A Trainer’s Guide to Being a Barn Parent
They say it takes all kinds, and they’re right. Barn parents come in all forms, from overly involved to completely detached. There are the parents who sit ringside and pick apart the trainer’s every word, and there are the parents who seem to chuck their pony-loving child from the car while it’s still rolling. And of course, there are fifty shades of barn parenting in the middle of those two extremes.
Understanding how best to support your little equestrian can be tricky. Even if you like horses, it can be difficult to know where to begin when it comes to parenting in the barn. Should you watch lessons? Should you let your kid have their own time? How the heck are you supposed to watch your beloved angel child bounce around on this giant beast without covering your eyes or gasping every few steps?! Look, I don’t have kids. I have my students, and they’re all I need. So I don’t know how to be mom, but I do know two things: I know how it feels growing up a rider with both horsey and non-horsey parents (horse mom, non-horse dad); and I know what kind of interactions and support from parents make my students the happiest! So whether you’re a lifelong horse person yourself, or you don’t know a bay from a chestnut, here’s a quick guide to being the best barn parent you can be.
Learn the lingo.
Every sport has their own jargon. Touchdowns, innings, free throws. Equestrian sports are definitely no different, and the language is a tough one to learn for sure! I guarantee the average person knows what those three terms above mean, but how about these? From posting diagonals to flying lead changes, pop chips to counter canters, the horse person’s lexicon is like a completely foreign language to the layman.
As wacky as it sounds, learning the lingo as a horse parent will make you much more aware of what’s going on. You’ll be able to understand what the heck your kid’s trainer is saying when she explains that little Susie didn’t get a ribbon because she chipped three jumps and was on the wrong lead for most of the class. Plus, your rider will feel much more comfortable chatting with you on your way home because you’ll have an idea of what she’s talking about. Which leads me into my next point…
Encourage them to talk about their rides.
Heading home from the barn, ask your rider how their ride went. What’d they work on? Did they have fun? What did they learn? Striking up a conversation with your kiddo about their lesson or their hack is a great way to get them reflecting on what they did and excited for what’s to come.
If you’re a horsey parent, try not to be too critical. Even if the ride didn’t go as well as it could have, try to steer the conversation in a productive, constructive direction.
It’s also incredibly important to make your rider feel like you’re taking an interest in their passion. It can be really tough for kids of non-horsey parents; there’s nothing lonelier than truly loving something and not being able to share it with the people you care about. For many horse crazy kids, they have an awesome time at the barn, then get in the car and feel like it gets lost in the hustle and bustle of everything else going on. Even if you don’t know all of the lingo just yet, encourage them to tell you about their day!
Be their audience and their cheering section.
For many parents, watching lessons or rides isn’t exactly the number one way they’d like to spend their afternoon. For non-horsey parents, it can be boring and alienating if you’re not sure what’s happening. For horse people, it can be frustrating if your rider isn’t nailing it like you think they should. In either case, making a point of being your rider’s audience from time to time is extremely important.
Watching lessons can give you some insight into what your rider is learning, if they’re progressing, and what their trainer keeps telling them to do. Watching free rides is crucial too, as you’ll see just how much effort your rider is putting into their improvement when the trainer isn’t there to direct them. You might think your kiddo is putting in the hours, but they might not be working as hard as you’d think! If you watched the last lesson, you can also remind them of the things their trainer said over and over (and over and over and over).
Make it a point to watch at least one or two rides a month. This will help you stay in the loop, and it’ll show your rider your interest in their passion and their progress. Even if you bring a book or some work to catch up on, just being out in the ring makes a big difference.
Food for thought…
If your child horse shows, being used to an audience is crucial! Think about it… If the only time you ever watch your child ride is at horse shows, that adds a whole new level of pressure to an already stressful situation. They want to make you proud, they want to succeed, and they want to win. If you haven’t been watching them ride up until show day, they’ll feel like they have to prove everything to you right then. Talk about pressure!!
Allow them to struggle.
I imagine it’s really tough to watch your child have a difficult time, whether they're tears of frustration because their pony won’t canter, or they're tears of pain after they’ve been tossed into the dirt. But no one ever succeeded at everything the first time. Struggles and setbacks are crucial learning blocks in any sport, and riding is definitely not an exception! Your child is trying to communicate with a 1200lb prey animal with a mind of its own through a series of pressure cues and short words. There are bound to be difficulties. Attempting to shield them from any sort of adversity will never make them into good riders or good humans.
As much as it hurts, let them fall off. Let them struggle. Let them get frustrated. Let them mess up. They’ll learn how to dust off their breeches, straighten their helmet, and try again. That’s a better lesson than any you can teach them by clearing their path.
Celebrate all of their victories - not just the blue satin ones.
Even the most successful riders at the very tip top of this sport will tell you, the win average is very low, and it gets more competitive the higher you climb. If you can’t celebrate the small things, you’ll get burnt out in no time. Though blue ribbons and champion prizes are easy to see as victories, and certainly deserve applause, they’re not the only form wins come in.
Watching lessons and learning the lingo will help you to celebrate the victories of all shapes and sizes with your rider. Whether they just cantered for the first time or they finally nailed their flying lead changes, your rider will certainly have accomplishments that don’t come wrapped in satin. They should learn to take pride in all victories, big and small! So when they finally nail that tricky bending line in the lesson, give them a smile and big thumbs up! They’ll love seeing your pride in their wins.