Introducing Horses to Children


Introducing Horses


By  Melissa Brawner
Sonshine Acres

One of my favorite things about having our farm, is that I get to introduce children to horses.  There is something magical about seeing a huge horse and a tiny child together.  It can be a bit scary for both the horse and the child initially, but the end result is worth every second of the work you put in to make it a safe, comfortable learning experience.   I remember myself as a horse crazy child.  I loped my imaginary horse everywhere.  In retrospect, I am sure I was quite a sight in my light green fuzzy bikini and cowboy boots running around on my imaginary steed in Phoenix, Arizona.  Horses were all I could think about.  I couldn’t even go to sleep at night unless I drove my team of horses, aka my knees under the sheets,  to a few far off places.  As you can see, I can truly empathize with those horse crazy children!  Here at Sonshine Acres, there are all types of people that visit. Many of the folks visiting were or are the horse crazy youngster that I was, some have never been introduced to horses and are at times fearful, and the last are those individuals that are reminiscent of the times they have had with horses in the past.

The children and adults that love horses and have no fear are in some ways easier to introduce to horses.  The lack of fear lets them approach the horses, and the horse will not sense fear, and will not react to it.  The individual and the horse will progress in making a connection much quicker because they have no fear to overcome.  On the other hand, I am usually half terrified taking  fearless people  into a herd of horses because they can unknowingly put themselves in dangerous situations!  They will quite often run up and hug the legs of the horses.  I thank God that we have kind horses that are patient, and unafraid.  One child ran up behind a 3 month old colt and hugged both back legs together.  The colt looked over his shoulder, a bit surprised, but unafraid.  Because of this type of reaction, I usually begin introductions outside the fence, and talk about safety rules.

The folks that have never been around horses and are a bit fearful take quite a bit more encouragement to approach and touch the horses.  Especially with the children, I use my hand over theirs as a guard when petting or feeding the horses.  To eliminate the sense of the horses being so much bigger than they are, I try to pick the child up if they are young enough, and if not, I encourage them to climb up on the fence for their first experience petting or feeding the horses.  My cousin still is unsure about horses because they are so much larger than she is, she feels intimidated and frightened.  The other thing that I find extremely beneficial when introducing people to horses is to encourage the individual to lean up against the body of the horse.  The sense of touch of ones body against the body of the horses is calming, fulfilling and restful.  Horses are so strong, solid, and warm, that if an individual can relax against them, it can create an instant bond. It is no wonder that horses are used in therapy!

Many of the folks that have boarded horses with us, or that tour the farm are those folks that have always liked horses, and may have been around them in the past.  Many folks have ridden when they were younger, and treasured the experience, but didn’t keep up with the horse habit, and are now a bit unsure.  My mother fits in this category.  She can tell all kinds of stories about her youth and horses, but now she squeaks when they move funny, and hops out of the way frantically if they step towards her and she isn’t expecting it.  I walk her through everything calmly, verbally explaining everything I do.  When a horse reacts in a way that she is fearful of, I explain what they are doing, and if possible why.  I try and have her do many hands on tasks with extremely gentle horses with me by her side walking her through it.  The thing that is most beneficial right now is a very calm colt to work with.  She is bigger than it, and doesn’t feel as threatened.  She can move it away from her if she is fearful, and is less hesitant to boss it around.  Most folks find that if they interact with horses frequently, the fear and wariness fades away, and the attachment and confidence is all that is left.

When you are introducing or reacquainting individuals to horses, it is a good thing to set ground rules for safety, encourage lessons, and start with the easy things first such as how to approach and move around a horse. Some individuals seem to take to horses like ducks to water, and others will need you to help them every step of the way.  It is a blessing to see the sense of accomplishment that people have when they can interact with the horses in a safe and capable way.  I think the best gift I receive is when individuals return to Sonshine Acres with friends and family to have them share in similar experiences.

Copyright 2008 © Melissa Brawner


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