It was a year ago that I gently presented the idea of horseback riding lessons to my stressed-out and anxious son who had just turned 11 years old. “No way! The horse will bite my head!” he responded sternly. After a little coaxing and reassurance that the horse will indeed not bite his head, I talked him into trying it one time. A year later, the lessons learned on the back of a horse are priceless and have been life-changing for all of us.
I sat in awe those first few weeks and watched him gently lead these 1000 lb animals and they obey his commands. Although horses are extremely large and strong, they are also very sensitive. They intentionally twitch tiny parts of their body to send the flies away. This sensitivity leads to “pressure points.” When trained properly, the tiniest nudge can signal this giant beautiful creature to move in a certain direction. A gentle touch can move mountains. This is true for horses and for people too.
Unlike our dog, verbal commands don’t really work with horses. It is all in the touch. For a boy who is normally quiet, communicating with the horse without words was incredible to see unfold. No one was asking him questions. He did not have to articulate an answer. He just had to use the reins to signal exactly what he wanted the horse to do. The horse wanted to be told what to do and eagerly awaited his command. Although my son was not speaking words, he was communicating and he was being heard. There is so much power in being heard. We should all work to listen more to those around us.
With each passing lesson, my son’s confidence grew a little more. He learned he could do hard things and the horses learned to trust his lead. Horses are herd animals and look to their leader. I watched my son who was once timidly part of the herd, worried about everyone and everything around him, slowly emerge to be his own kind of leader. He now has a mile-long list of things he wants to learn to do and skills he wants to master. I know his courage to try new things stemmed from his time on the back of the horse.
“Momma, do you think I could get some boots?…like work boots I could wear when I ride and would be ok to get dirty?” Of course. Each week as he cleaned the horses’ hooves he learned that caring for horses was dirty work. My 60 lb son picked the horse’s hooves all by himself. At first, he struggled to hold their heavy leg up but did it. He gently removed the rocks, mud, and debris that built up. This keeps the horse’s hooves from hurting or becoming injured. Caring for those we love can be heavy and hard and sometimes really dirty work but we all know it is worth it.
During this past year of lessons, he has ridden a few different horses. Just like people, horses have personalities. As Mr. Derrick, the owner of Hope Springs Ranch says “Some horses are ‘go’ horses. You have to push them to get them to go. Other horses are ‘Whoa!’ horses. You have to work to slow them down.” As my son rode the different horses, he learned how to respond to their different personalities. What an important life skill to be learning at such a young age! He will be perfecting this skill his whole life…sometimes with horses but mainly with people!
Some days are bad days…either for him or for the horse. You can’t name exactly why but things just don’t seem to go right. He has had a few bad days on a horse. Sometimes it was his bad day and other times it was the horse’s bad day. He kept on though. Pushed a little harder. Signaled the reins a little stronger. He pushed through and both got the result they wanted eventually. I began praying for my kids to be resilient a little over a year ago too. It was the word I wanted for them to be despite the stress of the pandemic and our family’s move away from everything they have ever known. Resilient is what he is on the horse and resilience shows up in other ways now too…taking a math test…walking into a room full of kids he doesn’t know…learning a new skill…I hope I can be more like him.
We recently celebrated his 12th birthday. He has changed so much over the last year. He holds the door open for me and others when we are out. He works hard to learn hard things in school. He enjoys a good conversation. Just this morning he came running to save the day as his sister and I screamed in terror at a lizard that snuck into the house. Although he still doesn’t love experiencing unfamiliar things, there is something that has shifted in him that seems to make things just a little bit easier than before.
Maybe he’s stronger since the craziness of the pandemic has settled down…
Maybe he’s just maturing….
Maybe the fruit of my hard-fought prayers is finally showing itself…
Maybe it is a combination of all of that…
I know, though, that a lot of his growth and confidence have come from being on the back of a horse…and I am forever grateful.