“To provide a welcoming and open space where riders of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy horses in a safe and fun environment.”
There are many benefits of riding horses. Time spent around horses, on the ground or riding, allows students to grow and develop numerous beneficial skills. When handling or riding horses, students are put in a position of leadership of an animal that weighs approximately 1100 pounds and is significantly larger and more physically powerful than the student. Because horses accept leadership exceptionally well, students learn to form healthy relationships, communicate clearly in a simple, shared language, gain self-confidence as their abilities grow and develop, and improve motor skills assisted by the natural movement of the horse. All of these skills translate from the horse-human relationship to other relationships in the students’ life, with others and with themselves.
1. Social Benefits of Riding Horses (click + to read more)
All work with horses is founded on a strong relationship between horse and human. Naturally, horses live in herds consisting of a “boss” horse and a group of followers, a hierarchy which helps ensure their survival, from finding the best grazing spots to protection against predators. In the horse-human relationship, the human assumes the role of the “lead horse.” One of the benefits of riding horses is that learning how to build and foster this relationship is a skill that translates into the rest of the students’ lives.
Communication between horse and handler occurs in a simple, shared language based on body language and intent. In order to direct such a large animal, students must learn how to plan ahead, set an intention, and ask the horse to do something. These equine partners teach students to communicate in a clear and kind manner, a skill that is applied to their human-human relationships as well.
Although humans assume the role of leader in this relationship, we know that any horse is significantly larger and more powerful than any human. They can move incredibly quickly, sense things we are not able to discern, and have deep-rooted survival instincts that cannot be trained away. Horses also respond much better to respectful and kind treatment than rough or abusive handling. In the relationship with the horse, students learn to direct the horse in a way that is respectful and kind, for best results.
As anyone who has worked with horses for very long knows, horses operate on their own time. One of the benefits of riding horses is that you learn patience. In many cases, students (and instructors) arrive at the barn with an idea of how the day will go and a set schedule. The horses are very good at ruining our presumptions about timeliness. They often take longer than we expect, whether that is due to a nice roll in the mud before the ride, or some extra energy and excitement that needs to be burned off with lunging before we can ride, this can often be a source of frustration for the human. However, this quality of the horse teaches students to smile and have patience, to let go of time for a moment and simply enjoy life as it is. Horses are excellent teachers and as a result, our rides often do not go exactly according to plan. Students learn to accept and appreciate the lessons the horses are teaching rather than their own preconceived notions—what a wonderful thing.
2. Self-Confidence, Esteem, and Critical Thinking
When handling or riding horses, students are put in a position where a very large animal is dependent on them for leadership, guidance, and safety. Students learn to recognize that they are only half of the relationship. They learn that unless there is an emergency, the horse’s needs come first, and the horse has a lot of needs. Students gain incredible self-worth from caring for such a powerful animal, from knowing that this amazing creature depends on them for their survival and comfort. Students also become responsible for their horse—they must be aware of their surroundings at all times and think of the horse first. As the leader in this relationship, students assume the role of protector, a skill which fosters selflessness while improving self-worth at the very same time.
Students are asked to plan ahead and think critically for the benefit of the horse. When riding, students must have a plan in order for the horse to do what is asked. They learn that if they do not know where they want to go, there is absolutely no way the horse is going to know what to do. This type of practice builds strong, confident minds with clear intentions. Students learn to set goals and design a plan for how to get where they want to go.
3. Physical Benefits of Riding Horses
The first time a student sits on a horse, their body often assumes that it is the same as a chair—a place where you sit. Riding is quite the opposite. It is an active endeavor, where the rider appears to sit, but is in fact moving with the horse in harmony. This movement requires a considerable amount of strength, and working towards finding that harmony builds up that physical strength. Examples of strength-producing exercises include 2-point, posting trot, and cantering. These exercises among others also improve flexibility, both physical and mental. As the rider sits on the horse’s back, and the horse moves, the horse is pushing the rider’s hips and legs into various positions. The movement is gentle and fluid, gradually improving rider flexibility. Exercises such as 2-point at the trot improve flexibility of the hamstrings, as each lift and fall of the trot stride pushes the rider’s weight down the backs of their legs. Because the horse has a mind of its own and is not a machine, unexpected or undesired things can sometimes happen; riders gain mental flexibility as well as critical thinking, decision making, and confidence when the horse has their own plan and the rider has to respond.
Elle’s Number 1 Rule of Riding is: Sit up tall, all the time, no matter what—and all of our riding students know this rule by heart. Even a rider who is not very strong or coordinated will, over time, accomplish those goals by working on their balance. If they try to sit up tall, and sit in the middle of the saddle, they take control of their own balance while the horse is moving underneath them. This is improved by exercises such as standing in the stirrups, 2-point, riding without the reins (on the lunge line), and gymnastic work while the horse is moving. This physical skill also translates into the non-physical skill of continuing to stand tall and in control of yourself while your foundation is moving, even if it feels out of control. Riders learn to find balance in movement and confidence in their ability to ride that movement: the benefits of riding horses become obvious as the students progress.
As stated above, riding is about moving in harmony with the horse’s movement. This takes a considerable amount of coordination and body control. All movements can and should be ridden as a harmonious pair, from the basic walk to the canter pirouette and everything in between. At the most basic level, the horse’s movement at the walk influences the rider’s movement, beginning to push the rider’s hips up and forward one at a time, increasing flexibility in the pelvis and lower back. Once the seat learns to move, the rider can use this movement to influence the horse’s movement. This coordinated dance is the basis for all riding. From there, the coordination required to ride more advanced maneuvers becomes more and more precise, such as the rider lifting into a 2-point at exactly the right moment for the horse to lift their shoulders off the ground into a jump. The feeling of perfect coordination and harmony of movement with the horse is a huge part of the fun of riding.
Mane Event Stables, LLC have received incredible positive feedback from numerous parents on improvements in general behavior, reduction of outbursts, higher quality academic work, better relationships, improved coordination, and time management.
Students appreciate the benefits of riding horses and truly want to come ride: some of them come in the rain and freezing cold because it means that much to them. We applaud their dedication and enthusiasm and try our best to match it.