I remember it as clear as can be, it was about 20 years ago, my daughter, Ali, had been riding for quite a while now. Since she was 4, to be exact. She loved it right away, and all of her instructors said that she had natural talent. Sure, that was encouraging, but initially, I took more of a ‘wait and see’ attitude. I was supportive with every sport that my kids wanted to try, but I wanted to be sure that riding was something she really wanted, and not just a fad. Boy, did she show me. It became clear very quickly that she liked, and was going to stick with horseback riding for a long time. I had no idea that it would become what it has to our family.
We wanted to make sure that whatever our kids did as extracurricular activities, they had opportunity to try many things. When I was growing up, all of these options weren’t available. I enjoyed soccer and basketball growing up in San Francisco, and have never been a huge horse lover. In fact, that contributed to my apprehension with Ali getting into the sport. When I was older I had an experience riding this horse that they said was older and mild-mannered. However, once I started riding him, he took off with me! Everyone was yelling at me to pull on the reins, and I kept thinking that would hurt him. Needless to say, my experiences with horses weren’t positive before Ali. However, my wife, Susan and I agreed that whatever the kids wanted to try, we would let them!
As with both of my kids interests, I tried to be as involved as possible. When it came to Ali’s riding, my role was more of a supportive one. I cheered her on, encouraged her when things didn’t go well. Susan was more hands on with all of the practical stuff, but when there was something to watch, I would be there. I’d often be volunTOLD to be a judge, which I enjoyed being a part. Lessons, pony club meetings, fundraisers. Whenever I was home, I was involved. I mucked stalls, fetched buckets of water, held horses while they did something else. It was fun! I will say that my role was made very clear from the beginning. As a non horsey equestrian dad, I didn’t offer horse advice, but I could always offer character advice. There were times Ali wanted to achieve things quickly, and i encouraged her to put in the time, effort and practice. I’d tell her that Michael Jordan didn’t just start off as the greatest player. You’ve got to put in the time. I sat quietly and watched, and I was more than happy to do that!
All sports have their benefits to your kids. With riding, I noticed that Ali was more than happy to be at the barn with her horses instead of being caught up in the drama that can find you in high school. It was great for us! It kept her away from drugs, alcohol and other nonsense. It was like she became responsible overnight! She started having her homework and chores done so she could go to a lesson. She also became extremely confident. The more she rode, the more knowledgeable, independent and confident she became. She learned it all on her own. It wasn’t like her dad was telling her what to do. I saw she had a great love for it, and I was thoroughly impressed.
If I could give a couple of pieces of advice to upcoming equestrian dads it would be that having an equestrian child can be daunting. Horses are a drain on the wallet, but it is well worth it. Also, don’t put your fears off on your kids. When she was 10, Ali flew off of a stubborn horse and hit her back pretty hard. Instead of quitting, she dusted herself off and said that she wanted to finish the rest of the course. It was rewarding to me that she wasn’t going to let that discourage her, and for the first time I saw that I had a tough little girl!
If I had to do it all over again, there’s no doubt that I would. Horses have brought so much joy to Ali, and some frustration. Horses may get on her nerves sometimes, but it was absolutely worth it all. She learned a lot about life by being on a team. Sportsmanship. Winning. Losing. Life lessons. Absolutely, I would do it all again.
– Mike Smallpage, Equestrian Dad