Creating a Beneficial Horse-Showing Project for Youth

In Part 2 of this series, learn more tips for creating a positive horse-showing project for your child.

Once a kid is involved in a horse project, there are a few things will help ensure that blue ribbons aren’t the project’s only benefit. Utilizing horses as a developmental tool is far from an exact science. The following philosophy was gleaned from more than 20 years of work with moms and dads, 4-H volunteer leaders, youth-oriented horse trainers and, most importantly, kids.

In the previous post, we discussed six ways to make a child’s horse experience a success:

1. Be aware of the development stage of youth

2. Purchase horses to fit developmental stages of youth.

3. Commit yourself to your child's project

4. Encourage youth to join horse organizations.

5. Help kids design a guiding road map.

6. Track your family's progress.

Here are five additional important considerations:

1. Help kids set goals.

Goal-setting is a specific life skill and is critical in developing a youth’s road map. Goals should verbalize what the youth wants to accomplish and when he wants to accomplish it. Goals should be smart, specific, measurable, agreed upon by the family and realistic. Goals should have daily, short-term or long-term target dates.

A beginning rider’s daily goal for a practice session might be “to get my horse to cross the bridge at the trail class practice session.” At a show, it might be “to earn a $5,000 college scholarship as a result of my horse activities.”

2. Help kids become problem solvers.

Problems are a part of life and not all are necessarily bad. For sure, they aren’t abnormal. Problems can be simple or complex. For example, a freshly shod horse that is suddenly lame (the lameness caused by a hot nail in a shoe) is a simple problem and easy to solve. But a green horse who goes through a period where he bucks every ride is a complex problem to solve.

Riding horses is even more fun with friends. Join the American Quarter Horse Youth Association, and connect with other horse-loving youth all over the country!

The steps in problem solving are:

    • Acknowledge there is a problem.
    • Define it.
    • Think about the possible causes of the problem.
    • Identify the possible solutions.
    • Choose the best solution(s).
    • Try them.

Teaching kids how to solve problems takes time. It’s much easier for moms and dads to skip the process, solve the problem and never consult their child. This robs the kids. Instead, answer a question with a question. Encourage kids to think. Give them the responsibility of figuring it out.

3. Teach kids to handle competition.

Programs like 4-H and AQHYA embrace the philosophy that professionally conducted, educationally sound, objectively evaluated competitions are beneficial to kids.

At a horse competition, a child himself is never a failure. Only a performance is being measured that day. Competition allows a child to know where his performance ranks in comparison with his peers and the ideal standard. Knowing where they are, youth are challenged to improve their performance, set appropriate goals, practice and then retest.

Scholarships, leadership opportunities and contests - oh my! Don’t miss out. Join AQHYA and take your horse-showing project to the next level.

Unfortunately, competition is the downfall of many families. Frustration, anger and poor attitudes - often on the part of moms and dads - make competition a negative rather than a positive experience. Competition should be an asset, so families should approach it with the correct philosophy. One family had the following set of written rules hung in the dressing room of their horse trailer:

When I compete I…

    • Have a performance goal (never to beat someone else’s goal)
    • Evaluate my own performance
    • Respect and learn from more-skilled competitors
    • Do my best today
    • Enjoy my friends and become more skilled through today’s competition
    • Stay home if I can’t follow the above rules

4. Be positive.

Research has shown that eight positive comments are required to erase a negative one. Negative attitudes and subsequent messages can devastate a child. Therefore, moms and dads need to be as positive as possible at all times.

In the zeal for a child to demonstrate a high level of performance, parents often lose their patience. Everyone should positively encourage kids, even if they had a less than desirable performance. Find something good to say to kids, even those you don’t know.

5. Have Fun.

Don’t let over-structure, over-organization or over-anything destroy your kid’s fun. The classic, “Are we having fun yet?” was no doubt first said by a youth with an over-anxious parent.

What can be done to make horses fun? Be light and creative. At the barn, put up cartoons or quotes from respected people. In the arena, set a pair of post-hole diggers with a hat on it and a sign that says judge. At practice, ride blindfolded, play music, stop and play football, eat homemade ice cream. At shows, add an egg and spoon race or a costume class. On trips, stop for a picnic, keep a journal of the places visited, people met and things learned.

The bottom line is, love and attitude should never be conditionally tied to a certain level of performance.

AQHA Member Benefit Spotlight

Money doesn't grow on trees. That's why AQHA gives members a Quarter Horse Outfitters discount. Shop and save today!