If you have a horse, even if you don’t have children of your own, there are probably going to be times where a child expresses an interest in meeting your horse and perhaps being involved in horses in one way or another. When you aren’t a parent, I think this can be quite a difficult situation to navigate. But introducing children to horses can have huge benefits and I think as horse owners, we should encourage this where we can.
My Recent Experience
Due to the yards I have been on, Scottie has nearly always had children around. But these children came from horsey parents and had experience of being around horses. While I of course I felt some level of responsibility of them being around Scottie, I also felt with their horsey parents also being at the yard, it was more their responsibility.
However, you may have seen that my new partner has really embraced the horsey life style and completely adores Scottie. This love of Scottie has been passed on to his 4 year old son, who despite only having met Scottie once, is obsessed!
When he first expressed an interest in meeting Scottie I did have worries about it. Not because I ever thought Scottie would do anything. But because he comes from a non horsey family who might not ‘get it’ if he did happen to sustain an injury at the yard.
(Scottie and my partner Damian)
Benefits to the Child
I fully believe that animals are better than people and I feel that children who grow up with animals are better, rounded human beings. There has been plenty of research about the benefits of pets and mental and emotional development in children to back my own opinions up. But there is something about the human-horse relationship which is particularly special.
If a child spends time around horses or learns to ride, they learn skills they may not pick up as well in other areas of life. A big life lesson I think is not taking their frustration out on the animal, but perhaps talking to, or playing with the animal instead. I have seen plenty of children throw tantrums when they lose a game at home, and direct this tantrum at a family member. But I have never seen a child direct their tantrum at a horse. (And I have seen some killer tantrums at the yard!)
Benefits to the Horse
I also think that most horses will benefit from time with children. When I first got Scottie, there were children running a muck everywhere. The unpredictability of children did Scottie a huge amount of good. Children can expose your horse to all sorts of things you may encounter out and about and they quickly learn to cope with it.
If you are hoping to have your own children in the future, I also think it is good for your horse to have some experience with children. Even if it just helps them put 2 + 2 together a bit better. Scottie is incredibly gentle with children, but because of how interested in them he is, I’m not sure he really understands what they are. So I think him seeing and interacting with children can only be a good thing.
(Scottie, Damian & his son)
My Top Tips for Introducing Children to Horses
While everyone will have a slightly different approach to introducing children to horses based on the child and horse, these are my top tips for keeping everyone safe and hopefully having a successful experience.
Talk to the Parents
If it isn’t your child, make sure the parents are aware that while you don’t plan on putting the child in any danger, there is always a risk when interacting with a large, unpredictable animal. Depending on your relationship with the child/parents, you may even want to consider drawing up some kind of contract/agreement for the parents to sign stating they understand the risks involved. This could help protect you in the event of an accident from legal action.
Talk to the Child
This can either be you or the parents, but there should be some kind of conversation about how the child should behave around the horse and that they should listen to, and do what you say when around the horse. Before my partners son came to meet Scottie, we told him that he needed to be quiet and slow, otherwise he might scare Scottie. My partner also said that he needed to listen to what I told him.
Keep it Safe
When it comes to meeting for the first time, make sure you keep it safe. How you do this will depend on the horse. But you may want them tied up or to say hello over the fence/stable door. But however you decide to have this first interaction, I think it is very important to keep yourself almost between the horse and child. This way you can see what each of them is doing and can control the situation better.
Get them Involved
Find ways to get them involved with the horse. Young children in particular just seem to love doing things to help, even if it doesn’t involve touching the horse. Get them to “help” you muck out/poo pick, or make feeds and haynets. Most kids are more than happy to do this and it helps them learn that there is more to horses than just riding and grooming.
Horsey Days Out
If they show a real interest, plan horsey days out with them. Me and my partner have taken his son to the races and to Burghley horse trials. He loved both these days out and it was something very different for him. He just enjoyed watching the horses even though he didn’t really understand what was going on. Plus children are often free or fairly cheap to take to these places.