Hey, Moms: Do Good Riders Make Good Drivers?

Horseback riding can help youngsters become good drivers as they learn to pay attention to where their horse is going plus watch out for ‘traffic.’

Skills learned in the saddle will help teens when they get behind the wheel, too. Photo by Jennifer Paulson

“No, I’m serious.” Valerie, another horse mom at the group lesson I’d brought my daughter to, pressed her point. “Her riding is making a real difference.”

She was talking about her teenage daughter, then at the age to get a learner’s permit for driving. Valerie said her daughter’s experience in the saddle was helping her become a careful, troubleshooting, multi-tasking driver.

It just makes sense, doesn’t it? When you drive a car, you’ve got to watch where you’re going and plan your route. Eyeball everything coming at you and figure out how to get safely past it. And, yes, multi-task…though by this I mean watching out for traffic while, say, looking for a street address—not texting while putting on lip gloss.

These are all skills learned in spades by the safe rider. Watching where you’re heading. Troubleshooting oncoming hazards. And multi-tasking out the wazoo—by keeping your horse framed up and your heels down and your hands soft, all in addition to everything else.

Head-on traffic. Intrigued, I asked around and discovered other horse moms who’ve noticed this rider/driver “enhancing” effect. April, for example, told me her eldest daughter, Erin, compares driving on the freeway to negotiating the warm-up arena at a show—“except on the freeway, the cars aren’t coming at you head-on.” Copy that.

There are some downsides. April’s younger daughter, Lindsey, says she keeps forgetting to use the rearview mirror when she drives “because horses don’t have one.” Hmm. Good point.

Heck, yeah! I emailed Katie Phalen, an experienced riding instructor and horse mom, for her insights. Was riding helping her then-teen girls become better drivers?

“Hah!” she emailed back. “How about yesterday, when my 16-year-old was driving down the street, turned to watch her riding instructor doing chores, and clipped a mailbox? Thank God for retractable mirrors.”

Katie says her daughter immediately steeled herself for the inevitable I-told-you-so.

“I know, I know,” she said to her mom. “If I look somewhere, the horse goes that way, and same with a car. But a horse isn’t going to run into a mailbox.”

Maybe not, but… Katie said the look-where-you’re-going rule is one of the key commonalities of riding and driving. And this includes avoiding looking down.

“I tell my students, ‘Yes, that’s a beautiful blond mane, but it’s not where you should be looking. Would you look down at the steering wheel while backing out of your driveway?’”

Katie says there are so many correlations between riding and driving that she tells her group-lesson parents, “You’re going to thank me for this in a few years.”

As youngsters learn the rules of the arena, they’re getting great preparation to follow the rules of the road—always with a safety-first mentality.

All of which makes the expense of horses seem like a darn good investment. Do you agree? Let us know on Facebook.


Bob Avila on what youth riders should know.

H&R’s editor on being a toddler mom in the horse world.

More great reasons why kids should ride.

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