At my barn, we don't just teach lessons – we also run a pony ride business. To some horse trainers, this might seem below them. In fact, there was a time when you couldn't have convinced me that we'd have a string of ride ponies. Now though, it's just part of what we do. And the more we do it, the more I realize how important it really is.
I was lucky enough to be born into a farming family in a community full of horses. I had my own pony very early on in life and have had horses ever since.
When we go out on pony ride jobs, we are giving kids who probably wouldn't have a chance otherwise to interact with a horse. Some families may not be able to afford lessons. Or the parents might be scared of horses so they don't encourage their kid's interest in them. Suburban and city kids may not even get to see horses out the car window as their parents drive. Can you even imagine that? A life with no connection to horses? I can't, which is why I believe a pony ride can be such a powerful thing.
I see kids stand in long lines just to take a short ride on my ponies. You can tell they're anxiously awaiting their turn. They eagerly watch the ponies go around, trying to figure out which one will be up when it's their turn.
Some kids are nervous. You can see it on their faces, they want to do it, they are fascinated by the horses, but they're nervous. They hold on to mom or dad's hand for dear life waiting for it to be their turn. Then you have the kids that obviously are just in line for the pony ride because their parents insist that they do it. I can tell they are totally uninterested and annoyed at waiting to do something they don't want to do.
It is amazing to see when a kid is scared and their parents (or the pony walker) encourage them to ride. In a few seconds, all the fear is gone. When can a small kid ever be taller than his or her parents? Kids think that is pretty cool. Sometimes they will take another turn. On the second time around, they are much braver. They even take one hand off the saddle horn and touch their horse's mane. When they get off, I watch them walk away holding onto their parent's hand, looking back at the pony. They are proud of themselves for doing it. Now that the fear is gone, all that's left is pure fascination.
The horse-crazy kids in line use the pony ride to pretend they are finally riding their own horse. They get on with confidence, smiling the whole time, trying to prove to their parents that this pony thing isn't just a phase—that they really should consider letting them take those riding lessons.
The kids that stood in line who weren't at all interested in taking the pony ride are often surprised when they finally get on. You can tell that they are having fun, but, of course, they don't let it show. They wouldn't give their parents that satisfaction! I can tell though that they are feeling good to be on that pony. It isn't as boring as they thought it might be.
All kinds of kids take pony rides. It is interesting to watch them all. My favorite part is knowing we're giving kids who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity the chance to be close to and ride a pony.
It blows my mind to imagine being a kid who loved horses but had no access to them. I do know that growing up with horses is the minority, not the majority. This is why I think pony rides are so important, even if they might seem boring and mundane to those of us who have been surrounded by horses are whole life. They really can make a difference.
Kids overcome their fears. Parents realize they should let their child give riding lessons a try. The kids that weren't interested might get interested in horses and riding. Even if they don't, I'm giving them a cool experience they wouldn't otherwise get.
So, all of you horse owners out there... Next time someone asks if they can bring their kids to the barn to see your horse, say yes instead of making an excuse. Let them come to the farm, see the horses, and if there is a safe one available, take a little leadline ride. Once you see how magical it is, you won't regret it.
I think we should all share our love of horses with our community. You never know how you might make a difference in some child's life. I bet there are tons of adults that don't have a lot of childhood memories, yet they vividly remember a pony they rode on a pony ride. Horses have that kind of effect on people. We take it for granted because we are lucky enough to be with horses all the time. It only takes a little bit of effort to share your love of horses with others.
A pony ride is a powerful thing!