Teaching Children About Trust Building and Timing
October 26, 2017
Working with and training our equine partners takes a lot of time, dedication, knowledge, skill, and good timing. It is never too soon to start teaching our children about trust building and timing. Knowing when to reward a horse for doing as asked is a very sensitive process. You can easily push too far, ask too much too fast, and confuse a horse. This is why it takes many years to become a good horseman.
As parents, we keep our children in a safe environment with gentle and trustworthy horses. This helps our kids build confidence and have fun! Of course with any activity regarding a horse there are risks involved. A horse could stumble or spook from a sudden movement. Even the gentlest of horses can have reactions that can be unpredictable. A good kid’s horse is worth it’s weight in gold.
Most of the time a pony is too small for an adult to ride and tune up to make sure it is safe for your child. So the options are to either buy a proven pony that other children have had success in riding, or keeping the pony on a lead line and get in your daily exercise of walking them around. Really we can never be too safe when it comes to our kids. Their bodies, their confidence, and their interest in horses can be negatively effected from a bad experience. Of course we can’t shield them from everything and at some point we have to let them learn on their own. So after some instruction and a lot of prayers, we try to set them up to be prepared and able to handle the horse we put them on.
When I first started working with colts it took me a while to get my timing down. I caused a few problems in the horses I was starting because of my lack of experience. I have watched my dad work with colts and rode along side him all my life. He taught me a lot and set me up to be safe. Then he left me to work with the colts by myself. It is much more difficult than he had made it look! I made mistakes. I worked through them the best I knew how. At times I felt overwhelmed. Then, I started to learn from the horses themselves. This lead to moments of pure joy knowing that I was actually teaching my colt something! It was exciting to think about us going on fun adventures together! Doing groundwork with my colts had given me more insight to how horses think. Before, I had just gotten on nice and well trained horses that my dad had worked with. I didn’t have to really think about how they thought because my dad had gotten them to trust him and anything he asked them to do. A trusting horse is a gentle horse. Helping my colts advance made me feel productive and gave me a sense of accomplishment. In today’s horse world there are thousands of people going to colt starting clinics because of this wonderful feeling. Working with a horse and using the right timing feels like a special form of dance.
We have a five year old pony we call Coco Puff. He is as cute as they come. My dad bought him for my children two years ago from an Amish auction as a three year old. He was ridden bareback by a couple little Amish kids in the sale ring. He seemed somewhat gentle. We got him home and we led the kids around on him. He is a quick pony and he wasn’t totally trustworthy with my babies who weren’t very old at the time. Coco Puff was kind of stud-like acting and we discovered that he hadn’t been gelded completely. They had only gotten one! So we gelded him correctly and completely. After his healing time, he had settled down some, but he had a long time off. We led the kids around on him some more, but eventually got them riding full size horses that were gentle enough for them to ride on their own. This gave Coco Puff a long break and he must of thought he had gained early retirement.
This summer the kids were a little bit older and they mentioned that they wanted to work with Coco Puff. I thought, why not? We treated him just like he was a colt being worked with for the first time. It was wonderful to see the kids and Coco Puff advance together. It took a little while but they got their timing down and it was amazing to watch them build trust with Coco Puff!
According to many scientific studies a child’s brain has more neurons actively creating new connections than adults do, so they can learn things more easily than adults can. So it’s much better for you to expose your kids to lots of different things – repeatedly, ideally – to allow those connections to be formed, rather than trying to catch up later. They say things such as learning to speak a foreign language and playing a musical instrument can actually change how the brain is wired. I think learning to communicate with an animal that doesn’t speak is a foreign language of it’s own! The footwork, pressure and release of it, sending body language signals, and reading the signals from the horse definitely would fall in the same category. So I figured why not teach my children how to do proper groundwork. In my humble opinion there can never be too much trust building with a horse.
It was great that Coco Puff was just their size! He was just green enough to challenge them a little, but not too much. The children rewarded him and gave him relief when needed and Coco Puff gained more respect for the kids with them being the one doing the groundwork with him. Coco Puff learned that the flag and the tarp weren’t going to hurt him. He is one smart little pony and they are some very savvy little kids.
I feel like a lot more happened as a result from this experience than what shows on the surface. I hope my children continue to fuel their fire and desire to work with and learn about horses. Always taking into consideration what the horse is thinking. How to work them through a fear and how to gain their trust. I hope they always remember that a horse learns from the release of pressure, not the pressure itself. I hope they learn to look for progress, which in turn, over time, will bring perfection. The lesson of learning how to build trust and have good timing will continue to far more than what the kids can imagine at this point.
The lessons learned working with horses will cross over in their lives in many different situations. Learning by taking small steps to achieve a goal and working through fear. To stay fair and level-headed through difficult moments will be very useful throughout life in general. It will also teach them to trust themselves and their own abilities.
About Tiffany Schwenke
My family has been ranching and raising horses for over 100 years. We raise, train, and market AQHA horses at North Four Mile Creek Horse Ranch. We produce the annual event WYO WILD RIDE RANCH RODEO. I am a wife and a mother to 3 amazing...