Kids and horses just seem to go together. Why are children drawn to horses? Is it the animal’s large size? The freedom they represent? Or do children instinctively know that horses have many gifts to offer?
Whatever the reasons for the attraction, when children and horses get together the results can be magical. Horses provide unique and amazing opportunities to those willing to learn from them. Studies have indicated a significant correlation between the development of youth horsemanship and life skills, and equine assisted learning programs are gaining momentum worldwide.
There are great reasons to introduce our kids to the horse world:
- Horses get kids up and moving! Just about everything a child does with a horse is active – from grooming to training to riding. While there are quiet moments, horses require active participation.
- Horses work the brain, too. Horsemanship doesn’t just require physical effort. Problem solving is a normal part of horsemanship; each session has the potential for new trials and puzzles. As they work with horses, youth gain valuable skills in decision-making, planning, and goal setting.
- Horses increase self-awareness and reflection. Horses are very sensitive and reflect energy and feelings. As children become aware of their horse’s responses to their actions, they begin to develop a better understanding of their own emotions and behaviors.
- Horses develop patience. A horse does not simply do what is asked of it. To be successful with a horse, youth must learn to take the time to find a consistent command and to reward the horse’s efforts. Not every attempt is successful, and it becomes clear that persistence is required to accomplish a goal.
- Horses improve communication. Children learn to be clear and focused in their intent with horses and to match body language and actions to the objective. They soon come to understand nonverbal cues.
- Horses encourage personal responsibility. Horses are intuitive and provide honest feedback. It is more difficult to assign blame to others when working with a horse; youth learn to be accountable for their own actions. Caring for a horse requires dedication and reliability.
- Horses cultivate social skills. Horses engage in cooperative and coordinated activities in a herd, depend on reciprocal communication and behaviors, and like people, each horse has a unique personality and requires a distinct approach. The relationship that emerges between children and their equine partner nurtures connection and compassion. Deliberate horsemanship activities encourage healthy interactions and assist in the development of a bond between horse and human, build a relationship, and establish a social structure.
- Horses build confidence and self-esteem. Youth feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment when they successfully lead and direct a 1000-pound animal. Ability and confidence grow as youth tackle increasingly difficult tasks; youth feel empowered as they solve problems that arise. They know they have accomplished something challenging and worthwhile.
- Horses provide a link to the natural world. Children connect to natural rhythms and processes as they work with horses. Equine programs have the added advantage of being located outdoors.
- Horses are fun! What could be better than getting outside, playing games, and learning new skills, all while interacting with a 1000-pound friend?
Horses contribute to physical, cognitive, emotional and social development. The possibilities for learning are remarkable, and the benefits are multiplied when children are introduced to horses in a purposeful manner. Structured equine programs that focus on specific skill development are gaining ground and helping children flourish worldwide. Horses are wonderful for assisting at-risk youth and children with special needs; horses do not judge based on social status, physical appearance, or ability.
Horses do more than develop horsemanship skills. Youth expand their world, learn to care for others, develop relationships, improve their cognitive and social abilities; gain confidence; and develop character. Working with horses in a physically, intellectually, and emotionally stimulating environment provides safe spaces to grow, learn, and enjoy life.
Jeane Spada-Algood has been in the field of education for over fifteen years, and has worked with Nevada youth since moving to Reno in 2008. She is the mother of two grown children, horse enthusiast, and positive youth development professional. Jeane was inspired to create LEAD with Horses after personally experiencing the transformative power of horses. LEAD is a local organization that offers individual and group equine assisted learning programs for children and adolescents. Jeane strives to continually build on and improve strength-based programs that are educational and fun!