The United States evolved from an agrarian to an industrial to a technological economy during the 20th century, and our society evolved to one of greater diversity and tolerance. Or did it? Children went from attending one-room schoolhouses to multiroomed buildings where all the world's knowledge is at their fingertips. Or did they? Information, knowledge, wisdom; all in the computer, all within reach, all there for the taking . . . but what is the yield for our youngsters in terms of real substance and sustainability? Are we equipping them for the next adventure to the moon or merely marking time? Great adventures are supported by math and science, but they are fueled by our senses and sharpened by challenging and stimulating experiences.
We can't predict the future. But we can create it.
- Jim Collins, Great by Choice
Young people are the future of every great society . As our children grow, so does our country. This has never been more true for America than it is now. Technology has made the world a smaller, faster place. It has made information available at lightning speed and yet, in many ways, we are less connected to each other and our environment and less certain about our future than ever.
We can do research without going to the library. We can read a book without touching the pages. We can communicate with people without talking to them. We can have friends around the world without visiting them. We can take classes without going to school. We can shop without leaving home.
We have instant contact with people, information and things, and yet we are less connected than ever. Our heads and hands connect with screens and keyboards more than almost anything else, and yet we are increasingly out of touch with each other and the things that really matter.
The physical reality of what really makes us tick and our hearts beat faster is seeing and touching living things and experiencing the world around us, much more so than touch screens, keyboards and game controllers.
Since the 1950s we have been concerned that TV is babysitting and raising our children. Now we have laptops and mobile apps to virtually eliminate the need for both direct human contact and any experience of our physical surroundings. We are increasingly out of touch, and woefully out of balance.
Our heads, our hearts and our hands are out of touch with the physical world-people, animals, the environment and the physical things that make our world a better place for fun, learning and socialization.
We need a reality check to strike a balance . . . between danger and safety, fun and work, learning and application, competition and sportsmanship, disappointment and perseverance, individual responsibility and teamwork, observing and doing, activity and discipline, focus and execution. We need to recalibrate our heads with clarity, inspire our hearts with passion and be encouraged to get our hands dirty-all with thoughtful intent and a natural goodness.
Think about it. We are surrounded by a homogeneous world, and insulated from real conflict, isolated from nature, and our survival is rarely tested. Our senses have become dulled to natural feelings, sights and sounds. So we make them up with "friends" on Facebook and "followers" on Twitter, and we seek thrills in reality TV from the couch.
Things don't change. We change.
Go in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.
Henry David Thoreau
We may not be able to change the world, but we can encourage our children to be well-balanced, engaging, mature, responsible and productive members of society. If our natural instincts guide us, our passion drives us and more of the natural world is our classroom.
There actually are many ways to facilitate this. Art, music, theater, dance and sports all engage our senses and our intellect. Yet, more and more, restricted curricula and austerity school budgets have reduced these offerings, and many schools have practically eliminated them. Parents bear more of the responsibility to provide experiences of a well-rounded education, for a well-rounded child. Choices abound from many community and commercial groups.
Here's a choice we urge you to consider: equestrian sports . This can be accomplished and celebrated with the natural and historic bond between horse and rider, people and the outdoors. It's a field trip with actual fields. It's teamwork between two living things, mutually dependent on each other. It awakens our senses, inspires our hearts, stimulates our heads and engages our hands. It couples education with competition and sportsmanship. Clearly, it's not for everyone, but then, what is?
In the D.C. metropolitan area, we are blessed with an abundance of riding academies and access to open spaces, where horse and rider can coexist, even flourish. Studies show, and our combined experience of more than 50 years confirms, that the natural bond between horse and rider, while often inexplicable, brings out the best in us. The impact of therapeutic riding is well known, and the positive influence on young riders goes well beyond the barn and into the classroom with better grades, into the community with better relationships, and at home with a myriad of benefits including getting the chores done. Really! For all of us, it's aerobic, invigorating and joyful.
Why consider equestrian sports? They combine pure joy with learning, responsibility, competition and good sportsmanship-in a natural setting, and they offer lifelong skills and knowledge. It's a unique opportunity to add some depth and breadth to experience. If taken seriously, it's seriously FUN, combining the balance of ballet, the rhythm of poetry, the hand-eye coordination of baseball, the power of football, the relationship to the natural world like skiing and sailing, and the child-like joy of an amusement park. And, you can start riding at 2 years old, compete in the Olympics into your 60s+, and ride cross-country into your 90s-a true lifelong experience. It offers a measure of rugged elegance that connects us to our historical roots and can propel our dreams over the moon.
Riding is something people usually love or hate immediately, so there's not a lot of wasted time and money. And if it works, many farms offer student work opportunities and scholarships to defray the costs.
And, the best reason of all . . . Straight from the Horse's Mouth : "I have been your trusted companion and beast of burden for thousands of years. I helped you clear your fields, take your products to market and deliver your mail. I carried you to church and city. You won your wars on my back. I was your first racing vehicle. I am transportation and entertainment, with the spirit of adventure you can only have on my back. I can jump a four-foot fence, dance like a ballerina and take your child for safe pony rides. I'll eat from your hand and give you my heart. You can look at me and always see your best friend. Take care of me, and I'll never let you down. I'll teach you courage and confidence for life."
Go ahead; check it out at a farm near you. It's worth the ride!