Students work with horses in their free time

The students enjoy the unique experience of working with the animals

Sophomore+Anna+Rains+presents+her+horse%2C+Smokey%2C+to+the+judges+at+a+horse+show+in+August+2020.

By Submitted by Anna Rains

Sophomore Anna Rains presents her horse, Smokey, to the judges at a horse show in August 2020.

Avery Gathright, Mill Valley News editor-in-chief

When people think about volunteering to work with animals, the image of working in a shelter with cats and dogs often comes to mind. For sophomore Natalie Lawson, though, this means working with horses.

Lawson, who has been volunteering at Fire Stables in Lenexa for 6 years, has many responsibilities with the horses.

“I will brush the horses, and I tack them up, and then I get them ready for their lessons, and sometimes when new kids are riding, I’ll lead the horse around the arena so that the kid is not all by themselves,” Lawson said. “I can help teach kids how to ride and then when we’re done for the day, I’ll help clean up the arena, sometimes we clean out the horses’ stalls, and we take the horses outside for the night.”

The unique opportunities that horses provide when working with them is what attracts Lawson to them.

“I’ve always been drawn to them. It’s more exciting because they’re a bigger animal,” Lawson said. “You can do stuff with them that you can’t do with other animals, like with a dog, you can’t ride a dog and you can’t really train it to do all the things you can do with a horse.”

Sophomore Anna Rains, who volunteers at Freedom Farms in Bonner Springs and competes in horse shows, also enjoys the company horses provide.

“I like that you can learn their specific personalities better [than other animals] if you work with horses, they all have different mannerisms, it’s just really interesting to see their different personalities,” Rains said.

Additionally, Rains notes that, contrary to popular belief, riding horses can be a difficult task.

“A misconception I have heard a lot lately is that people think that riding horses is easy because it looks so easy, you’re just sitting up there, but it’s actually really hard, it takes a toll, physically,” Rains said. “But it’s hard mentally too because you have to focus on all these specific things and know how to do them in a certain way so the horse knows that you are communicating to them to do that specific thing.”

She enjoys working with the horses, but Lawson notes that the cost can be a drawback. 

“Everything horse-related is really expensive, in general,” Lawson said. “[Do] you want to buy riding pants that are literally yoga pants? They are twice the price just because they’re for horses. To buy a polo shirt, you can buy one to go to work in, it’s twice the price to get one to ride a horse. It’s insane.”

Rains, generally rides her favorite horse, Smokey, an American Quarter Horse. She enjoys competing in a variety of events, known as classes, at horse shows with Smokey.

“There’s Showmanship, which is leading the horse on the ground, going through patterns,” Rains said. Horsemanship is the same thing but with riding, and then there’s Western Pleasure, where there are multiple people in there, and you go around the arena and the judges tell you what to do and you just do it as best as your ability. There’s another favorite of mine called pole-bending, where you weave through poles as fast as you can, it’s a timed event too. I’ve done about 3 or 4 [shows] so far, and horse shows are a very long event. I go there at 8 am, and it ends around 5 pm. After it, I’m usually exhausted.”

There are some dangerous parts of working with horses, which Lawson acknowledges.

“Some of the horses will charge at you if they don’t like what you’re doing, so [you have to be] cautious and know what they’re thinking,” Lawson said. “I’ve been bitten twice, but not badly. I’m fine, it happens, you have to know that it can happen.”

Despite the risks, Lawson finds connecting with the horses fulfilling.

“It’s rewarding, with their trust and they’ll come to you and they know who you are and they let you pet them and they let you give them hugs…and it’s great to have a bond,” Lawson said.

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