I was one hell of a teenager: utterly independent, debated everything and sought full control over my own life by the time I was 13. Looking back, it was actually my horse that kept me safe and out of trouble, when my parents could only do so much.
There are many reasons that your teenage daughter might want a horse. There’s also many reasons that as a parent, you may think it’s a bad idea. There’s pros and cons to every situation, I know.
Cons: first off, horses are expensive– they’re actually black holes for money, let’s be realistic. This is usually the first turn off for parents. They take countless hours and coordination of chauffeuring your daughter back and forth from the barn. There’s plenty of other cons, for sure. But for argument’s sake, let’s try to put all those hesitations on hold for the next 5 minutes…. And go!
As an on again, off again riding instructor, I believe that for all of the challenges, there’s far more benefits, many that you may not even know about yet. A horse could mold your daughter into the person you’d be proud to see her grow into. To all of the parents who are weighing the pros and cons of horse ownership, here’s why I would argue that it’s worth every penny.
1. It keeps her out of trouble. Let me say this again. IT KEEPS HER OUT OF TROUBLE.
When she’s busy at the barn riding (… and grooming, and cleaning tack, and cleaning stalls and doing turnout and dumping wheelbarrows and raking the arena and so on) she has less time to get into trouble. Boredom and friends who may be a bad influence get pushed to the side line, because frankly, getting a job to pay for that new saddle is more important. This is the same with any intensive sports program. Some may argue that horses take up too much time for kids, but I disagree– as long as it’s not all work and there is some play in there, their days may be full but they’re fulfilling.
2. It costs money– which she should be at least partially responsible for.
Horses do cost a lot of money. So does their tack and vet bills. And the board bill, if you choose to board at a stable. If you’re willing to help your daughter in some financial way I’m sure it will be greatly appreciated. But in no way should any parent be expected to front all of that bill. Figure out a system to split up the costs that works for both of you. If she wants a horse, she should be expected to get a job to help pay for it. End of story. Plus, that job will help keep her out of even more trouble.
3. It builds responsibility.
Just like any pet, this horse depends on her for exercise. It depends on her skill and patience to learn new things and uphold good manners. It depends on her time and her money to eat, to drink, and to have shelter. In essence, this horse depends on your daughter (and you, out of default) for everything. This kind of dependence builds a lot of responsibility and character in your little girl, as long as she follows through on her end of the deal to take care of them.
If you’re thinking that a dog can build the same responsibility and be a lot cheaper, you’re right and you’re wrong. Having a horse builds more responsibility than a dog. If she had to decide between going to town with her friends and taking her dog for a walk, she could potentially combine the two. With horses, she will have to separate out time to devote to it’s well-being alone. In addition, horses help her build a strong community separate from you as a parent, while a dog is an addition to your home/family life.
4. It builds self confidence.
Everyone says this, because it’s true. Most riding is an independent sport (she does it alone, versus on a team). However, she’s not really alone… She’s in a partnership, where she is expected to be the leader. And she’ll have coaches teaching her how to lead in the most effective way. Nothing builds self confidence better than “leadership training” that she loves.
Another thought to ponder on: your daughter is going to tell this 1,000 pound animal to move one inch to the left. And then one inch to the right. And then to follow her. And when the horse does something out of line, she will be responsible for administering the proper discipline. How would you feel if you were in that situation? That’s a form of empowerment that’s only found working with large animals.
5. It will help her meet new friends.
If she’s in a lesson program, it’s likely that she’s going to meet many friends her own age. Most horse people will attest to meeting their best, life-long friends at the barn. That’s because friends at her school will only get to know half of her life. Her horse friends will get to know all of her, including the after-school horse loving, hard-working side that the others won’t see. Best of all, these girls will have the same passion and devotion in them too. That connection creates a stronger bond just in itself.
6. The barn offers a good variety of role models of many ages.
Having a horse boarded at a barn offers a daily interaction for your daughter with people of all ages. When you drop her off, she will have the opportunity to freely connect with other women, without feeling the pressure of mom or dad standing by. Instead of just interacting with one age group in school or in sports, your daughter will talk many women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.
If they get close enough, they’ll start to seek support from these women, which is key– they’ll normally offer the same advise you might want to as a parent, and your daughter may be more apt to listen to someone outside of the family. Better than getting advise from her friends at school? Maybe so. Many girls end up acting “more mature for their age” because of this daily influence.
7. It keeps her humble.
Horses are going to teach her that she’s wrong all the time. She didn’t ride that move quite right, her legs slipped back and that’s why she fell off. Nobody else made her fall off but herself (and no, it’s never the horses fault). Or, her instructor is telling her (again) that her hands need to be quieter. That she’s getting there, but she hasn’t got it yet.
In every situation with horses, she will always be able to get better and she’ll never be done learning. Every rider understands this very quickly.
8. It’ll keep her fit and physically active.
Horses, like most sports, will keep your daughter active. Riding, tacking up and untacking all are activities that require her to be moving around and outside in all kinds of weather (even if she rides in an indoor arena, you get the gist). Cleaning stalls, doing turnout, feeding– all of these barn chores actively burn calories and build muscle. Think kids are too sedentary these days? Get em’ a horse.
9. It helps them be creative, active teachers.
Having her own horse means that for the most part she’ll be riding on her own, outside of a lesson situation. This means that she’ll have to work through a lot of the daily training challenges that come up when riding on her own. It will force her to think creatively about how she’s training her horse and how to solve a particular problem.
If something worked in the last lesson, but it’s not working now, what else can she try? How else can she solve this issue? Being in a lesson program provides necessary guidance, but when it’s not paired with independent riding, it can create a mental dependence on someone telling her exactly what to do and when to do it.
All of this active participation in learning how to ride, how to train and what to do when a challenge emerges will help her in high school, in college and in every job from there on out.
10. It teaches her HOW her brain learns new things.
Me, I learn through metaphors. I also need to understand a big picture first before breaking it down into smaller details. I learned that through riding.
Everyone learns differently, and learning from different instructors will teach your daughter how to recognize when she understands something and when she doesn’t. When she has that “ah-ha” moment, she can break down to recognize how it was explained to her and ask for that kind of teaching in the future. She can also apply it to the other learning that she has to do in school and later in life, in her career. It’s all about self awareness.
At the end of the day, you’ll have to work as a family to decide if a horse is really the right fit. But I know from experience, horses help girls grow into empathic, engaged, and responsible young women. You make the final call.