“What did you learn today?” Mimi asked. Mimi had arrived to pick up her niece Keira, who was resting in the shade with Emma after a hot morning of equestrian pursuits.
“Everything!” replied Keira with a grin. Emma and Mimi laughed and the three shared a knowing grin, the universal recognition of horse-crazy girls of all ages.
Then Emma grew thoughtful. “I think,” she said slowly, “that we are learning about … space.”
It was a deep insight, and one that Keira (and Mimi) understood right away. There was much nodding and smiling at Emma’s keen observation.
Space is a fundamental concept in horsemanship. We protect our own space — literally enforcing our personal boundaries — to keep ourselves safe. We protect our horse’s space, to prove to them that they can trust us to keep them safe, and that they can look to us for direction and leadership.
We manage the horse’s body through space, directing his feet with our body position and energy. We have to be aware of our bodies at all times. Horses communicate primarily through body language and the better we can think, act, and be like a horse, the stronger our partnership can be.
When riding, we use our spatial awareness to guide the horse. We might focus on a point in the distance to encourage the horse to go forward, or we might look at a spot on the ground if we want the horse to stop. Many novice riders have a habit of looking down at their horse’s ears or mane; when they learn to look up and forward — creating an imaginary tunnel through space that the horse can safely walk through — they find that their horses are much more willing to go forward and straight.
One of the great things about kids’ camp is that we see the kids soaking up all kinds of lessons that will benefit them throughout their lives, well beyond the barn. “Learning about space” with horses helps the girls learn to value personal boundaries, to communicate clearly and calmly even when others are not, and to develop self-confidence as leaders and learners.
It’s easy to imagine them 20 years from now telling their friends and family, “Everything I ever needed to know, I learned from horses.”