A friend from my writing life now has a horse-crazy kid.
She reminds me of all the moms and dads I have met along the way; those parents who now find themselves dazed and shivering in a drafty indoor arena waiting for their spawn to finish a riding lesson. They stand, and they wonder at what kind of equine-themed cult their child has gotten into. They slowly discover they are helpless to escape.
My own parents’ experience was bred of informed cluelessness. My maternal grandmother was as horse crazy as I am and had a barn-full of horses. My mother, however, rode because it passed the time. Both my parents left small mountain towns for suburban life outside of Denver. They preferred watching me ham it up in musicals or fail miserably at sports to waiting for me in the car as I practiced half passes.
But as my horse affliction took hold, my parents had enough of a framework to manage it. My mother could still ogle a lovely dapple grey Arabian on TV with me, and Dad occasionally leaned on the fence at this farm or that to watch me work horses. They bought me helmets and did not discourage me. Mostly though, they just dropped me at Grandma’s and let her feed the fire.
For many parents, though, their horsey knowledge begins and ends at the occasional whinny on a Hollywood screen. The sentence, “Horses are expensive,” flash in their minds when they discover long-maned, solid-hoofed quadrupeds populating the search history on the family computer. If you are one of these parents, I have some advice.
First, the key to you and your kid’s success in this strange world of horses is education. The more you know, the more options you have. The added perk is that it is cheap or free. Go to an expo like Equitana or attend a local horse show as a spectator. Join your state’s equestrian Facebook groups, listen to podcasts, read books, and watch videos. Heck, you are reading this on Horse Network, browse around the website.
I recommend that you start by taking lessons with someone kind, focused on safety, and dedicated to their own continuing education. However, there are as many ways to be in the equine world as there are stars in the sky. Volunteering at rescues, horse camps, and even Breyer Horse Shows are all on a long list of legitimate options to scratch that horsey itch.
There is no one “right” way to be involved. Nevertheless, there will be multitudes of heaven-knows-who on a mission to convince you otherwise. If the horses and people you chose you are healthy, well-adjusted, and safe—go for it!
There are dozens of articles out there about how “Every Child Needs A Pony.” Ignore them.
A horse is an unpredictable and pricey commitment. If you choose to buy one, wonderful! Animal care is fantastic for cultivating responsibility and countless other life skills. Still, know that you can pick up a good quality pair of breeches or kids’ boots at the used tack sale and your support and willingness to learn are more important than the money in your pocket.
On that note, do not expect your horse-owning cousin, coworker, or anyone else to let your kid ride. For many horse people, this tiresome request is like asking if your eight-year-old can drive the family car down the highway.
On the off chance a generous soul offers you a tour of their barn or a sit in the saddle, remember to say thank you and follow directions. Arriving in closed-toed shoes and long pants that you are not afraid to get dirty is highly recommended.
After reading this, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed, and that is ok. You could be hoping that horses are just a phase. It might be it. But it very well might not be, too. I live in Chicago, the third-largest city in the United States, yet I still find a way to be with horses. I have the same intense enthusiasm I did when I was two grabbing my grandmother by the legs and begging to ride the old gelding in the lower pasture.
Above all, being horse-obsessed is an extraordinary honor. It has opened doors I never dreamed of and allowed me to meet people and animals who changed my life. I could write a dissertation on the magic of horses themselves, but instead, I will leave you with a tiny bit of solace. A passion, even one that smells weird and covers your kid in hay-slobber, can often be the driving force that gives them focus and a sense of belonging.
In this loud, crazy world, that is a special gift indeed.