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Young Ranch Hands Can Learn Leadership Skills Early in Life!  

I believe kids can learn early on about developing leadership skills and life skills especially when you take a hands-on approach and meet them on their level. In my KinderRanch Program I work with kids as young as 4 years old who learn beginning horsemanship skills, leadership skills, and life skills. I have been working with this age group for many years now, and it never ceases to amaze me what this young set of kids can do if you just let them. With the proper guidance they can do a lot more than you think and they happen to be very good at what they do. When I teach, I like to use the method of “Teach, Allow, Encourage” while staying away from “fixing it” or “doing it” for them.  If a child drops a girth or needs help carrying a feed bucket, I allow them to solve the problem before swooping in to the rescue. Often times, another team-member will jump in to help without being asked, precisely the life skill (teamwork) I am looking for, and precisely what the term “allow” refers to. As I instruct using the method of “Teach, Allow, Encourage” the other kids start to do the same thing with each other, and it begins to create a flow within the group in which we can all work harmoniously together and get the job done. It is music to my ears when I hear the lesson being repeated as the kid’s work together, offering words of encouragement and support. Feedback from the parents is that the lessons extend well beyond the fences on the ranch.

Leadership skills for this age group include: assigned tasks, responsibility, team work, problem solving, compassion, kindness, patience, perseverance, and the list goes on. Routine is important in running a ranch and these kids know why and how to stick to a schedule. If I even veer away from the established routine, I will undoubtedly hear the choir of young ranch hands sing a hymn which always has a little lilt at the end of each sentence and sounds like, “Miss Kim, you forgot to give Cisco his “suppli-mints” (supplements) or, “Miss Kim, you forgot to get the egg from Peckie.” Peckie who predictably pecks my hand, to which I predictably shriek in response, to which the kids predictably howl with laughter. Yes, it’s ranch humor at its best.  We have a horse that needs sunscreen every day, that’s Addie’s job. We have a horse that has an owie on its back, that’s Gracie’s job. Someone has to open and close the gates, that’s Ansley’s job. And Brady, Levi, Scotty, and Caden take charge of carrying the feed buckets to the horses, while Daisy, Hailey, and Bella tend to brushing Big John. Routine is a tremendous life skill for this young set and how better to teach it than with the help of the horses, chickens, sheep, goats, and a cow named Abby! The lesson is cemented in the actual doing-ness of working on the ranch and working with the animals.  

Prepping feed buckets is a big deal around here and all the KinderRanch kids know what beet pulp is and why we use it; they know what rice bran is and why we use it; they know about pellets, sweet feed, and hay. They understand the importance of special feed for the older horses, especially those who don’t have many teeth left, and how some of the horses have a hard time holding their weight.

Conversations around the feed buckets abound and are always enlightening and smile-cracking. Typically the discussion is about the horses, how special they are, and how much they are going to enjoy their food. As their little hands meticulously squeeze and mix the feed, conversations pop up regarding future play dates, favorite cartoons, or what’s for lunch.  One day Addie, who was busily mixing her beet pulp said to Ansley, who was hoping to have a play date, “Oh Ansley, I’m so sorry, today won’t work because I have to take a nap after I go home.”  Or the day Scotty looked over his shoulder into a bucket of beet pulp and said with a tone of knowing (but polite) authority, “Nope, that’s just too much water. You’ll have to dump some out.” The other child was a bit perturbed but Scotty was right, it was too much. Attention to detail, yet another life skill added to the routine. The experience is incredible for these kids as they learn to take care of the ranch and all that live here.

Working with Big John is always a treat as he is one remarkable pony. The kids learn beginning leadership skills with him as they walk from one point in the arena to the next. With this age group it is not just about leading the horse, but includes communication, body position, confidence, and following directions, all resulting in an, “I CAN DO IT!” attitude. The look on their faces when they accomplish this big task is priceless. The fact that a seed of self-esteem and confidence has been planted is huge.

 Jeans are dirty. Boots are muddy. Dusty cheeks poke through windblown hair, as smiles cross their sun-kissed faces.  Pats on the back or hands held in unity speak to a camaraderie that grows with the seasons. As they finish up and head back to the house, their step has a bit of a strut to it that wasn’t there earlier, that self-assured way of walking for a job well done after yet another good day on the ranch. Friendships blossom, kids flourish, work is done, and self-esteem grows. Parting words of “see ya tomorrow” tumble over each other. And off they go – a bunch of tuckered out but satisfied young ranch hands!

Kim Chappell © 2021 All Rights Reserved