Horses and Kids: A Non-Traditional Approach To Horsemanship And Learning

By Shane Reynolds  ::  Photography by Kelsey Grudle

In today’s competitive world, it has become much more imperative to get ahead of the pack early in life. However, due to greater stress rates amongst school-aged children, especially in high school and collegiate prep schools, it is much harder to remain competitive. On the premise of preparing students to learn how to be successful, working with horses can give kids the confidence and skills they need to work towards goals in other areas of their lives.

Katy Burbank, the New Equestrian Manager at The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch, has realized that horses can serve as the missing piece of the puzzle to help adolescents prepare for adulthood and to harness their energy, motivation and goals into a design for future successes. Katy has combined her love of horses and past experience in Equine Facilitated Therapy to develop a lesson program where horses are utilized as teachers for youth who are yearning to excel but are struggling with competition, grades, peer pressure, concentration and concerns about their future.

Horses rely on their instinct and intuition, and because of this they are adept at reading non-verbal cues and reflect back to the individual with their responses.  They are sentient beings with emotions, memories and empathetic abilities providing an environment that is supportive and non-judgmental. The horse is the teacher via cause and effect, creating a challenging arena to process students’ limiting beliefs, stress triggers, self-management and other core issues that may be standing in the way of achieving excellence.

Lesson activities may involve group tasks using several horses or it may pair up one student to one horse; this dynamic can offer a myriad of learning opportunities for both intrapersonal and interpersonal skills. One example of this may start out with students individually paired with a horse with the aim of getting “their horse” to pass between two marked cones. Then, as a variation or continuation of this same exercise, we might have the entire group work as a team to get one horse (that they collectively select) to pass through the cones… only this time “without talking.” Suddenly, students are able to determine the difference between solving problems independently and that success sometimes means reaching out to others for assistance. Developing this wisdom is essential to navigating through all of life’s adversities.

Students begin to understand cause and effect, how what they verbally say (or don’t say) and physically do will relate not only to themselves but to their peers, classmates and family. This mirror-like heightened awareness that results from interacting and working with the horses naturally provides guidance for students to arrive at a clearer sense of self, self-awareness and improved self-confidence. This process encourages communication of conflicts and insight into problems with the goal being relief of symptoms, changes in behavior, improved social and vocational functioning and personal growth. These skills are easily transferred into real life by helping to develop a plan to nurture other areas of their life.

At The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch, one of our “Main Things” is to offer unique programming for our members and their guests. Contact Katy Burbank at the Cordillera Ranch Equestrian Center to learn how Equine Facilitated Learning can help adolescents foster invaluable life skills, such as:

horse-Final-0417• Responsibility for self, actions and a life plan

• How to trust and be trustworthy

• Body language and social cues

• Coping skills

• Setting goals and follow-through

• Resiliency to reassess if obstacles arise

• Self-confidence and self-esteem

• Provide insights into stress and personal management

• Building important social and relationship skills

• Concept of personal and time management

• Self-initiative and motivation

Katy Burbank is the Equestrian Manager at The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch. She can be reached at 210.249.8116.

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