Let’s start by saying that we know its not possible for every little kid to grow up with her or his own horse. Boarding horses is expensive and, let’s face it, not everyone can be born on a farm. But for those lucky few who can have a horse of their own—or are trying to build a case for why they should (bear with us parents!)—the benefits are manifold.
Even science in on our side. According to a German study published a few months ago, horseback riders are, “naturally more determined, enthusiastic, assertive and resilient with strong leadership capabilities.” But those of us who grew up riding don’t need research to tell us that horses help kids grow into better adults. Here are 16 reasons why.
1. Horses teach responsibility.
Whether you’re mucking stalls and caring for your horse in your own backyard, or keeping track of his needs (farrier visits, worming, shots, etc.) at the boarding barn, there’s no denying that having a horse requires diligence right from the start.
2. Riding is a sport.
Too many kids are wasting away in front of televisions, computers, smartphones and tablets. Riding gets kids out of the house and keeps them physically active.
3. Horses help you make friends.
As most grown up riders will tell you, barn friends are usually the “forever” kind. Twenty years on, you’ll still be recounting stories of your long lost pony days together. And that’s because…
4. Riding memories are the kind you’ll never forget.
Whether it’s the blue ribbon you worked so hard to earn, that day you and a pal accidentally crossed a raging river on your 12-hand ponies, or those misty fall mornings aboard your favorite pinto, there’s no forgetting the moments that shaped you.
5. Horses put off that whole “boys” thing.
Hear that Dads? Horse girls don’t need boys. They have warmbloods. Trust us on this one—the boys won’t even begin to register until they’re well into college.
6. Riding requires a strong work ethic.
Young riders quickly realize that while they might spend 30 or 40 minutes a day in the saddle, they’ll spend at least double that time tacking up, grooming, and caring for their horses. The takeaway? Work hard to do what you love.
7. Horse shows teach you to win—and to lose.
In horse showing and in life, sometimes it’s your day, and sometimes it’s not. Most kids who learn that lesson early in the show ring go on to be both good athletes and good people.
8. With horses, you always have a friend.
Adolescence can be a long and lonely road. When the going gets rough (thanks to parents, friends, and other high school drama), it’s nice to know you’ll always have a soft mane to cry in.
9. Riding teaches kids about money.
Why? Because no matter how privileged you happen to be, horses and riding can always cost more than you can afford. Maybe you’re forced to save for months for new chaps, or to cut back your show schedule to do more rated competitions. These financial choices aren’t just a part of riding, they’re a part of life.
10. Horse care skills are employable.
Most trainers are all too happy to teach their loyal barn rats how to handle horses, feed, water, and pick stalls, and these skills, when learned correctly, are always in demand. Industrious kids can always earn a few extra bucks at the barn, not just in high school and college, but whenever they might need a little supplementary income.
11. Riding builds character.
Sure, the science agrees, but it’s not hard to imagine that the natural ups and downs, hard work, long hours, and pressure-filled situations that naturally come with riding horses provide their own kind of trial by fire. The kids who stick it out through good and bad are usually the better for it.
12. Horses teach you empathy.
To be a good horseman, you have to identify with the creatures you ride and care for each day. Patience, humility, and sympathy are all part of the package, and they won’t just make you a better rider, they’ll make you a better human, too.
13. Horses make your hands dirty.
In our overly sanitized and antibacterial society, a little dirt and some callouses on your palms isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It shows you work with your hands, that you love what you do, and that you’re a person who would rather be outdoors in the fresh air than inside on the couch. What could be bad about that?
14. Riding teaches you to care for your things.
It’s the gripe of hardworking parents everywhere (mine included) whose careless children are born breaking things and leaving stuff behind. Show me a kid that’s worked through a summer to pay for her new saddle, though, and I’ll show you a kid who cleans it every time she rides, polishes it to a shine, and would never think of forgetting it at the horse show.
15. Horses teach determination.
Every sport involves some kind of learning curve, but for riders, that learning curve can be rather steep. Training concepts require not just comprehension and athleticism, but innate feel and timing. And, if you happen to be falling short, lesson ponies have a way of teaching you the hard way. There’s a reason that “getting back on the horse” is a common metaphor for perseverance.
16. Riding provides a lifelong source of joy.
If our U.S. 2016 Olympic show jumping team is any indication—Lucy Davis is just 23 years old, Beezie Madden, 52—horseback riding truly is a sport for men and women of all ages. Though your relationship with horses may change over time, if you truly love them, you’ll always love them, and they’ll love you back in return.