Updated: Apr 22, 2020
Pepper and the girls
Horses are Therapeutic
There’s a t-shirt that says “My Therapist Lives in a Barn.” This is true for me, and I think it’s suggestive of one of the many benefits of riding horses, or even just being around them. And there are many. So if you’re reading this and you’re hoping to convince your parents, spouse, or anyone else that riding horses would be a good thing for you, keep on reading. Because I’m going to give you lots of great points to make your case.
Okay, I admit, I’m an addict. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a sense of peace the moment I set foot in the barn. There’s something about the smell of hay and leather, horse hair, and yes, even poop, that just evokes feelings of being where I belong. There’s something intensely rewarding about feeling connected with a thousand pound animal. Just look into his eyes, and you’ll see the incredibly gentle and noble nature of these magnificent creatures. Hear the rhythm of his hoofbeats. Sit on his back and feel yourself move with him. Horses are individuals, each with a unique personality. Knowing my horses characters brightens my day. I find myself smiling and happy when I’m feeding and caring for them, even when I’m having a bad day. Yes, horses are the best therapy ever.
There are lots of sports and activities to get involved in, and many of them build character. Teamwork, perseverance, good sportsmanship, and respect are just a few of the good things we can learn from just about any group activity. But what happens when your teammate is a thousand pounds, cannot speak, and is totally dependent on you? You learn. A lot.
To empathize with someone is to really put yourself in his or her shoes, to really try to feel what the other is feeling. We tend to find it a lot easier to empathize with someone we can relate to. It’s easier to understand what someone’s going through if we’ve been there. Since we don’t experience life the way horses do it’s kind of hard to relate to what they’re feeling. But to get the most out of riding, we need to be able to have an awareness of how they understand things. This is empathy at it’s greatest. Horses teach us more than being able to be considerate or sympathetic. Horses teach us to come to their level and reach out to them in their language.
Horses do not discriminate, and they are not subjective. They see a person for who they are and they see right through our pretenses. A horse doesn’t care what you look like or what kind of car you drive. Nor does he care whether you’ve got expensive riding clothes or basics. The horse cares only about how you treat him. He remembers only how you made him feel. The person who gets too cocky about their riding abilities is often the first one to get bucked off. And like I said, the horse doesn’t care how expensive your riding breeches are when he dumps you in the mud!
The best riding instructors will teach their students horse care as well as riding. It is our responsibility to provide for our mounts before and after the ride. If we don’t make sure that our horse is properly hydrated, fed, and groomed, we won’t have anything left to ride. It just seems to me that it’s common courtesy to show our horse our appreciation for letting us sit on his back and tell him what to do by caring for him after our ride.
When starting out as a beginner, most riders are pretty unbalanced and uncoordinated on a horse. Lesson horses are notorious for trying to follow the instructor around instead of listening to the rider. Within the first few lessons students usually improve by leaps and bounds. Just learning to get a horse to go where you want him too is a great feeling accomplishment. With a good instructor, each lesson can be a positive experience that builds on the previous one. When learning takes place at a comfortable pace and the lessons provide just the right amount of challenge, a student can feel good about his or her newfound abilities.
The List Goes On
These are just a few of the many benefits of riding horses. There are lots more, like good sportsmanship, respect, and money management. The list could get quite long, and of course I’m biased so I could probably turn about anything into a reason to work with horses. It does, after all, help me to justify all the long hours spent in the barn! Go on, get outside. Get dirty. Get on a horse. It’s good for you.