Dear Dr. Edgette,
Even though I've been riding for seven years, my parents seem to have no interest in learning more about the sport. I want to progress in the horse world, but without their help I feel as if I'll be stuck in equitation and hunter classes forever! I'm really interested in combined training and dressage, but I'm beginning to doubt I'll ever get to do those activities. Any suggestions? -- Beth
I often hear from teenagers like Beth who are disappointed in their parents' lack of enthusiasm for horses and riding. If you have the same dilemma, let me try to help you discover some ways to promote your parents' support for your riding without seeming pushy or presumptuous. First...
Help your parents understand the culture of horses.
If your parents didn't grow up around horses or riding, they may have difficulty appreciating what all the fuss is about. They may still think of horses as "farm" animals--or as "pets for the privileged." They may not see where horses fit in an urban or suburban lifestyle, for instance, or what value the care and riding of horses can have for you as a young person. Why not help them better understand that value by asking yourself to identify one way you think your involvement with horses has made you a better person (i.e., more responsible, confident, self-aware), then writing your parents a note or poem about it?
Help them see the appeal of a different discipline.
You and your folks apparently have been making the rounds of hunter shows as your interests are changing toward eventing. Switching to a new discipline, with its different language, clothing, and culture, can be harder than moving to a new country. Try taking your parents to a horse trial or Pony Club rally where they can see combined training firsthand. Say to them, "Guys, I want to show you some things I'd like to do with my horse. It looks like a lot of fun. There's a horse trial this Saturday in Smithtown. Can we walk around, and I'll show you what I'm talking about?"
Keep in mind, too, Beth, that they might be worried the new activities will bring new costs. If you think that's a factor, be prepared to give them some idea of what expenses (new equipment or tack, additional training?) might be involved.
When you're at the rally or trial, explain to your folks how dressage and cross-country and stadium jumping are different from what you do now (to the non-rider, it can all look alike!) and why they appeal to you more. It's also possible your parents have made some social connections at the shows you've been attending and are reluctant to start up with a whole new circle of people. Meeting friendly, chatty parents with kids involved in CT could help.
Respond to concerns for your safety.
Everybody knows what happened to Christopher Reeves--and, like it or not, that's the first thing many people think of when they hear "combined training." Ask your parents if their reluctance is safety-related. Say, "You know, I've wanted to try some cross-country riding, but you don't seem so keen on the idea. Do you worry about me doing these new things?" If they say yes, tell them the specific things CT riders do to be safe. Show them the safety equipment (vests, headgear) in catalogues, describe the graduated levels of training and competition, and discuss with them how you'd go about making sure you were being properly trained.
In all fairness to the scores of parents baffled by a child's seeming obsession with horses, getting one's bearings in the horse world can be tough--especially coming in as an adult. Adding to parents' mystification is the ease with which chidren move and work around these animals whose one misstep can crush a foot. Parents need help comprehending the pull of horses, so their puzzlement or intimidation can get replaced by curiosity. Only then will they begin to understand why the same daughter who refuses to wear the same pajamas two nights in a row happily spends her day in clothes covered with green slobber and horse poop.
Dr. Janet Edgette is the author of The Rider's Edge, available at HorseBooksEtc.com or by calling 1-800-952-5813..