Keeping animals is a huge commitment, and it’s not unusual to struggle with balancing animals and family. Horses and the grounds to keep and care for them — well, we all know just how much upkeep, love, and time they need. For many people, it can be difficult to balance their time between all of the areas in life that need their love: animals, work, and family.
While it’s doubtful anyone has found a perfect way to integrate all of these love—and time—intensive areas of your life, animals can be a family bonding benefit rather than an agonizing choice that splits your time. If you’re lucky enough to have the whole family living in the same place, or close enough that visits can occur regularly, this is much easier. For many of us, it can be difficult to convince family members that perhaps don’t understand just how special our animals are to us. There are nearly magical ways, however, for our horses and life on the ranch to cross generational gaps, nurture relationships and bring families closer.
Education on the Ranch
The opportunities for education when you have large animals and a lot of space are plenty. And the subjects aren’t limited to subjects directly related to the caring of land and animals, though those are a great start! It just so happens that right outside your door are opportunities to learn about the sciences, sustainability, food, art, and even technology.
There are a number of informal and more structured learning activities that take place outside. Acts as simple as observing animals and nature and recording feelings can be teaching tools for children. Cleaning up and picking up litter, creating ponds and gardens, caring for animals — each of these can be used to teach kids about the importance of our relationship to the natural world. Caring for animals is also a brilliant way to teach emotional intelligence and nurturing skills. Chores around the ranch to help take care of the horses also teach responsibility and encourage little ones to take ownership of their role in an animal’s health and happiness.
There are a number of outdoor activities that can be used to teach science and STEM skills as well. Starting with the obvious, how much physics do you already know yourself, by paying attention to how horses move, how their gait changes, how to most comfortably and efficiently ride? A lot! You may need some help putting those concepts into scientific terms, but there’s always YouTube for that. In fact, simply looking at how a horse jumps involves physics, math, biology, and geometry.
Speaking of science, there’s a lot you can do with open space. If you have kids who are scientifically minded, or interested in movies and photography, there are lots of scientific experiments and artistic projects you can perform on open land. Homemade rockets, remote-controlled helicopters, drones, cameras, binoculars, and telescopes are all examples of technology you can take advantage of with a lot of space. Especially if you’re away from the city, which many people who own horses find it necessary to be, it’s a lot easier to get kids into hobbies like astronomy.
Even arts like painting lend themselves well to the unique scenery of ranches. Sitting outside to watch the animals frolic, gazing out across the fields of neighboring farms, laying down and watching the sky — there are views and scenes that can inspire. Painting, photography, poetry, craft projects with objects you find in nature, there are so many ways to channel an inspiration to create and teach growing kids about artistic expression.
If your kids are interested in sciences like flight, drones can be a great way to teach and have fun at the same time. The addition of cameras greatly improves the educational potential of these little gadgets, and if you’re a savvy social media user, great aerial photos are a win-win.
Family life is full of teaching moments that bring people closer together through the sharing and passing down of rituals. Dinner rituals, bedtime rituals like reading, morning rituals — life is full of little tasks that we do on a regular basis. Teaching those regular tasks is a source of joy and connection for so many families, and many of them represent growth, change, and the development of children — such as the moment when a father first teachers their son how to shave.
The great thing about taking care of animals, especially horses, is that they come with built-in rituals. Regular work, interaction, and maintenance. Doing these things together as a family creates unique, personal rituals around caring and allows younger family members to take on increasing levels of responsibility as they learn.
Bringing Children & Grandparents Closer
One of the most wonderful things about taking care of big, majestic animals like horses, is how they connect people through common work and interests. This connection can easily happen across generations. It is extremely important for children to have positive relationships and interactions with elders; otherwise, they risk growing up with much more negative feelings about their own aging, and of course the people who age around them.
Activities from creating gardens to scavenger hunts, to cooking with the produce from the garden can all help generations bond. Sharing in the joy of horses — in grooming, learning to ride and train them — can be a wonderful way to connect. Obviously, riding full-size horses isn’t an option for young ones and elders, but seniors can engage in a number of activities surrounding horses that are calming, build bonds between people and animals, and can even be therapeutic. Depending on the temperament and training level of your horses, it can be a great opportunity for kids and elders alike to share in the joy, even with reduced physical ability.
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There are a surprising number of ways to turn land and animals into learning and to turn caring for animals into family quality time. What stories do you have about bringing your family closer using horses?