Hello beautiful people!
As many of you know either by knowing me personally or by way of following my journey through on the blog, we are heavily involved in the equestrian world. It’s not just a sport or a hobby, it’s our way of life. The dynamics and ins and outs involved are the norm for us – it is what we know and do every single day. I realize that it can be hard to relate and understand for those who are unfamiliar and have no inside knowledge. It’s okay! Often times when I tell people that I ride or have horses, they think that I head over to the racetrack and put on my jockey silks. There is a lot of generalization and an understandable lack of knowledge about the details involved and many types of riding and equestrian sports.
The truth is, there are many different ways to be involved with horses and riding. There are a plethora of recognized disciplines, not to mention the unmounted opportunities.
(My equestrian story is built on the hunter/jumper discipline of riding)
Children often grow up reading stories, fairytales and seeing movies starring horses and ponies from afar with wonder. They dream of having their very own. Insert “Mommy/Daddy, can I please have a pony?”. So what does this really mean, you might ask?
This post is intended to give you some information to help in understanding what it really means to get your kids involved with horses and equestrian sports.
Let me start by saying that the life lessons learned in this sport are incomparable. The relationship you build with a horse has no parallel. Horses teach kids about responsibility, goal setting, determination, perseverance, success, failure, teamwork, sportsmanship, confidence, humbleness, hard work, dedication, independence, trust, self-awareness, and so much more.
As parents today, there are many options for our kids to join various sports and activities. From jiu-jitsu to dance, school sports and gymnastics, skating, music, and more – adding horseback riding to the agenda may seem intimidating and not especially appealing. I get it, but if your child shows a sincere interest in horses, the interest is worth paying attention to. There truly is nothing quite like growing up with horses.
As far as the financial aspect of the endeavor, people often wonder what they are signing up for and what costs are involved. So, is it expensive? The short answer is yes, it certainly can be. However, there are ways to test the waters and explore whether it is something your child is really serious about without making a huge commitment or investment up front. I will get more into the specifics of that in future posts. For now, I’m focusing on getting a foot in the door.
Many stables that offer riding lessons will have horses available for your child to get acquainted with horses and learn on, commonly referred to as “school horses”. Similar to dance or piano, you show up, take a lesson and go home. The biggest expense and responsibility involved in riding, the horse or pony, is owned, cared for, and paid for by someone else.
If after you’ve gone down this path and your child does indeed show a true commitment to riding and prove that it is something they want to continue to pursue, only then would you start thinking about buying or leasing a horse of your own.
Occasionally little girls who love horses lose interest once they reach the age of drivers licenses and boys, but I would say that’s the exception and not the rule. I would say that the majority of kids who pursue their passion for horses become lifelong equestrian enthusiasts.
Kids gain life lessons from all sorts of organized sports or activities due to the responsibility, teamwork and other positive life lessons that they teach. Riding horses and being involved in the equestrian community takes that benefit to a whole new level.
Even in the beginning when kids are taking lessons on school horses that are not fully your responsibility, your kids will be taught basic horse care, grooming, and barn etiquette. In a good program, they learn that it’s not just about the ride, but horsemanship as a whole. And what they get out of it is all of the benefits that I mentioned in the beginning and so much more. Another wonderful thing about being involved in the horse community is that your barnmates become like members of your family. It’s a community and while it’s often an individual sport (not always) you are apart of a team with your barnmates. You cheer each other on and support one another through all of the ups and downs, of which I guarantee there will be plenty.
Once you have made the decision to embrace your child’s equestrian pursuit, the next step is finding a barn that fits your needs. Whilst helpful to consider their long-term goals, the most important thing is to find a barn and program with reputable instruction that offers the space to build a solid and basic foundation of horsemanship and riding. The place you start may not be the end game for your child’s goals in riding, but the facilities that offer a place to start are invaluable. Often there are stables that focus on up and coming riders that feed into stables that are specific to a discipline or goal, competitive or not.
So how do you go about finding the right place? If you know people in the horse world, ask them! Especially if you see that they are happy with their situation and successful.
If you don’t know anyone personally, visit your local tack shop or search on the web or social media for stables in your area. Most states have their own associations for horse enthusiasts and you can look into those for referrals as well.
Whether your son or daughter has their heart set on barrel racing, dressage, or maybe they want to be the next showjumping Olympian like Beezie Madden or McLain Ward, again, basic horsemanship fundamentals come first.
I realize that not everyone is in the financial position to take on the costs of riding lessons in any capacity. Not for lack of want, of course. Luckily, there are other options if you think outside of the box and have a hardworking and passionate child.
There is so much going on at a stable from day to day. Grooming, bathing, cleaning stalls, feeding, cleaning tack; the list goes on and is essentially endless. If your child is serious about spending time around horses and is willing to roll up their sleeves in exchange for the privilege, many barns would be happy to have them. Look for lesson stables, non-profit horse rescue or therapy organizations in your area in which to invest time. Often times, trainers will allow kids to ride in exchange for their hard work. These opportunities can be found locally on small backyard farms to full-service show barns.
Recently, showjumper, Daniel Bluman started the Ride the Future Mentorship Program that is very encouraging for young people interested in rising to the top levels of international competition or other industry related jobs. From the RTFprogram Facebook page:
By Daniel Bluman
“When I was invited to go to the open forum, I discussed with Cesar Hirsch, who was organizing. I said, “In my opinion, there is something that is not being paid attention to the fact that in America we are not producing enough riders from all opportunities, from middle-class people.”
And what that meant, for me, was not only an opportunity to be an Olympian. There are many, many jobs in our industry that are super well paid, a great lifestyle, are good jobs for people to have, and we don’t have people to even take the jobs. There are not yet people looking for the jobs because we’re not producing these type of equestrians.
It’s so expensive that it keeps [out] the middle-class people. Kids or young riders—they quit the sport with a bad taste. They left the sport when they’re 15, 16, 17. They can’t afford it anymore, and then they quit the sport and do something else, and that’s it. That’s the end of their career.
They never look at getting back into horses, and these are potential people who I believe would be able to, if not be riders, then they could be great managers or great grooms or high officials, or great something because they have all the enthusiasm. That is why I suggested a scholarship and mentorship program, and I’m already working with some people to put it together. We’re going to be open to X amount of mentor programs, where different professionals in the industry, riders and trainers and stuff like that, are going to volunteer their time to be a mentor to a young rider or kid for free.
That mentoring means that we’re going to be available to answer questions: a text message, a phone call, stuff like that. Plus they’re going to have the opportunity to work with us in the summer when they’re not in school or through Florida during their winter breaks and be part of the organization and work with the professional and work with our teams and gain that knowledge that they need.
I think through this we’re going to have a significant impact on the young generation of Americans and motivate them to continue and educate them so they can see a future in the equestrian industry. And at the same time, we’re going to grow our fan base for our sport by using social media.”
This is a start! I’m more than happy to answer any questions you may have or give my personal opinions or advice about the subject. In later posts, I will focus on covering horse life beyond the start if this is of interest to you all!? Further info on the specifics of disciplines, costs of lease and ownership, horse shows, and more.
You can visit our website for a peek into our program by visiting www.jslequestrian.com.