By Karen L. Waite, Ph. D.
I was minding my own business…scrolling through Facebook as one does when avoiding laundry, and I came across a post that got my attention. It seemed innocent enough at first…two young ladies in the show ring, one in the foreground who appeared to be riding a horse that perhaps had seen something in the distance and had elevated his neck to get a better look, and one in the back, just entering the shot, who was well turned out and appeared to be riding a horse who was either 1) a finished show horse or 2) hadn’t seen whatever the other horse had seen (yet). The poster’s comment made a humorous reference to the fact that the young lady on the finished horse was “photobombing” again. Seemed innocent enough.
As I read through the comments, I realized that somewhere along the way an adult had made a nasty (and unprovoked) comment about how the young lady on the finished horse “had a trainer” and “fancy clothes , expensive tack, and didn’t do her own work”, while the young lady on the”Lookie horse” “did all of her own work” (and presumably didn’t have those things). Blood, meet boiling point. There are few things that get me riled up more quickly than adults picking on kids. One of my other anger provoking things is the assumption that kids with horse trainers don’t “work”, or win because of their equipment (or clothes, or the fact that their Uncle Fred from Phoenix knows the judge). And the last thing would be the assumption that somehow kids should “do their own work” without ever being taught how. So there you are…a veritable hat-trick of hot, all in one post.
I really don’t think I need to explain why adults picking on kids makes me mad. If you’re an adult, you don’t bully kids. End of discussion. You scroll on by and keep your mouth shut and your fingers still, because you know…you’re an ADULT. Pick on someone your own size, so to speak. And Heaven knows, there are plenty of outlets for that in this day and age.
On to number two. Anyone who suggests that kids who use horse trainers or take lessons don’t have to work is simply wrong. As someone who has been on both sides of that particular fence, I’m here to tell you, having trainer does NOT make the work any easier, nor does it come that much quicker. You still have to learn to ride that horse and sometimes, the fine tuned ones are mucho harder to ride. I’m not saying that Ted Trainer ought to be loping horses at the county fair or hanging on the rail at the 4-H show…I’m simply saying that a young person whose horse is with a trainer at times isn’t really at that much more of an advantage than anyone else. They still have to practice. And if they don’t, they won’t get good rides. It’s that simple.
Finally, the one that boggles my mind the most. “KIDS IN 4-H SHOULD DO THEIR OWN WORK.” As I stated above, I wholeheartedly believe that yes, kids should put in the work…but as part of that work, they need to learn just what it IS they should be working on and more importantly, HOW. When I was in 4-H, at least at the start, I didn’t take lessons…I “did my own work”. And you know what? It was terribly frustrating, and frankly pretty awful. I had this idea that the more I rode, the better I would be…so I rode ALOT. But just as perfect practice (may) make perfect performance, poor practice makes…a mess. Thankfully I had one of the most patient 4-H project horses in the world, because that poor beast tolerated more than any horse should have to. I really, really wanted to do well…but I didn’t know what that meant exactly…so I just kept struggling to find a way to get to what I thought judges wanted. But I was so very wrong. Ultimately, my point is this… I can’t think of any other sport in which (some) might expect that kids will just somehow learn complex motor skills by osmosis, with no help from anyone. That’s not how it works.
Thankfully, things are different now. There are all sorts of equine educational opportunities in this day and age, and many are pretty economical if that’s the issue. Clinics, videos, horse expos, and so much more…although it’s also mind boggling how many families don’t take advantage of the offerings provided. But anyway, in my opinion, it’s more than fine for kids to get help learning from someone…be it a judge, a trainer, a 4-H leader, or the guy down the road whose knows stuff about things. That way, when they go back to “doing their own work” they have something to shoot for. Again, I’m not saying that the 4-H Fair should be a Horse Trainer Ho-Down, unless of course said trainer is there to simply support his or her kiddos and see what they do with the tools he or she gave them. Which is what we should all do.