What is it about horses and kids? There seems to be an instinctive bond, a shared sense of curiosity and a natural level of trust between horses and children.
Just the other day, Mark put our one-year old granddaughter Della on the back of a big work horse. I posted a picture of this on social media because it showed Della’s excitement, but also the kindness of big ‘ol Splash, the work horse. You could see in the picture that neither Della nor Splash were worried or bothered by each other. One of our followers commented on the picture because it demonstrated how kind horses are with kids so I promised the following story…
When our kids were little, I used to go for walks in the horse pasture when they were restless or wouldn’t sleep. It was a peaceful way to pass the time on chaotic ‘mom’ days. I would have the kids bundled up in either a carrier on my chest or when there were two of them, they would be in their little red wagon. It wouldn’t take long for the herd of horses to come running to see what was happening. Horses are naturally curious and when they don’t feel threatened, they will come right up to say hello. They would always want to sniff and nuzzle the kids and for the most part, the kids were never scared. In fact, I was probably more worried than the kids. I was raised with quarter horses and they behave quite a bit differently than a thoroughbred (maybe that is another blog). I quickly came to learn and appreciate the personality of the thoroughbred though. They were kind, careful and respectful of my babies.
Horses are instinctive animals and they know when to trust, when they are safe and who they are safe with. When our son Dayton was about two years old, we were at our in-law’s place in Grande Prairie, AB and my father-in-law, Kelly, had came home from a horse shopping trip with some new horses. It is important to know when we bring horses home from the race track, we often can’t turn them out into a big open pasture because they have been living in a stall by themselves for a long period of time. They need to adjust to their new settings and their new teammates. We will often turn them out in a small pipe corral first and graduate them to the pasture. Kelly had unloaded about eight or ten new horses the night before into a corral behind the small white barn in the yard. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Grande Prairie. Kiera, our daughter, and Dayton were playing on the lawn by the house when I had to run in to switch a load of laundry. I know… not the best decision, but I left the kids to play while I ran in quickly to throw a load of laundry into the dryer. I told Kiera, who was about five at the time, to keep an eye on her brother. I was gone for less than five minutes when I came back outside to discover that Dayton was missing and Kiera didn’t know where he was. Panic sunk in immediately!
It didn’t take me long to find Dayton in the pen with the load of brand-new horses. Keep in mind, these horses are fresh and quite excitable because they haven’t been put in a pen with other horses for quite some time and their surroundings are completely new. Typically, you would see these horses running around and posturing for status in their new herd, but that is not what I saw. Here is what I did see: eight to ten large thoroughbred horses standing in a perfect circle around our two-year old son. Dayton was pointing his finger at each horse and saying, in his best dad voice, “Hey!” Each time he pointed at a new horse. When each horse was pointed at, they would nod their head up and down as if to say, “Yes sir!” It was like they were all in school and Dayton was the teacher. I find it quite comical now, but definitely not in the moment.
It would have been easy for me to panic right then, but I knew better. I knew that if I went running in to rescue Dayton the horses would have scattered and probably ran him over. So, I stood just outside of the corral and said, “Dayton, come see mom please.” I know this seems unreal, but it’s true. The horses made an opening in the circle and Dayton walked right into my arms. They didn’t think twice about hurting Dayton even though one of them could have easily kicked him or ran him over. It is interesting to think that they all decided to behave and stand still, no fooling around, so they wouldn’t hurt this little boy. I wonder which of the horses was the leader to get the herd to behave and stand still. That day, those horses —they took care of my little boy. I was relieved, grateful and not really surprised the horses reacted the way they did.
I tell this story often because it demonstrates the kindness of horses and more importantly, their intelligence. It is true that horses can sense your fear, they pick up on your mood and they will push your buttons if you let them. Doesn’t this sound like your kids? If you take the time to REALLY listen, your horse, and your kids for that matter, are always telling you something. You just need to slow down and take time. Your time is a gift, share it wisely with those that are important to you.