admire them from afar. Either way, if you’re raising children, you might wish for them to have that all-encompassing love of horses, too. While there’s no way to make your children love horses, use these tips to will help nudge them toward an interest in and appreciation for these magnificent animals.
• Ignite the spark
For APHA Director of Youth Activities and Awards Christine Henry, a love of horses began at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where she watched a vaulting demonstration.
“I went home and told my [non-horsey] parents that I wanted to do that, and they said, ‘No, you can’t do gymnastics on the back of a horse,’ ” Christine said. “But I started taking riding lessons shortly thereafter, and I’ve loved horses ever since.”
Cindy Wolverton works for the Nebraska Extension as a 4-H assistant in Seward County, Nebraska. She is an APHA judge, clinician and mom of three grown children: Keith, 21, and twins Cara and Scott, 19. Cindy and her sister wanted a horse at 8 years old—thanks, in part, to their mother’s encouragement of the interest.
“One thing led to another, we took lessons, joined 4-H, got better horses, got a Paint, joined the Nebraska Paint Horse Association, and both my sister and I showed at the state and national level in Youth,” Cindy said.
Cindy and her husband, Jay, a veterinarian at Seward Animal Hospital, own Wolverton Equine Services, where she rides, gives lessons, provides clinics and helps her husband with mares and foals at breeding time. The Wolverton children grew up around the family’s horses, and when they were old enough, they joined 4-H. They moved up through lead line and walk-trot events at Nebraska Paint shows. While her sons developed a passion for baseball, Cara is still very much horse crazy and continues to show.
Cara traces her love back to an ornery mare her family owned when she was 6. Even though the horse was stubborn, she kept going back to the mare because of love.
“Horses can be your best friend and also your worst friend,” Cara said. “They can be the ultimate teacher—whether it’s humility or patience, you learn how to have fun together.”
• Find opportunities for safe exposure.
The biggest key to encouraging a child’s love of horses is exposure. We no longer live in an agrarian society with easy access to horses. Gone are the days when everyone’s grandparents had horses—for many children, even seeing a horse in the flesh can be challenging. That’s why Christine says seeking opportunities for your child to experience horses is vital to fostering their interest.
“It doesn’t have to be saddle time,” Christine said. “A horse-crazy kid just wants to be near horses and people who have horses. Horses are pretty intimidating, so finding a situation where it is safe, where it’s encouraging and where there is good education is important. But even just petting and experiencing horses in a safe way helps them get comfortable and encourages an attachment.”
Living in a city is especially difficult when your child wants to ride. But it’s not impossible—there are resources such as Time to Ride, 4-H and collections of experts thanks to Certified Horsemanship Assocoation and the APHA/Markel Professional Horsemen where you can find a barn nearby to bring your child.
From Christine’s own experience growing up with non-horse parents, summer camps were a great way to satisfy her desire for hands-on horse time. And as a horse camp counselor, she saw many children develop improved riding abilities even just from the little saddle time they got at camp from year to year.
“It’s so cool to see those kids grow in their confidence and reconnect the next summer, remembering the horses,” Christine said. “They often go from knowing nothing to being confident in the saddle.”
There’s a difference between camps with horses and horse camps. At camps with horses, riding is one of many activities available throughout the camp session; at horse camps, though, riding and all the surrounding pieces of horses and horsemanship are the focus—other activities are a bonus. Make sure you understand the level of equine interaction before enrolling your child so you can match your child’s interest with the right camp.
Christine often fields calls from parents looking for help with horse-crazy kids on a regular basis and says finding a local barn with a qualified instructor or trainer is a great way to get the ball rolling. Cindy says contacting your county extension office is another great way to find a qualified trainer.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Winter 2017 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.