My daughter is only 3, but the lure of screen time already has her wrapped around its finger. Given the chance at an iPad or iPhone, YouTube, and Disney+ will have her gaze fixed for hours on end.
As kids get older, the app list grows: TikTok, SnapChat, Instagram, and Facebook command hours of time each day if allowed, and the pressure is all too real to build the perfect online persona.
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That's making the job of parents and horse trainers harder than ever, as horses and safety around the barn can play second-fiddle to phone screens. It's something I'm already worrying about.
"There's just no reason for kids to have their phones out," National Reined Cow Horse Association trainer Casey Branquinho said. "If a parent needs to get a hold of the kid, they can call the trainer. It's just such a distraction. Phones should be on 'Do Not Disturb' while a kid is riding or working with their horses."
Kids and adults both like to listen to music while working in the barn (and I'm guilty, too!), adding another safety risk to the mix.
"If I'm out working horses or doing something on the ranch, and a horse gets loose or I am in a bind, I need to be able to yell to everyone for help," Branquinho said. "If I've got a loose horse, and someone is strolling down the barn aisle with AirPods in, they can't hear me yelling and could be in serious risk."
[Read More: Where You Should NEVER Tie Your Horse]
The risk is amplified by kids who lack the years of experience that seasoned horseman and horsewomen possess, Branquinho said.
"Even barn chores take so much longer when kids, and even adults, are on their phones," Branquinho added. "Instead of it taking a few minutes per stall, cleaning can take way longer. Kids will overrun water buckets while they're playing on their phones, too."
Here's the deal: Working with horses—and growing your horsemanship—is hard enough. There are so many variables in a barn, ranch or arena environment, with animals thinking and acting on their own. And the task at hand is a hard one—one that takes a lifetime with equine partners to learn. Horses are constantly reading us, our bodies, and our signals. And it's hard to get good at this game, whatever your specific discipline may be. If you're all-in, then you don't have time for distractions and notifications in the saddle and around the barn.
In the Zone
Branquinho concedes, though, that listening to music through AirPods does help some kids get in the zone to compete, especially for teenagers regularly competing against known rivals.
"Kids have peer pressure, with their rivals riding right around there in the warm-up pen," Branquinho said. "I will have them put their head phones on to get in the zone for what they need to do to compete."
Branquinho's wife Nichole added that she requires her kids to leave one earpiece in and one out, though, so the kids can stay better aware of their surroundings while warming up.
Breaking It Down
I know I'm not alone in struggling with the double-edged sword of technology. It's easy to say it's a no-go for around the barn, but in some instances, it can sure make some things easier.
So many rodeo and horse show moms and dads are on their own coaching their kids, and that can be a heavy burden to bear. In that case, technology can be of great help. With coaching and video services like Horse&Rider OnDemand, kids and parents can find a helpful, mobile service to help get them through practice sessions, junior rodeos, and horse shows. It's handy for parents whose know everything—who need someone other than Mom and Dad to give them horsemanship advice.
Plus, when my daughter someday heads out checking cows or exercising her horses across pastures, I am going to want to know she can reach me if she's in bind. But the hope, of course, is that we can instill enough discipline in her that she knows not to be playing on her phone or social media when she's riding—that it's there to give her a safety net, and her horses are her main focus. That, of course, is the hope, as is anything in parenting and horses.
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