Mine!!! Young riders and ‘their’ horses

While teaching horse camp recently, Chelsea Alexander encountered a recurring issue of young riders feeling possessive about lesson horses. She attempts to cut to the root of the problem.

From Chelsea:

Any horse crazy kid is usually after one ultimate goal: own a horse (or pony). Having your own horse seems to be the ultimate thing, the one thing that matters the most, besides having fun with the sport. Having just finished up with day camp at the stables, I’ve seen this thought in action as it caused issues through the week. But why? Why is this idea of possession so central to riding, and what can be done about it?

For day camp, we give each of our kids their own horse for the week. We have just enough lesson horses for it to work, and the kids love the idea of having their own horse to care for, even if that just means throwing them some hay in the morning and riding in the afternoon. To help with camp, some of the regular, younger riders came out to help as junior counselors. It was nice to have extra hands to tack up for the afternoon lesson, but we had a couple of clashes with the regular riders and the campers over the lesson horses.

Our junior counselors had all been riding for years, and each of them was half-leasing one of the lesson horses for the summer. Naturally, they regard those horses as “theirs.” All being fairly mature for their ages, they were happy to share the horses with the younger campers, but there was one camper in particular that rubbed them the wrong way. She was almost their age, but not quite—she had gone past the “cute” stage but wasn’t yet a teenager, and her favorite word of the week was “mine.” Due to issues with another camper while riding, we had this camper on two separate horses during the week, and with both junior counselors who regularly rode those horses, there was a serious clash.

This camper loved to call the horse hers, and loved to make a big splash about it, so that everyone in the vicinity knew it. The junior counselors hated it. I think that what they hated even more was that they couldn’t say anything about it. They ended up trying to exclude this girl during games, and made their dislike of her blatant, causing bad feelings in the camp and a headache for me. I understood the girls’ feelings, though by now I am quite used to sharing lesson horses with others (one of the horses being half-leased is in fact Toby, a horse I’ve leased in the past and learned to ride on). I wasn’t sure how to go about fixing this problem, because while I understood those feelings I wasn’t sure why they existed in the first place. They had half-leases, could ride on their designated days, and overall had far more opportunities to be with these horses than this one girl who was just there for the week, so why were they jealous?

I think that the issue comes down to one very basic thing: love. I think that, while it might be silly, we often equate ownership with love.  I think that the thought process behind this jealousy, behind these bad feelings towards other riders is simply the fear that the horse in question might like someone else better. I think it’s a fear that the other rider won’t treat the horse as well, a fear (and, perversely, a hope) that they couldn’t possibly love the horse as much as you could. We want as much exclusivity in our relationships with our horses as we do with our spouses—and frankly, that’s silly. Just as people have room in their hearts to love more than one person, horses do as well. Sharing a horse does not diminish your love for that horse, and it does not diminish their love for you. Treating a horse as a possession, as territory to fight over, doesn’t do any good for anyone, especially when that horse is only a lease or lesson horse that has to be shared or given up eventually.

I wish I could say that explaining this helped, but I really think the only thing that relieved the older girls was the camper’s departure at the end of the week. And while I wish I could say that explaining that the older girls were just envious to the camper helped her to understand their behavior, I don’t think it made her feel any better about the situation.

Next time, we’ll have some serious junior counselor training before camp.

About Chelsea: I love horses and have been riding on and off since I was eleven years old. My experience and knowledge, as a lesson rider only (as opposed to being a horse owner) is limited, but I am working on gaining more and have recently taken up a position this summer as a sort of working student (in the sense that I will exchange work for knowledge and riding) with my long time riding instructor. As a lesson-only rider, I think I bring a unique perspective to the sport, and bring up problems or difficulties not experience by riders fortunate enough to spend several days a week at the barn.

Chelsea is a 20-year-old rider and student at Queen Mary University of London


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