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Covid and Mud Puddles

January 21st, 2022 by admin

The following are a few thoughts I’ve put together in the past year as I’ve witnessed what Covid has and continues to do to our young people. I’m certainly no psychologist so these thoughts come from a common sense prospective; from what I’ve seen and how it is affecting those I’m trying to teach. This is not intended to set off any sort of argument; it’s simply the truth and something for all to give serious thought too.

I teach riding lessons, hundreds of riding lessons per year and have been doing so for over 15 years. I’ve taught every type of personality a young person can have, from the “eager to learn” to the “know it all” and everything in between. It’s been a challenging journey and one I’ve greatly enjoyed and with the help of our super, hard working, lesson horses we’ve had tremendous success helping each client reach their riding goals.

When Covid first hit not much changed at the stable, local students came as always and parents were so thankful to have that little bit of normalcy in their children’s lives. Then the summer of 2020 arrived and our small county increased in number as thousands of people from the city rented out every lake house and any other house in the area to get away from the high numbers of those contracting Covid. That’s when my phone began to ring with questions about our riding program and did we have room for new students. These were not local people calling but those who were up rooted from their normal lives and now waiting out the summer in hopes of staying miles away from where the infection numbers were much greater.

As we took on the new students I began to see such a difference from the out of town kids and our local kids. My new students came all masked up and were very aware of social distancing. This made the job of helping students with tacking up very challenging, especially for those who didn’t know how. But that was nothing compared to what we begin to see in the arena, during the lesson, when kids need to really listen and stay focused. We learned real quick that we needed to look at our students directly in the eyes because we no longer had the luxury of being able to see their face and know if they were smiling or worried. And believe me when I say that many, many students were worried.

What were they worried about? Well we had students afraid to even get on the horse when usually we have the opposite problem with students doing things before being told. We had students who once on the horse were scared to death for the horse to take a step forward. We had students worried about us being too close to them and then being worried if we weren’t close enough. Students fumbled with holding the reins because they were constantly adjusting their masks. They would reach up to their face and the horse would turn left or right because of rein pressure then the student would freak out because the horse came off the rail, it was a nightmare for some kids.

Once we managed to jump over all the challenging hurdles the most interesting things began to happen with our riders. They began to talk to us, not the usual conversations we are accustomed too but deep conversations that came from the soul and tugged at our hearts. They told us how they missed their friends; some told us they loved virtual learning while others told us how much they hated it. The majority of our students were worried about their grades, telling us how they were straight A students but were now getting B’s and C’s. This was a giant concern for so many!! A lot of the kids carried hand sanitizer and would apply it frequently. Some kids even felt safe enough to share struggles that were happening within their family because mom and dad were now working from home and there was no break or place to escape. I think nearly every student we had told us about the video games they play with several saying they played over 9 hours a day, not kidding!!

I learned a long time ago that the best thing I can do as a riding instructor is allow people to simply talk. Being on the back of a horse has a way of opening up a window to express ones self. The steady rhythm, the awareness that you are actually able to direct a thousand pound animal where you want it to go, whatever it is about horse back riding it’s a sure bet that it will eventually make you come face to face with those things that are troubling you. And that is what we witnessed these past two summers.

I told someone the other day that I’ve never seen kids so wound tight inside. Many know someone who has died, everyone knows someone who has been sick, all know about quarantining which opened up a door to tell the students what we do when a new horse comes to the stable and how we have to keep it away from other horses until we are sure it’s not sick. That generated a lot of interest and turned the attention to learning something new about horses, which is always our goal. We then began telling students about the fears that horses have to face and learn to accept. Because we have some nice mud puddles, I used those to teach the students why horses don’t like to walk through them. We would even encourage our students to try their hardest to get their horse to walk through. Before long we saw a change in the kid’s and those who were extremely fearful became focused on trying to get their horse to simply take one step into the puddle. We explained that horses have very poor depth perception so that when they look at a puddle of water they can’t tell how deep it is so to them it looks like a giant bottomless hole. I explained that only if your horse trusts you will they even attempt to step a foot in the water.

We played the mud puddle game so many times with such positive results in our students that when the sun came out and dried up the puddles I was nearly tempted to go fetch some water and fill them back up. The kids could relate to the horses fear and they began encouraging the horse to move one foot forward, stop and reward for the small try. We would explain that the goal wasn’t to get the horse to walk through the entire puddle, but to take it one step at a time until the horse felt confident to take step two. We explained that if you pushed the horse to walk through the entire puddle then they would meet great resistant and the horse would side step away from the water to prove our point that forcing anything to do something they aren’t comfortable with or that they don’t understand is never a good approach.

Our lesson horses were exceptional!! I’m not even exaggerating when I say that I think they just knew that a lot of students needed the mud puddle lesson. I’m going to be honest and admit that every one of our lesson horses know how to walk through water with no problem but for some unexplainable reason they came through for us nearly 100% of the time and acted like there was no way they would take a step in that unknown hole. They could either sense the lack of confidence from the rider as it trickled down to them or they just knew that each one of these students needed to feel in control of something and have the lesson end in success. We train horses but we would never pretend to know everything that goes through their minds. In all my years working with horses they still continue to amaze me and this past summer I was amazed.

I would like to think that we and our lesson horses did a lot to help our stressed younger clientele this past summer. Covid has affected all of us in many different ways and rightly so. My next essay will be on having a plan for your horse in the event you leave this life suddenly and unexpectedly, I’m watching the chaos of that and it’s heartbreaking but I’ll save that for later. But in the meantime, I can’t promise that horseback riding will resolve all stress and anxiety but I’ve seen first hand how it’s helped many young people to have at least that moment in time, on the back of a horse where the world seems further away and the unknown is sort of like a mud puddle. It may look to be a giant hole that could suck you in and never allow your escape or it could be that the mud puddle is merely a deception and if you trust yourself to take that first step you might even discover that playing in that puddle can actually be sort of fun, at least on a horse.

If you are reading this and you or a young person you are caring for could benefit from the therapy that only a horse can offer, find yourself a good equine facility that specializes in riding lessons. It won’t solve all the worlds’ problems but it could offer you a little reprieve from them and who knows, you might find you really enjoy the experience of spending some time with God’s greatest creation, the amazing horse!!

Happy Trails!!