Editor’s Note: Jec Ballou is an accomplished trainer, teacher, presenter at the Best Horse Practices Summit, and half of the duo producing the Best Horse Practices podcast. In this guest column, she writes here from her base in Santa Cruz, California, on the topic of introducing children, however fleetingly, to horses.
The reason we stop, even when hurried, is to plant a seed that might someday change these youngsters’ lives. This is possible, I know, because becoming a better human comes with the territory of horses.
When we ride at Wilder Ranch State Park, Corazon and I often encounter groups of very excited children who have never seen these animals up close. Often, they are groups of at-risk kids or classes from an alternative school program.
When we walk past, their eyes widen. A stunned silence is quickly followed by an eruption of shrieks and pointing. “Horses! Horses!” Soon, they run towards us. Their supervising adult pleads with them to quiet down, stop running, don’t spook the horses.
What ensues is typically several minutes of the kids initially getting close to Corazon and then realizing how big he is, then stepping back in fearful disbelief. After gazing up at him open-mouthed and wide-eyed for a long moment, their fear dissipates to sheer awe. They tip their heads back and marvel at him. Then, slowly, they inch forward. He lowers his head to them, sniffs their hands gently.
Their collective awe soon shifts to loyalty. Corazon becomes so calm and attentive that it feels like a secret pact is forming. They pet his shoulder in long slow strokes. They touch his forelock with their fingertips.
Admittedly, it is a magical exchange.
Here is my unspoken hope, and the reason I always stop for the children: one small encounter just might plant an idea that later becomes an open door to profound experience. One day, these kids might become:
-The confident 80-year old woman who hauls her horse trailer down the highway behind the wheel of an enormous diesel truck
-A person capable of communicating in tiny, subtle ways with an 1,100- pound flight animal despite the trials they face among human peers
-A person who finds grace and acceptance of their body, and who uses that beautiful body to offer leadership to an animal always looking for safety
-Someone who is reminded again and again that they CAN do hard things
-A human being partaking in something that requires audacity and mightiness…AND keeping the ego in check
-Someone who asks herself daily “what can I give today? How can I be better?”
-The person who experiences how much joy can come from sacrifice and commitment