Horses and boys

I'm a little tired of surgery, so let's talk about something else, shall we? We've all been passing around a cold for the past couple of weeks and yesterday it was A.'s turn. She was feeling pretty rotten... rotten enough that she didn't feel as though she wanted to take her riding lesson. (Now you know exactly how rotten she was feeling.) Well, the stable has a 24 hour cancellation policy and the last thing I wanted to do was to pay for a lesson no one was going to take. I had a plan.

TM has been coming and sitting through the girls' riding lessons for the past year for various reasons. He started out announcing he didn't like horses (or the smell) at all and gradually it all began to grow on him, though he had never been on a horse. Every so often he would express interest, but there wasn't much I could do about it. I thought this would be the perfect chance to let him try out riding. When I asked, his first reaction was to tell me he absolutely didn't want to ride. I pushed a little, but he was vehement. Inwardly sighing, I then asked D. if he wanted to ride. And he said no! (Really? I'm offering you two a chance to ride and you're turning it down? Really?) So I shrugged my shoulders, announced my bafflement and told HG, who was standing there and just as baffled as I, that I would take the lesson. Happily.

Well, at that moment, TM had a change of heart. (This is not unusual and I was wondering if it would happen.) He thought maybe he would take the lesson. But what it he didn't like it? What if he fell off? Did he have to finish the lesson if he didn't like it? Would he like it? What if he didn't like it? My heart just breaks for the level of anxiety that he lives with. It often stops him from trying things and having a good time. I called and let the stable know about the change of plans, but wasn't entirely sure he would be able to follow through.

To make the story short(er), TM did take the lesson. He did ride the whole time. He did not fall off. He actually did very well and loved every single minute of it. I'm pretty sure that his feelings of success were not solely based on how he rode but also on the fact he actually tried it despite his anxiety. I was pretty proud of him and I hope you get a sense of how big this accomplishment was for him.

I wish I could put him (and several other of my children) on horses every week. I am totally convinced that it is one of the greatest therapeutic resources out there, yet it is often out of most people's reach. And that's not just because I am a wee bit horse-crazy myself. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, the very nature of riding requires cross-brain patterning... meaning that because of the side-to-side movement it forces the brain to communicate between both side the entire time one is riding. Often children who have difficulties have brains that are not good at this type of communication. Next, there is the whole animal part of it. I think most people are aware of the therapeutic nature of animals and being exposed to sweet yet giant ones on a regular basis is just good for a person. Finally, it gives a child a sense of skill and accomplishment. Learning to gently control such a large animal is no small feat.

But here is where I'm really going. Where are the boys?!? I hate the fact that horses and riding has become such a 'girl-thing'. This seems to be a shift just in the last 40 or 50 years. It used to be boys and horses went together just as well as girls and horses. Think of the Black Stallion or the Billy and Blaze books. I mean, have you seen Olympic level eventing (cross country)? (Oh, silly me, of course you haven't, the networks never broadcast the equestrian events.) Well, take a look at this:

Learning to ride would be great for boys (boys who often really need ways to channel their prodigious physical energy constructively) for all the reasons I stated above as well it being physically demanding. Plus, it has the added element of danger that would appeal to boys. I would love to see stables filled with equal numbers of boys and girls. Hey, a girl can dream, can't she?


Carla said…
I grew up on a farm with several horses and we used several of the more gentle ones for therapy work with the physically & mentally handicapped children in the area. It was wonderful to see the kids' response to the horses and even the horses' responses to the sometimes uncontrolled and painful movements of these kids. The horses knew they were carrying precious cargo and were so gentle. The therapists saw great improvement in those kids who otherwise spent the rest of their time in a wheelchair.

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