Our first volunteer program in conjunction with the Steinthal Children's Home in Tulbagh, has not only been a learning experience for the children, but it has also been an interesting learning curve for us and the horses too! Just goes to show you are never too old to learn!
Whilst the children's excitement at learning to ride a horse and the benefits of equine interaction was something we expected through our previous experience with equine therapy, there were other aspects we didn't expect to have our eyes opened to!
Some of the horses reactions to children learning to ride on them has astounded us - initially we only did ground work and basics of horse care with the children, but when it came to ride we decided it would be safer to change to some of the calmer school masters, but one boy, Jason, had other thoughts - he and "Bob" have developed a bond and he was determined to stay with Bob despite all our warnings that Bob is a little too feisty for a beginner.
Keep in mind that Bob was a top polo pony and his 0 to 100 km p hr touch is very light.. imagine teaching someone to drive in a sports car... But at Jason's persistence, we decided to give it a try.. Bob's expression when Jason started bouncing around on his back while learning the trot was a picture, ears swivelling and twirling he was asking lots of questions, but he soon decided that actually it was ok and that this guy would get it right eventually - which he did.. so we were proven wrong again.. Jason's smile when he said "I learnt to trot on Bob", said it all.
Obviously we will keep a beady eye on those two as confidence increases!
The children all love going on out rides, they say they love the space and freedom of being out and "up the mountain" on horseback! Whilst on the outrides, we picked up that they are not familiar with many things like the names of the mountain ranges surrounding our valley, or what "renosterveld" and "fynbos" are - the first time I asked one of them to ride around a "renosterbos" I was asked if there was a rhino somewhere! They do however know that the Proteas are our Cricket team!! So now our rides have another feature, we teach the names of the plants (those that we know) and why they are important, the children get to experience first hand the effects of erosion and fires, learn about alien vegetation and with spring around the corner, we are now discovering the early flowers starting to bloom. We pick up litter, close gates and generally learn about nature. Through the children's growing awareness and questions, we have become more conscious of many things we take for granted on a daily basis!
We are very proud to be working with the Steinthal Children's Home on our first volunteer project and hope to soon be able to accommodate more children in our program. We would also like to thank all the very generous people who have given our horses grazing, donated equipment and generally offered support, your kindness and generosity makes this all possible.
John and I have been working with a variety of horses for a lifetime and yet every day we experience or learn something new with our horses, they challenge us, teach us and frequently humble us by their willingness to take on new challenges. They also make us laugh and in this case make us wonder...
Our horses receive regular schooling to keep them fit and responsive on our trail rides. We avoid having brain washed horses that simply plod along nose to tail on the trail by keeping the schooling fun and varied.
On this particular afternoon my son took 3 of the horses - Commander, Sky and Thunder to the games field for some gymkhana work (great way to teach agility, suppleness and responsiveness). His plan was to ride one and leave the other 2 free to graze on the field. Which they usually do, they are completely familiar with the field. This worked fine when he rode Commander, but when he saddled up Sky and set off to warm her up first at a walk and then a trot, the geldings, Commander and Thunder, decided they wanted to take part too.
Being a warm day, I was pretty sure they would soon give up and return to grazing, but not a chance, they walked and trotted around behind Sky, doing whatever she was doing, change direction, circles... So Spike and Sky upped the ante a little and pushed in a canter, which started the games. Commander (now remember he had already been worked and the weather was hot) was not having little Sky beat him in a canter - while Thunder did extended trots, bucks and other antics not far behind. Even if they overtook for awhile - they would circle back to join Sky and Spike.. Commander in particular liked to be behind Sky or right next to her, Spike was able to lean over and pet him on his neck and back ..
Needless to say this turned into a fun play session, with all three horses and a human having fun alot of fun and learning.
For me it was a very special moment as it is such an incredible thing to see horses enjoying being with "their" human and enjoy some good old horse play!
John & Jo
We are the owners of horseAbout Trails & Adventures in the Western Cape.
“We left the premises with heart full of joy, love for these amazing horses and admiration for the lifestyle of John and his family.”