This is a picture of:
(A) Charlotte training for the circus
(B) Charlotte learning to ride a horse
(C) Charlotte being very confused about which way to sit the saddle
(D) Charlotte learning trust
If you chose A or C, I apologize for your confusion.
Charlotte began horseback riding lessons this summer. She’d been asking to learn and I was excited that she could train with my friend Kit, trainer extraordinaire and proprietor of Blue Sky Farms at Brighton Farms.
I loved riding as a kid. Still do. And I am thrilled to share this sport with Charlotte.
In the past month, I’ve realized that I’m doing a lot more than sharing a childhood interest and sport with her. Horseback riding augments her Occupational Therapy in many important ways. It also provides an interesting corollary to and framework for thinking about parenting.
On the OT front:
Horseback riding requires core strength, including a strong shoulder girdle, awareness of how energy in the body flows from the core to the extremities, and a sense of where your body is in space. When she’s grooming the horse, Charlotte has to squat to brush his legs, and she has to hold one hoof while she picks it clean using the opposite hand. None of this comes easy to Charlotte.
Riding also requires motor-planning, something she works on in OT, and dexterous hands.
Finally, while Charlotte is not truly challenged with regards to self-regulation, she has been having issues with it lately. What does this mean, or how does it translate? She loses her temper easily, mostly when she is frustrated (by a grown up telling her she can’t do something), and she has started giving up when something is difficult. Neither frustration nor giving up work when you’re learning to ride a horse. She is endlessly frustrated that she’s only allowed to ride at a walk right now, but she has to take a deep breath and stick with it until her trainer allows her to go to the next level. For a kid who thinks she’s an “expert” at something once she’s tried it a few times, this is really difficult. I get now why hippotherapy is so helpful for kids with JRA, MS, or autism. For all the same reasons why riding is great for any child, really.
On the parenting front, Kit reminds me often that I need to exercise patience because the horse is just testing me. “Like other people in your life,” she’ll wink. She tells me go easy on the rein and use my leg, so that he’ll go in the direction of my hand and away from my leg.
“You have to make him think that turning/starting/stopping/changing gait is his idea, but make sure he’s doing it because you want him to. Just like with Charlotte,” she’ll say. Or, “Be patient, some days are just harder than others.” Or, “Give him some rein, he’s been working really hard.” And so on. Sometimes I’m amazed that she hasn’t written a parenting book with her sage horsey advice.
Now, why is Charlotte facing the wrong way on the horse, you ask, if this Kit is such a good trainer? Because Kit is a phenomenal trainer–the “around the world” exercise trains Charlotte’s core muscles (and not just because she’s giggling), and teaches her to trust Kit and the horse. Just wait til Kit sends her off at a trot. Backwards!