A lot of my friends have kids. Specifically, I have a lot of friends with daughters. Some of those daughters show promising signs of horse craziness, a mental illness I encourage wholeheartedly. As someone who rode before she walked, I’d like to explain to my parent friends why they should stop complaining about the cost of horses and embrace the path of the pony.
Your daughter will learn to be assertive. Horses weigh in the ballpark of 1,000 pounds. Whether you’re leading the horse, picking up its hoof, or jumping a cross country obstacle, you have to be the leader. If you fail to lead, the horse won’t follow.
Your daughter will develop a work ethic. Horses require a tremendous amount of time and effort. You can participate in horses by simply showing up, taking a riding lesson, and leaving. This is a crap way of doing horses. Get your daughter into a barn where she’ll clean stalls, sweep aisles, and wash buckets. She will come to understand the satisfaction that comes with getting her hands dirty.
Your daughter will learn how to cope with trauma. Horses hurt themselves continually. Safest paddock in the world and horses will still find a way to cut themselves. Your daughter will get used to seeing blood and injuries and she’ll learn how to treat those injuries. Horses freak out, sometimes for no apparent reason. Half a ton of freak out results in an adrenaline rush for all involved. Horses hurt people, including your daughter. She will learn what pain is and how to cope with it. This is a good thing. If your daughter spends fifteen years in horses, she will bring Navy Seal Team 6 level inner calm and confidence to the direst of situations.
Your daughter will develop humility. So much can go wrong dealing with horses, especially at a horse show. Competing horses offers an almost endless array of humbling experiences. Your horse will humble you, your competition will humble you, injustice will humble you, but most importantly, your own weaknesses will humble you. Your daughter will come face to face with her impatience, anger, pride, and envy. Horses force you to deal with the reality that the world is a deeply imperfect place and that you are a deeply imperfect person.
Your daughter will learn how to be tough. For example, a typical horse show requires waking three hours before dawn and a mini-road trip before launching into twelve hours of heat, dust, and exertion, all the while coping with anxieties, hopes, and expectations. (Sometimes you deal with rain and mud instead of heat and dust.) Invariably, something will go wrong and your daughter will be forced to deal with adversity. Stamina and fortitude are required. Luckily, these are skills that can be developed. They are worth developing.
Your daughter will know what it means to earn a victory. Even the most naturally athletic rider in the world on the best trained lesson pony has to put in some work before effort is rewarded. There are very few short cuts when it comes to horses. Money can buy great horses, but even great horses don’t ride themselves. Putting all the pieces of the puzzle together and feeling the power of that – the power of success, especially success earned through grit – is a great thing to teach your daughter.
Your daughter will know what it is to be responsible for another life. Horses require care taking. So do dogs and cats and birds. But horses REALLY require care taking. When a kid who loves horses gets to have a horse of her own, there is no greater thing in the world to that child. It is a sacred and solemn oath she makes to that horse, to love it and care for it and tend to its needs. She learns to be a protector, an advocate. She will put the needs of her horse before her own. She will be exhausted, covered in sweat and dust and filth, dehydrated and hungry, but she will not feel any of that – not until her horse is bathed and watered and fed. Only then will she realize her own state. She will experience true selflessness.
Your daughter will grow rhino skin. Horse trainers are notoriously tough coaches. I do not advocate leaving your child to the wolves. If your trainer is too hard on your kid, move on. But if she stays with horses for any length of time, she will have clinicians that are certifiably insane. She’ll run into judges who dislike her without apparent cause. Even in the best case scenario, she’ll have lessons where she is continually critiqued. Cheered on, too, but also critiqued. She will learn how to take notes and not have it hurt her feelings. She will learn how to apply a note. She will learn when to ignore a note and trust her own gut. She will learn how to better herself with the help of others without losing her own unique identity.
She will learn a healthy perfectionism. The best rider in the world still has skills they can improve. There is no perfect in horses. There is always something new to achieve, new to work on. There is a wonderful addiction to improvement that happens, and this process of learning, achieving, and learning anew is something she will bring to other areas of her life. Better yet, your daughter will learn that hard work does pay off. The greatest rides of my life are some of my most magical memories. In short, she will learn to embrace the challenge of excellence.
Finally, if your daughter truly loves horses, and you get her a horse, and encourage her to compete, she will not get pregnant or wind up addicted to something before age 18. I am giving you my personal guarantee on this. This magic formula doesn’t work if she doesn’t really love horses. Plenty of kids like horses well enough, and might dabble in them some. DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY ON DABBLING. Riding lessons are fine and good, horse camp, too. But seriously, horses are EXPENSIVE. Do not go all in unless your kid is all in. But for the driven, truly horse addicted girl, a life in horses = no pregnancy, no addictions prior to age 18. Guaranteed. Also, all the above mentioned benefits. Well worth your investment, my friends.