Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.
There Are A Lot Worse Things For Your Kid To Be Than Horse Crazy!
Perhaps, if you see these signs in your child, rather than fight it, just maybe you should embrace their love of horses, and nurture it. Living a life with horses is a great one. It instills hard work, respect, accountability, and determination.
A one track mind, that is set on horses, though it may not make sense to the non-believer's is not such a bad thing for a kid to have. I was the worst kind of horse crazy because luckily I had a horse crazy mother who supported my riding endeavors and a Dad with a job that made enough to afford it.
Since I actually had access to horses, you would think that it would make my odd, horse crazy behavior not as extreme as for the horse crazy kids that never get to actually put their hands on horses.
Which leads me to warning sign number one that your child is not going to outgrow horses.
Warning Sign #1
No matter how much time they get to spend with horses, whether it be lessons or a pony ride at the fair. They can't get enough of horses. Being around horses does not satisfy their needs. It just makes them want to be with horses more.
If they have lessons, it makes them want more lessons. If they went to summer camp, they want it to be summer all year long. If it is just an occasional pony ride and pulling the car over to look at horses in a field, whatever little bit of horses you give them, they are never satisfied and just want more.
Warning Sign #2
They are attracted to other children who are also obsessed with horses and together they work together to satisfy their needs with all kinds of imaginary horsey things.
For me, this was my childhood friend Rachel. We did nothing besides look at horse magazines and books, play with model horses, make things for our model horses. Basically, we treated the toy horses as if they were real. We made them polo wraps and blankets out of felt and halters out of rubber bands.
We fed them and exercised them, they had certain training schedules. I don't mean random made up kiddy training schedules. I mean we have been reading so many horse books and magazines, our fake horses had legit training schedules and nutritional plans.
If your child is not going to outgrow horses, you will begin to notice these kinds of symptoms early on. Maybe within the first year, as soon as they start accumulating toy horses and having access to horse reading material.
Warning Sign #3
This begins after the child has gotten to ride more. Either in lessons, pony rides, friends horses, however, they get access to riding or riding lessons. They begin to gain a broader range of knowledge since they are learning how to ride. Which leads to the need to practice at home...
Well since most don't have access to a horse at the house, that means they practice without the horse. It looks very odd to the parents or siblings watching through the window. You will see the child jogging and skipping ( trotting and cantering) changing direction, maybe holding a stick pretending it is a crop. If they are lucky enough they have a real crop and they use that for their practice rides. You will see them very seriously trying to ride perfect figure eights or serpentines, whatever they practice in the lessons.
When they get really intense with it, probably before they can actually do them in real life, they will begin to practice lead changes. This looks like skipping to the untrained eye, to the horse crazy kid it is serious business. When you change leads you practice skipping, while leading with the other leg in the front. To understand canter leads in real horses is what triggers this so don't expect the lead changing behaviors until they start cantering in lessons.
Don't be surprised if when your horse crazy child and their horse crazy kid do this for hours, sometimes in the woods( trail rides) or just around and around the yard ( schooling in the arena).
Warning Sign #4
Serious riders know that they can't interrupt their training schedules for bad weather. Which will lead your horse crazy child and their weird horse crazy friends to dismantle the cushions from the couch, use brooms and dining room chairs, to make jump courses in the house.
In my case, living in a smaller house, running around jogging and skipping didn't work for inside schooling sessions. Well, we would have made it work, but it didn't fly with my parents. Which led to us jumping our indoor jump courses on all fours, like a real horse. This is way harder to do, which leads to shorter schooling sessions, but the house obstacle course can take a while to undo, and of course, the horses need to be properly cooled off, so there is no rushing the indoor schooling sessions either.
Warning Sign #5
By this point, your child has probably already begun to ask for horse things for every occasion. Whether it be things to take to their lessons or anything with a horse on it. I needed both, which made me an easy, but expensive horse crazy kid to buy a gift for. I had horse clothes, horse jewelry, horse bedding, horse stuffed animals, model horses, horse books, horse movies. Literally, if it has a horse on it, your horse crazy kid will get to the point where they will want anything and everything related to a horse. Don't be alarmed by this. This is totally normal for a kid who is going to not outgrow horses. This behavior will actually continue into adulthood, so get used to it.
Warning Sign #6
Obsessive horse movie watching. This symptom can surface at any time. It started at an early age for me. Obsessive horse movie watching does not just mean that they will watch every horse movie that they can get your hands on. They will do that of course!
The sign of not outgrowing horses is when they chose one particular movie and watch it over and over. To the point that you know all the words to the script, and every last little part and detail.
For me, this movie was National Velvet. Still, to this day, I know every word to that movie, every last little thing that Velvet Brown ( a young Elizabeth Taylor) , Mi, their trainer ( a young Mickey Rooney) did. I was obsessed with the way the Pi moved and jumped and how they trained him to run in the grand national steeplechase. I won't ruin it for those who haven't seen it!
Once your child picks "their"movie, you might as well not even try to get them to stop watching it. They won't. I literally would watch National Velvet and then rewind it ( it was VHS back then) and sit back down and immediately watch it again). Don't bother to ask "aren't you tired of that movie yet?" the answer will always be no, so just accept it from the very beginning and avoid conflict.
When your child has to cover everything in horse pictures. The bedroom walls, the outside of their school folders and notebooks. If you are lucky enough to have a kid that has artistic ability maybe they will draw horses on some of their things.
For the non-artistic ones like myself as soon as I finished reading the Young Rider and Horse Illustrated magazines that came monthly, I would do two things. Remove the centerfold, which was always a horse poster! I covered my bedroom walls(including the ceiling)with them.
Then I would use the rest of the pictures to cut out and decorate other things, like my school folders and notebooks. I had an obsession with tape, scissors and horse magazines and I covered everything that tape would stick to in horse pictures.
When your child begins to incorporate the family pet into their "horseplay".This is a sign that their imagination needs more, and then the child looks for the next closest thing at the time. What's that? 4 legged family pets.
Rachel and I tried to train the dog to lunge and jump. My dog Moses a Doberman cross over 100 pounds was a bit to fat, grumpy and hard to control, but we tried and tried to train him. Luckily the backyard had a fence around it so he couldn't go anywhere when he got sick of us.
Rachel's dog was more the jumping type, a Great Dane, that could easily and gracefully jump the obstacles that we set up.
When we were at my parents produce farm, we had mini donkeys and goats to play with there. The donkeys were great to pretend horse with, though they hated leading on a halter and leadline and I don't remember them ever successful jumping. They were the closest thing so far to a horse though and we brushed them and detangled their tails and pretended they were horses and that was good enough.
The goats were fun to drag around on leadlines, though they mostly wanted to jump on our obstacles and knock them down, rather than over. We didn't care! We figured it was more realistic to training a young horse, so we put them back up and tried it again.
I even had a cat for a while, and indoor cat, that I pretended to train like a horse to jump up and down banks( the couch cushions). Which was a joke because he just wanted me to pet his head so he followed my hand wherever it went. I would say "up ralphie" and "down ralphie" and he would jump up and down like the perfect little cross country schooling cat.
You are probably wondering why I would admit this to anyone. I'm just trying to explain how the horse crazy kid mind works and the signs that they aren't going to grow out of it, so parent's can be prepared!
As the horse crazy kid gets older they start to read more and more horse publications. They will begin to recognize the horses who are at the top of their game and who their riders are. They will know all the details on the horse and rider and be able to recite them to anyone who may ( or may not) be interested.
When the triple crown time of year rolls around, they will be watching the news and reading all about the contenders and picking favorites. We had favorite horses, favorite jockeys, had no clue what we were doing, but we were obsessed with it. I mean what is more glamorous in the horse world than the triple crown races?
Since I live in Maryland, I went to the Black Eyed Susan Stakes multiple times which is the day before Preakness. If you went early you could see the Preakness horses train in the morning. You can bet I was there with my binoculars ready, and my adult chaperone of course( to place my $2 bets)
This behavior will continue into adulthood as well. Getting more superstitious and hardcore with age. We have to have the same group of friends, sitting in the same place in the room, and eating the same foods or it screws things up. Case in point, Justified, winning the triple crown this year since we took all the necessary precautions.
Your horse crazy kid is going to realize they are the minority, not the majority and that many of the kids they begin doing all these things with move on to other sports, or boys or some other "more normal interest".
I say more normal because they chose things that aren't all consuming the way horses are. For the horse crazy kid that doesn't grow out of horses, though it may seem they grow up and don't have a one-track mind. Maybe they have a boyfriend, or a job or participate in other activities.
The Final Diagnosis
If your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms( probably they are exhibiting all of them if you are reading this) you should just accept it. We are a special breed of human being. Whether you want to call it good or bad is up to you, but you might as well learn to accept it, because for those of us that are born at the permanent level of horse crazy. It is an incurable condition.