Since I was a teenager, I’ve always loved bringing along a green horse. There’s something about the process I find especially satisfying. Now that I have a teenage child of my own, I am fully aware of all the reasons I should want a nice, amateur-friendly schoolmaster who can babysit me and keep my body fully intact. I feel this way despite suggestions (STRONG suggestions) by my husband and my trainer that I don’t bounce like I used to and should really consider a mount that can teach me, instead of the other way around.
While it would be lovely to have something entirely predictable to ride on occasion, I don’t think I’ll be giving up my love for greenies anytime soon.
Working with the green ones has helped my ability work with my teen one. Likewise, parenting has been a tremendous resource to draw upon when running into difficulties with a young horse. Frankly, they are shockingly similar: They both require insane amounts of work with little/no pay. At times, they will both make you question everything you have ever known.
Basically it’s hard. Like really damn hard. But also amazing and rewarding. It is possible to love both your children and your horses with every fiber of your body, but not like them very much at a particular moment.
I am ok with the conflicting emotions. I’m ok with things being hard and a little sucky sometimes, because they are also wonderful and fulfilling. In both cases, it’s the transformation that makes it all worth it.
To that end, here are the biggest similarities I have found with teens and greens:
Be a Leader
While it is tempting to go the friend route, they need to know someone will show them the way when they are lost. They will have many, many friends in their lives, but only one mom. If you start as a friend and later try to set limits, you become a traitor. Stay out of the friend zone. They actually like boundaries and limits, and while they will most certainly test them, they will also look to you to provide appropriate corrections.
Have Clear Expectations and Communicate them Clearly
Being a good “parent” means teaching them right from wrong. Setting limits and being consistent are the secrets to good discipline. Be kind, but firm. It is tempting to go to physical punishment, however this does little to actually demonstrate the correct choice and instead teaches them to fear external consequences. In any event, make sure you have their attention before communicating. If I am too busy to walk into my teens room, and instead yell from downstairs, the odds are pretty good that she will be too busy to listen to what I am saying. If I wait until I know I have my horse’s attention – ears attentive, alert expression, calm demeanor – I can all but guarantee that they will “hear” what I am saying. Expect them to test you because they will, but they will also pleasantly surprise you when you least expect it.
Know Their Normal
The best way to prevent a full blown temper tantrum is to notice when things start to go awry, and stop it before they’ve reached apocalypse level. If my, normally cheerful, teen starts acting sullen and distant, I keep an eye on things. Maybe there’s an issue at school, maybe it’s hormones, maybe she’s just having an “off” day, but I’ll know to keep my spidey senses on point. If my normally chill and relaxed greenie is suddenly reactive and tense, I know to look at what could be causing the changes. Maybe his diet changed, or his turnout buddy is away at a show, or he’s not feeling well. In either case, pushing an issue when there is something more brewing beneath the surface, is going to backfire.
Pick Your Battles
While I would love for teens and greens to get everything right 100% of the time, it’s just not possible. Growing up is a process, not an event. They don’t have to get it right today, and mistakes along the way prepares them for when you aren’t around to correct everything. Try not to pick a fight unless it is literally a life or death moment. When you allow them to push your buttons and fuel your reaction, you are giving them to control over you. You lose the power. Even if you win, you lose.
Perspective is Important
Remembering your goals for you teen/green will help in the tough moments. What do you want them to accomplish? For both, I want them to have happy, productive, and fulfilling lives where they feel safe and loved. Unfortunately, we cannot force either to feel safe and loved, but we can show them. It’s so easy to get sucked into survival mode (“for the love of all that is good and holy, just let me get through this canter transition/algebra homework”). Instead, take a step back. Every negative experience has the potential to become a learning moment if we can keep perspective on the end goal. I want my teen and my green to know that I will be a safe haven when they don’t know what to do.
Learn to Let Go
Ah, the hardest thing for me! As they grow and mature, we have to give them the chance to take the reins (pun very much intended). They have to learn to fall so they know how to get back up. They won’t get everything right (and neither will I!), but that’s ok. They will learn from mistakes as much as they will learn from successes. It won’t be long before my teen can get her license, and then she will be off to college. My green will be ready to teach a kid the ropes. Hopefully with a little guidance and forgiveness, I will get to let go and watch them move on to the next phase of their lives.
There is no one recipe for success. Some teens may need a more firm hand, or some greens may need a little more grace to sort things out on their own, and vice versa. Both teens and greens will make you want to pull your hair out in frustration at times. BUT, when something clicks and you can see the lightbulb turn on, that’s the magic I live for.
Knowing that I got to be a part of the process is a pretty big reward for the moments when I wanted to give up completely. Keep your eye on the end goal. Celebrate the tiny victories. Instill confidence. And if we are lucky, we’ll get to watch our teens and greens go out in the world and (hopefully!) succeed!