Teaching "horse sense" with cereal, raisins and sticky notes
It’s usually the first word you hear when kids are told they need to “clean up” after a horse. Glamorous as riding may seem, the “behind the scenes” work involved in horse ownership is what separates casual riders from those with a passion for anything equine.
Mark Smith, UF instructor for a first-time summer program in riding and horse care, knew he would have to make the stall-cleaning chore a little more palatable.
“We sat the kids down with bowls (stalls) of Rice Krispies (shavings). Into the stalls went Mini Wheats (hay bales), chocolate chips (manure), raisins (dried manure) and a little dash of milk to dampen things up,” laughed Smith. “When they got into the real horse stalls they weren’t so grossed out by the idea.” The activity was just one of many in a week-long equestrian learning experience co-sponsored by The University of Findlay and the Hancock Park District. The program offered a 3-hour session each day for kids ages 8-12; adolescents, 13-17, and adults.
Smith, his wife Laura, and several volunteers “herded” 32 kids through activities that included grooming, hoof cleaning, and even running a show jumping course on their own two feet. By week’s end, they were able to walk a serpentine through cones, walk over poles and jog and stop the horses on their own (with handlers nearby).
“They absorbed everything we taught them and loved every minute,” marveled Smith. “It was so impressive and rewarding.”
The students gained broad knowledge about the different types of riding through demonstrations and videos. Jan Roeder and her daughters gave a fast-paced reining horse demonstration. Videos provided exposure to dressage, cutting, jumping and more. A horse anatomy quiz became interactive with two cooperative mounts standing quietly while kids attached sticky notes identifying various body parts.
The course approval rating was more than 100 percent with one young man breaking into tears the night before the program ended. Bewildered, his parents asked the reason he was so sad. He said that he did not want the program to end and “to stop riding horses.” There was also a small show on the last day, so students could literally “strut their stuff.” More than 80 proud parents and family members came to applaud the 32 riders.
“Big Kids” like riding, too!
Although the adults didn’t shovel cereal and leap over jumps, they learned every bit as much as the kids, plus a few advanced techniques.
“The adults were very interested in just learning different things about horses and never failed to come up with simply great questions,” added Smith. “They also became quite efficient riders by the end of the week and all learned a significant amount.”
Tifani Boltz, marketing manager for the Hancock Park District, said they added the horseback riding programs for the first time this year and hoped to partner with UF again next summer.
“Mark Smith really knows his stuff,” added Boltz. “He was great with the kids and the adults! This is the first time we’ve ever offered something like this and we have 21 youth on a waiting list for when we offer the program again.”
Although the cost of the program was very reasonable, the level of instruction was comparable to that offered to top riders. Smith has been a professional horse trainer for more than 30 years and with the University for 10 years. He and Laura operated their own training facility in Pennsylvania prior to coming to Findlay. He has trained multiple World and Reserve World Champions and has coached many youth and amateurs to State Championships and Top Ten in National Titles.
According to the blog, “Horse Listening,” there are many benefits to riding horses, including the chance to experience the great outdoors, exercise that can actually be therapeutic in some cases, a variety of activities and the feeling of oneness when everything is going right between you and your equine friend. Perhaps an adult UF summer program student said it best:
“A ‘bucket list’ must! No matter your age of level of experience, you will enjoy this class. Not only will you be able to ride, you will learn about horses and all aspects of horsemanship. Mark and Laura Smith and their staff have a world of knowledge and skill along with the gift for teaching with patience. It was an awesome experience; I was on a horse ‘high’ all week! I wholeheartedly recommend this class.” – Rev. Virginia Geaman