What Horses and Young Children Have in Common, and How it Shaped My Parenting



No doubt, horses are majestic creatures. Do you know who else is majestic? My two-year-old. I find him exceptionally majestic when he flys out the back door, pant-less as my pregnant self runs him down in front of all of the neighbors. All kidding aside, young children and horses share many similarities, and by identifying these early on in my parenting journey, I’ve developed some helpful practices.

My family has owned and operated a large scale equine boarding facility since 1999. I joined my father as a managing partner in 2008. I certainly don’t claim to have all of the knowledge there is to have as it relates to horses (or parenting, for that matter), but I have spent the majority of my life around these beautiful creatures and have learned lots of valuable life lessons. I’ll share a few that have crossed over into my parenting in case there’s something that may help ‘tame’ your ‘majestic’ two-year-old, as well.

Creatures of habit. One of the most apparent traits we observe in the horses we care for is that they are creatures of habit. When they are kept on a consistent schedule, they tend to be more calm, predictable. The more relaxed and predictable they are, the safer it is for us and our employees to handle them, which is hugely important. As a mom of twins, I quickly learned that a regimented schedule helped our family function and created predictability even in the early, blurry newborn (x2) days.

My husband and I realized that the more consistent we were with our routine, the more calm and content our two newborns seemed to be. For example, we choose to stay ahead of their hunger cues by following a timed feeding schedule (they were breastfed, but could work either way), thus not allowing them to get to the point of frustration because they were hungry. We often woke sleeping babies, a concept some couldn’t wrap their heads around. We always stayed one step ahead of them until the routine became their normal, and in turn, they became predictable like clockwork.

Consistency is key. Secondary to being creatures of habits, horses are also incredibly wise. They can read subtle cues and, just like my pant-less toddler, when given an inch, they will quickly take a mile. Those of us that handle horses have to be cautious in allowing our equine companions to take any liberties. The consequences could be dangerous for both the horse and the handler. This is the same for small children.

Why do we always request that children hold our hand when crossing the road? Because the alternative, not holding our hand, could be dangerous. But, for example, let’s say on a few occasions a little one is permitted to walk independently across an empty, presumably safe parking lot without holding a hand. The flaw in doing this is that now the little one has unclear expectations. It was inconsistent with what has been the expectation all along. In the next parking lot scenario, the child may wonder why holding a hand is again required (possibly prompting a tantrum). He or she may not have the capacity (yet) to differentiate between what is an empty, presumably safe parking lot and what isn’t.

Additionally, it would be unfair to expect a young child to discern what scenario is safe and what isn’t—being consistent regardless of the situation (even when you’re exhausted and don’t want to put up the fight it takes to remain consistent) prompts long term success. Everyone is on the same page. There are no mixed messages.

Believe me; I’m far from perfect. At 33 weeks pregnant with my second set of twins, I often find myself slipping when it comes to practicing consistent expectations, or occasionally cheating the schedule so I can rest a little longer. My children won’t be any worse for wear because my parenting isn’t on point every moment of every day. However, I do tend to see them start to unravel when things deviate from the norm, and usually, my husband and I are the ones that ultimately pay the price!

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Elle is a wife, mother, and business owner. A Hoosier by way of Northern California, she has now called central Indiana home for over two decades. She and her husband, Matt, met at Westfield High School. After graduating from Purdue they settled in Carmel where Elle spends her days with the couple's five year old twin daughters, Lauren and Grace, their three year old son, Patrick, and their six month old twins, Elizabeth and John. After a difficult infertility diagnosis in 2012, and the subsequent efforts to build their family, she considers motherhood to be a tremendous gift, and something she never takes for granted. In between the welcomed chaos of five kids under six, Elle co-owns and operates an equestrian facility in Westfield.