When a new student comes into barn at Widmer’s Rock ‘N Roll Arena in Deep River, IA for a lesson, first, we go over the ground rules and the contracts we have created. One for the students and one for the parents.
The number one guideline on the contract is “No Can’ts”. Second is, “No Whining”. Third, “Good Sportsmanship.“ If the word “can’t” is used, the speaker gets to run. Whining equals 10 push ups and anything less than good sportsmanship is 10 jumping jacks. Student or parent, they have consequences.
Within the first five minutes, you can often tell if the student or parent is going get a workout out based on the story the parent(s) begins to tell.
If the parent starts off telling me a story full of excuses as to why their child hasn’t excelled or one that limits their ability, because of x, y and z it’s almost certain the child will say can’t in the first five minutes.
If a parent comes in and is excited about supporting their child and getting extra guidance so they can reach the next level, the child usually takes much longer to say the forbidden word.
If a parent comes into the barn who knows that they’re knowledgeable, but also accepts the fact that children listen better to other people in many situations, the child usually already knows they’re capable, often thinks they know a little more than the parent, and the forbidden word is said a limited amount of time times. It’s rare that a student comes to the barn and doesn’t have to run at least one down and back.
The first thing we do once the horse is in the barn and brushed off, is saddle the horse or pony. Every single child, no matter how big or how old, gets to saddle their own mount. Of course I don’t make a four year old carry that saddle 100% on their own, but I do make sure that they have their hands on their saddle and if I loosen up my hold, I can see that their muscles engage.
The parent’s reaction to this task says a lot about the relationship as well! Some parents will pipe up and instantly say, “he/she can’t carry that saddle”, or “they aren’t strong enough.” Others will let them try, but hover over every step of the way wanting to help them if they drop the saddle. Many will sit back, hold their breathe and do their best to trust me with their child, hoping it doesn’t lead to disappointment.
Within the first 20 minutes of the lesson, every child is excited to have done something difficult on their own. Almost every parent is surprised what their child was capable of and they have now backed off to let me teach their child what they CAN do and how much they’re capable of. Once the child learns how to hold the saddle correctly, almost always, 4 year old’s and up are trying successfully to carry the saddle on their own by the third lesson.
Not in all cases, but in many, the students who come into the barn get their verbiage and attitude from their parents or close family members. The people who they spend the most time with.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand time is of the essence sometimes. But other times, it’s a matter of taking the extra 5 minutes two or three times to give them the strategy, opportunity and confidence to do things on their own.
Lastly, I had a family come into the booth and buy a saddle at the NFR. Within five minutes one of the family members said, “there’s no way she can carry this or put it on her horse.” The little girl was standing right there. They’ve already taught her what she can’t do without giving her the slightest chance to make it happen. Don’t be that parent. I know it’s unintentionally, but instead say, “it’s time to do some push ups” or “we’ll figure out a way” because we all know If there’s a will, there’s a way.
Christmas break is coming and a perfect time for parents or people who spend a lot of time with a child(ren), to ask yourself, “who am I setting them up to be in life?” Maybe it’s time to have a conversation with someone else in their circle who is influencing them, too!
It’s the little moments, under the age of 13, that define who these kids grow up to be when they’re adults. And “Kids these days are the way they are because of adults these days”. Let’s do better adults!