What clubs should kids do?
This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. What skill do you think all children might benefit from? In praise of riding ponies… For more info about parenting see my book Homemade Kids, or for my website click here.
A life coach friend, Karen Liebenguth, has just had a Q&A in Psychologies magazine. It’s really interesting how she finds her clients are surprised by how much they benefit from doing outdoor sessions, whatever the season. Mostly they go for a walk in the park. Sometimes the client even tries feeling the grass barefoot… See the article here.
For the past five years I’ve been teaching children to ride at a stables a five minute walk from the penultimate stop on the Picadilly tube line. Being with horses is always wonderful for me, but it’s great for the children. If there was only one club (and I could raise the cash) then I’d want every child who showed interest to have a go riding.
As riders they learn to control an animal that weighs about a tonne! They learn to be brave and empathetic. They have times when it’s frustrating, and other sessions when the pony does all they want including a neat little canter to the back of the ride. They learn so many skills, not just how to rise to the trot. Even though none of them will have their own pony, they learn responsiblity – by realising that animal care is incredibly hard work and a day-on-day task, even if you are ill it simply cannot be missed.
Part of nature
This week Anna saw a mouse by the side of the “school” (riding ring) and Rhiannon went into some detail why she doesn’t like birds in buildings (pigeons and magpies often take advantage of the high roof beams) because they can spook the ponies. Several times I’ve stopped a lesson so we can all watch a fox padding across the paddocks. And in high summer the swallows are out in force, coming back year after year to nest in the stables. It is a delight to untack your pony while watching those noisy swallow babies being fed by their busy parents.
Whether on or off the horse they have fun outside. Walking to the riding school the pavement is by a large verge – there’s nothing like that in Islington where we happen to live. On the verge we saw coltsfoot come up, then alcanet, then the plants you can eat – dandelions and jack-by-the-hedge (a garlic mustard you can use in salads). Obviously you see the buds come out. Thanks to seeing a little bit of green regularly Nell,11, is confident identifying oak, silver birch, hawthorn, horse chestnut, sycamore and some other trees – whether they are in winter drabbery (but with buds) or full summer leaf.
After the younger children’s lesson they have to wait for me to finish teaching. Sometimes they help with the ponies, or indulge in hot chocolate sold in the cafe. This week they took advantage of a sudden dry spell and played in the wind by a huge oak tree arranging twigs for the fairies, caught up in a fabulous imaginary game as the sun set red.
Riding is hideously expensive in London, and not that much cheaper elsewhere, but if it’s something you can offer your children do it. I’m not even joking when I say “it’s the ultimate low carbon sport”, but it’s also one ideal for speed freaks – horses can gallop very fast, enough to bring tears to your eyes as the wind whistles past.
Anyone can do this
A contemporary of mine when I was at university, Rupert Isaacson, has written an amazing book about his autistic boy’s special abilities with horses. It’s now a film, The Horse Boy. Have a look at the trailer here.
TIP: If you are lucky, Grandparents may sometimes pay for riding lessons (it’s a skill after all) if you ask very nicely. Budget at least 10 lessons to get your child confident enough to stop, start, turn and rise confidently to the trot. That should mean they don’t fall off – and instantly lose their nerve -when they then start cantering.
At the centre we go to (like most) once you are 12 and reasonably competent you can come and help out, exchanging that time for a free riding lesson. You could also look for a list of British Horse Society registered riding schools. Every now and then free lessons are offered – so put your name down on an email list to get early warning for this. Just make sure that when you ride (even if it’s on a holiday in France or hacking in Turkey) that you wear a proper hard hat. No one is too good to ride without a hat. Except the Queen for some reason!
Over to you
Is there something you learnt as a child that you’d love all kids to know how to do? If so what? Do share….