What are we teaching our children?

When we teach our children how to work with horses we know this goes far beyond horses and deep into their core understanding of how to interact with all living beings. So some lessons we may want to include might be, Love is never supposed to hurt or cause pain, it’s not consent if they’re afraid to say “No”, and how you treat someone is always more important than what you can get from them.
 
When we teach our children that loving someone can involve inflicting pain on them to get things that we want, this lesson doesn’t just stop when they get off the horse. When your kids are fighting over who gets to chose the TV channel, why is your little rider suddenly kicking their sibling? If we teach them “ask, tell, demand” (a common practice in horse riding, where the rider escalates the aversive level of our cue until the horse complies), we are not teaching them to be confident – we are teaching them violent communication skills. Instead of learning how to communicate with their partner to come to a compromise or solution to their disagreement, they learn to become harsher, louder, more intense in how they ask to get what they want. This may be a strong character attribute when working your way up in a lawfirm – but this is not how healthy relationships between partners should look. Not only are we teaching them to use violence to control and manipulate animals and their peers, but we are also teaching them that violence is acceptable in a love relationship. If they can love their horse and hurt them to get what they want, then can’t the person who is hurting them also love them? But violence and control should never be a part of a loving relationship. True partnerships are built on communication, compromise, mutual reward, and compassion for one another’s life history.

When our children utilize these aversive-based training techniques they are learning that if someone says “no”, to keep asking, demand, even force the other to comply, so long as you get what you want in the end. This is teaching them that when one party says “no” it’s ok to push them into compliance, without even really considering why they said “no”. Not that “why” should matter, “no means NO”, but it may be a physical or emotional problem inhibiting the horse from complying. By ignoring their communication and utilizing “ask, tell demand”, we teach our children to ignore the other individual’s truth, their side of the situation, just to get what they want. Their horse may be in pain or scared out of their mind, but by ignoring their feelings and their attempts at communication we are unteaching empathy. Teaching them that so long as they get what they want in the end, what happens to the other who we are controlling doesn’t matter. Think about this lesson in reverse. If teaching our children that consent and control can be taken away and disregarded by anyone strong enough to take it – we are teaching them that they too can have their consent and control taken away. That it’s acceptable to say “no” and have that be ignored and overpowered. That even someone who we love or loves us can disregard a lack of consent.
 
The competitive, “win at all costs” mindset that often comes in riding lessons often prioritizes winning over the welfare of the horse. We teach our kids that it’s ok to diminish our horse’s welfare if it gets us what we want. From something as simple as our horse in small box stalls vs. appropriate sized and socialized turn out, to assure they’re clean and ready to compete. We are teaching our kids that it’s acceptable to reduce our horse’s quality of life to make it more convenient for us to get what we want out of them. Especially when we look at extreme sports (the dangerous ones) we are putting our horse’s health and safety at risk without any regard to their willingness to make this sacrifice. When we ask our horse to jump unbreakable jumps or run too fast, too far, too young, we compromise their wellbeing, safety and future lives. We may have fun the first few years but at the cost of the horse’s last several years. Causing premature aging and career-ending injury. Then the disposable mentality of trading in your horse when they no longer meet your desires, to get a new one. This teaches kids that when something isn’t fun anymore it should be thrown out – even if it costs them their life. A horse with a riding-ending injury will rarely get a safe home, even if you think it’s safe it may only be until that person also gets bored of them. Because we have developed a disposable mentality to life itself. We also teach our kids this is how they should treat their other pets, their family (watch out when you get old!!), or that they themselves could be treated this way. If you are no longer fun or doing what someone wants out of you, you too may be thrown away for a newer, funner version.
 
So stop and think about these values we introduce our kids to when you begin their horse journey. Horses are a friend, a partner, their quality of life is entirely dependent on your quality of care, their safety and wellbeing is up to you, for life.