What Kids Learn from Horses
When people think of teachers they rarely think of horses when, in fact, horses are first-rate educators who can teach young children and teens a variety of useful skills that promote lifelong learning, success, and fulfillment. In 2017, a study conducted by the Tokyo University of Agriculture reported that children had positive physical and mental effects from horseback riding. The report stated that “the act of horse-riding could improve cognitive abilities in children. These are brain-based skills of which an improvement can lead to enhanced learning, memory, and problem-solving.”
Many studies of children involved in horse programs show that they generally get better grades because riding increases their ability to focus and ignore distractions. This directly translates to learning, studying, and concentrating on a task. By interacting with horses, children can learn and subsequently apply these important skills to a variety of situations throughout their lives.
Although Chris Brown’s son started riding a pony at 6 years old, he didn’t show much interest in horses.He rarely rode until his late teen years when he appeared to have an amazing “natural” ability to train horses. When Chris started receiving cancer treatments, his son took over, riding the horses on their ranch. Chris thinks his son’s riding helped him develop responsibility, independence, and confidence. His son is now in his 20’s and manages a cattle and horse ranch in Nevada of over one thousand acres.
One of the first lessons youths learn when working with horses is the importance of safety for themselves, horses, and others. This is critical because horses typically outweigh young riders by a factor of ten. Being conscious of safety procedures around horses teaches youths awareness of their actions and reactions, horses' behaviors, consideration of others, and awareness of the surrounding environment.
Since one of the skills required to be safe is self-control, kids learn to stay calm and patient when working with horses by properly riding and working with them. They also learn to control their reactions as their behavior immediately impacts the behavior of their horse.
Studies have shown that horses are sensitive to their handler's moods, riding, facial expressions, and mirror their rider’s feelings.
Through horses, youths can obtain the ability to calmly respond to a situation instead of reacting emotionally. They learn how to interpret their horse's reactions and stay calm in order to co-operate with a large animal. These skills are not only useful when they work with horses but are also important when interacting with people. Another trait kids learn from horses is the importance of consistency.
Horses often dislike changes in their daily routines and their environment. They like to be fed at the same time and immediately notice and can be startled when something such as a movement from an unexpected source occurs in their visual range. Horses not fed on time may become so anxious that they do not attend to their rider's commands resulting in an unruly animal and unsafe ride. Horses thus require those who are responsible for them to have good time-management and discipline.
Both youths and horses benefit when tasks are completed in a timely and efficient manner;their moods remain consistent and kids gain important preparation skills. Staying organized with time and personal belongings improves efficiency and effectiveness in the horse’s environment, whether it be a barn or pasture.
As kids work with horses, they learn the importance of consistency in their routines, habits, and interactions with these sensitive animals. Lori Dapelo signed her eight-year-old son up for riding lessons to help him overcome various fears. He took lessons on week-ends for a year, overcame his fears and learned to trust his coach and horses. He utilized the consistent, repetitive behaviors he acquired during riding to become an excellent student in the following years.
Interpreting the feelings of a horse teaches kids empathy which enables understanding the feelings and situations of others. Much of modern interaction between kids is with hi-tech media such as cell phones, tablets, and computers. As a result, their exposure to the appearance of others has significantly decreased in recent years, reducing their ability to be empathic. Through horses, children become caretakers attending to the needs of their animals often before their own needs, enhancing their ability to empathize. Recent studies have shown that regular exposure to a horse farm regulates the immune system, lowers stress levels and improves well-being.