Better Kids Through Mustangs

by Brittany Leigh Wallace

Better Kids Through Mustangs

Better Kids through Mustangs

Research taken with permission from Jennifer Meyer and Growing Up With Horses, 2006 edition

Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary has partnered with the Bureau of Land Management -Colorado to create a mustang weanling training program for youth in Boulder County’s 4H club, Spirits of the West!  At Little Hawk Ranch this past month we held our first clinic with Jessica Dabowski of Pony Peak Stangmanship.  Sponsored by GEMS and Rocky Mountain Equi-Rythm, 20 children will learn how to gentle their new untouched, untrained mustang weanlings through this program.  After training, the mustangs will be available for adoption at the Boulder County Fair at the end of July.  Stay tuned for their progress!

Better Kids Through Horses.

If you’re an equestrian, you already know how beneficial horses are for children. If you’re not, you may be surprised to learn just how constructive horse involvement can be. Here’s a quick rundown of what “growing up with horses” can mean for your child:

Wholesome fun.

Horses make wonderful childhood companions. Children are naturally attracted to them, and that makes horses a desirable alternative to TV-watching, Internet-surfing, or just “hanging out.” Horseback riding also puts children in touch with nature, and can be enjoyed alone or in groups.

When the whole family gets involved, the time spent together with horses can enhance the bond among family members and become the stuff of treasured childhood memories. Moreover, the benefits of horse involvement are enduring, as a child’s “horse habit” can evolve into a rewarding lifelong hobby.

Character development.

Handling, riding, and caring for a horse or pony can develop a host of positive traits in a child, including responsibility, accountability, patience, level-headedness, empathy, kindness, and self-discipline.

In Dr. Anderson’s survey of youngsters competing in 4-H horse shows, subjects ranked learning to do their best and developing self-respect as among the greatest benefits of their involvement.

“The most important thing I’ve learned,” wrote one 17-year-old study participant, “is that hard work and believing in yourself can get you anywhere.”

Even equine nature itself can exert a positive influence on a child.

“Horses can’t be made to feel guilty, or talked into saying yes when they know they should say no,” observes Dr. Janet Sasson Edgette, an equestrian sport and child/adolescent/family psychologist, and author of Heads Up: Practical Sports Psychology For Riders, Their Families, and Their Trainers. “They simply respond to what their rider does. Riding enables kids to realize how their choices, attitudes, and behaviors affect the other living creatures around them,” she adds.

Scholastic enhancement.

The perseverance needed to ride well can translate into improved performance in the classroom.

“Riding increases a child’s focus and intensity,” observes California trainer Carol Dal Porto, who prepares youngsters to compete on the Appaloosa circuit. “You can’t let your mind wander when you’re riding a 1,200-pound animal.” This learned concentration later shows up in kids’ schoolwork, “to their parents’ delight,” adds Dal Porto.

Leadership training.

Especially if your child becomes involved with a group like Pony Club, 4-H, or the youth group of a breed association, the opportunities for learning management and leadership skills abound.

“Holding an office, leading a smaller group of children, working on a project–all of these are ways in which youngsters learn and grow,” says Mary Fay, the American Youth Horse Council’s 2003 Youth Horse Leader of the Year. “4-H requires children to keep records of their time, activities, and money spent. These are all important life skills.”

Health benefits.

Riding is terrific exercise. “People who think the horse does all the work have never really ridden,” notes Katie Phalen, an instructor at Waredaca Farm in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Apart from its aerobic benefits, riding also helps a youngster develop balance, coordination, and flexibility, she notes. Moreover, the activities involved in caring for a horse—grooming, hefting buckets and saddles, cleaning stalls—can make for a great upper-body workout.

Then, too, as children learn how important good nutrition, veterinary check-ups, dental work, and regular exercise are to a horse, they begin to appreciate their own health needs.

OK, But Aren’t Horses Expensive?

They don’t have to be. Besides, as all parents know, expense is a relative term in child rearing.

One 4H club dad summed it up this way, “I knew that when my daughter turned 13, I was going to be spending a lot of money–at the shopping mall, on behavior counseling, or on horses. I chose horses, and I’ve never regretted it.”

In the 21st century, when parenting is not a job for the faint at heart, horses provide a way to keep youngsters positively engaged during those “scary” years from pre-teen through young adulthood.

Now, just how much is something like that worth?

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