Most parents and all riding-lesson givers want a dependable, somewhat lazy (one with more whoa than go) horse for their children.  Such horses are also called “bomb-proof” because if something startles them, they won’t shy, rear, buck, or run away.  Nothing startles them, not even a bomb.

Prim, my fraidy-cat trail horse.  In 22 years she has only dumped me once, and it was my fault.  Not hers.

Prim, my fraidy-cat trail horse. In 22 years she has only dumped me once, and it was my fault. Not hers.

Even many adult riders prefer horses like this, especially trail horses.  I personally prefer “reactive” horses, to use my veterinarian’s term—horses like Prim, who want to go.  Nearly everything startles her—a trail ride isn’t complete unless she’s jumped off her feet at least once. But I can honestly say that she taught me more than any riding instructor ever did.

On the other hand, this flighty mare who views nearly everybody, including my husband, with suspicion, melts when confronted with children.  My nearest neighbors have four, and when this particular incident happened, all of them were under eight years old.  They saw me and Prim walking down our dirt road and ran out of the yard to greet us.  That alone should have caused Prim to shy, but she craned her long neck in their directions while I watched—with increasing dismay—the whites of her eyes.  In a matter of seconds we were surrounded by four kids.  It was summer, so they were all barefoot, and the oldest boy’s chin was lower than the toe of my boot.  One little girl patted Prim on the shoulder.  Her smaller sister patted her knee.  Their two older brothers patted her ribcage behind the girth, and her hock.  I took a deep breath, smiled, and said casually, “Hi!  How are you?”  I knew if I spoke any louder, or in a different tone of voice, I would startle Prim.  But I also knew that if these children had been grownups, she would have figured they were up to no good, spun around, and headed for home.  Yet she did none of those things.  She was so frightened I could feel her heart beating, but she let all her sensitive parts be petted by small, strange hands and didn’t made a move.

I’m not saying, “Get your child a spooky, fraidy-cat horse.”  Wait a few years, until your child has grown up a little (early teens, at least) and can handle her horse in a variety of situations.  I am saying, never underestimate a horse’s intuitive understanding of a situation.