A Letter to My Significant Other: Why I Choose to Put Our Children in Riding Lessons

“But we have horses that we’re already paying for. Why are we paying for the kids to ride other people’s horses?” There are so many reasons…


I originally began this piece as a simple justification for why I put my children in riding lessons. But then I realized I was preaching to the choir. Horse Nation, you get it. You know the benefit of lessons no matter how long we’ve been riding and no matter our experience with horses. However, my significant other… he’s not quite there yet.

So, to my significant other:

know I have my own horse and access to beginner friendly ponies on which our children could learn to ride without paying additional money each month for lessons.

I know we already pay quite a bit of money each month to keep said horse fed, shod, healthy and sound.

I know you don’t like that some (okay, maybe more than some) of our money is dedicated to my passion for horses.

I know that you don’t understand why someone who has a background in education, has instructed small children in various skills over a number of years and has a knack for breaking down skill sets has chosen to outsource her children’s riding education.

I know you must be thinking, “But we have horses that we’re already paying for. Why are we paying for the kids to ride other people’s horses?”

I see your confusion and frustration.

But here’s the thing — there are so many reasons why.

The oldest child and I, we’re like oil and water when it comes to teaching and learning. No matter what I tell her, she has an argument for why what I am saying is wrong. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about riding, basketball, volleyball, math homework or second grade spelling words. No matter what I say or how I say it, she will find a reason not to do as I’ve instructed. Although I love her strong will and I know it will serve her well, right now, it makes me want to pull out my hair. Or, at the very least, walk away and let things play out until she realizes that I might be saying something worthwhile (I might be waiting a while).

I have infinitely more patience for other people’s children than I do my own (feel free to judge, but I can’t be alone in this). I guarantee a trainer will have more patience with our children than I do. They will learn in an environment where they can make mistakes and thrive, not one where they feel pressure from their overbearing mother.

I’m still working on my own riding (like, really working on it). Even though I have the capability to teach beginner lessons, I really want our children to learn to ride correctly. I’ve spent most of my adult riding career trying to undo the habits I developed while galloping whatever nag I could talk someone into letting me swing my leg over. It’s so much harder to learn to ride well when you’ve built bad habits and understand that the ground hurts.

I want our children to have a solid foundation on which to build their equestrian educations. My foundation is shaky and, even though I am trying to shore it up, I don’t want to inflict the gaps in my education on my unsuspecting children.

In just one lesson, I see our children take strides they would never take with me. I see their grit come out and I see their willingness to take risks. I am too familiar — they don’t push through with me. Teachers, coaches and trainers, they bring out these characteristics in our children.

Our children will learn more about tacking up horses and doing for themselves from an earlier point in their riding careers than they would with me. I have a tendency to get the horses ready just to get it done so that we can move along. In that process, our children miss out on a valuable learning opportunity. In their lessons, they learn to do all the things necessary to prepare a horse to ride as a matter of course. They don’t get spared the work because their mother has a schedule to keep. This work is good for them. It teaches them responsibility and instills confidence.

Ellis picking Pepper the pony’s hooves. Photo by DeAnn Long Sloan.

Ellis learning to tighten the girth. Photo by DeAnn Long Sloan.

Lessons give our children the chance to try out different types of riding than those to which I can easily expose them. I ride almost exclusively western, but our children are getting lessons from a multi-disciplinary coach. They will be more versatile than I am and they will have a chance to discover what best suits them.

Our children’s love of horses and riding — or lack thereof — will not be tied to spending time with me. They will not have to make the choice between time with their mother and doing something else. They can choose to stop lessons without worrying that it will affect our relationship (or so I hope).

Although this may seem selfish, there is also the contributing factor that my time at the barn is, well, my time. Sometimes it’s hard to get up the motivation to schlep a child — or three — out to the barn to ride the pony. When I do choose to that, I know that my own horse won’t get ridden and may not even be groomed. Some days I am willing to sacrifice that time so that the children can ride, but other days I want to spend time with my horse, work on my riding or do any of the number of things that cannot be done while I am wrangling my small herd of children.

Finally, lessons are just downright good for the kids. Between the sense of responsibility, the sense of partnership that develops between horse and rider and the barn friends they will make, this is not something our children should miss.