I see a lot of kids and young adults on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes, I see them at the tack store where I work: youngsters just embarking on their equestrian journey, or teenagers looking for a new pair of riding tights. Most of the time, I see them while I’m at the barn. My neighbor has many students, and most of them are teenagers or younger.
These kids spend every minute of their free time at the barn. They’re mucking stalls, turning horses out, feeding, blanketing and unblanketing, picking rocks out of the arena, all for the opportunity to ride whatever horse needs to be exercised that day. These kids are eager learners, snatching up every crumb of advice, every morsel of sage wisdom that their trainer (my neighbor) and other knowledgeable-sounding adults (like the farrier or vet) offer.
Even though I’m not their trainer, I try to be a good example for them. I sit taller in the saddle when a pair of young eyes is watching me school Gina through a dressage test. I work harder to make sure my leg is solid over fences when my teenage jump crew is setting fences for Moe. I groom my horses well. I wear my helmet. I try to limit the profanity. The barn rats make me better.
It’s important to me to try to teach them unmounted skills, too. I explain why I take big, exaggerated steps between jumps when setting and walking a course. I offer to show some of them how to wrap a leg. I try (and fail) to teach them to figure-8 bridles.
I also do my best to model good behavior completely unrelated to horses. My neighbor and I are on different ends of the political spectrum, but the barn rats have heard us calmly and respectfully discuss the election and political issues on which we disagree. I’m always positive when they come in the store where I work. I don’t want them to feel self-conscious about what size breeches they wear- I want them to feel and look good. I say “please” and “thank you” to them, to the cashier at the feed store, and to our waitress at the Mexican restaurant.
I screw up a lot, too. They’ve seen me get after Gina when she won’t go over a jump. They’ve heard some choice obscenities when Moe is jigging around the hay meadow. They’ve seen me lose my temper when Candy won’t load. They’ve seen the grimy condition of my tack and how much of it is piled up in my still-unorganized tack room.
I don’t know if the barn rats look up to me; they probably roll their eyes and think, “Here comes Stephanie to tell me to clean my tack again!” when they see me coming. I don’t think any of them need a role model- they’re all good kids, from good homes, with good parents, and they’re working and riding at a good barn with a good trainer. Still, I figure it can’t hurt to strive to be the sort of person I looked up to as a young rider.
What about you? Do you interact with lots of young people at your barn? Do you feel like you have an obligation to set a good example for them?