The Hysterical Parent

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Family Vacations, Summer 1996

The Hysterical Parent

Everyone tells me dude-ranch horses are receptive to new riders. All I know is that horses bite, kick, and run off. I'm supposed to sit my child on one of these creatures?

We have horses that are suited to every riding level, from the gentlest plodder to ones full of vinegar. We know our horses and we do a good job of matching them with riders. The thing to remember is that, by nature, horses aren't aggressors but animals of prey. If they strike out or run off, it's because they feel endangered. So when parents call with worries about horses, the first thing we ask, in the most diplomatic of ways, is: How well-behaved is your child? Kids will have no problems if they listen to wranglers and not run helter-skelter around the horses.

For a lot of kids and adults, the problem is less about putting the horse at ease than putting the rider at ease. People can be scared of horses, but the more time you spend around them, the less intimidating they are. When people get to the ranch, we take things real slow. We sit kids on horses' backs and lead them around. Then we give basic riding instruction, so even if you've never ridden before, you'll be fine. And once people see how much fun riding is, they relax.

But if people are still afraid, we discourage them from riding until they're not. A horse worries when he senses your fear. And the people who are this afraid of horses usually have had a bad experience. With time and the help of our wranglers and most trustworthy horses, these folks eventually come around.

Sandra Cahill owns the 63 Ranch in Livingston, Montana.

Copyright 1996, Outside magazine

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