At Super Six we have developed a Junior League aimed specifically at bringing youngsters into the riding arena with a non-gambling series of events in a diverse space where nobody is excluded. We believe the future of this wonderful sport lies in getting those young hands on the reins and fostering a deep love for the racing world and the equine athletes who run the races.
Why is this imperative?
Most racing insiders do not believe it is possible to make horseracing a mass participation sport. We disagree for two reasons. Firstly, riding schools across the world are desperate to grow their businesses and are constantly looking for novel ways to attract young riders to the sport.
Secondly, if racing is to survive in a world of data, tech, and online attractions for children it simply must open to a new audience through innovative inclusionary and participatory elements. Large multinational sport rights holders and businesses across the globe have made this their number one focus, understanding that their survival and longevity depends upon success in this area.
The good news is that a host of studies and research provide evidence that horses and the associated sports are perfectly well suited to the positive development of children.
Horses make wonderful childhood companions. Children are naturally attracted to them, and that makes horses a desirable alternative to TV-watching, Internet-surfing, or just “hanging out.” Horseback riding also puts children in touch with nature, and can be enjoyed alone or in groups.
“A great horse will change your life. The truly special ones define it…” Unknown origin.
Below are six generally agreed upon benefits for all children who participate in riding, jumping and running horses.
1. Fitness and Health
Any type of sport brings physical health benefits and riding a horse or pony isn’t any different. It is commonly known that globally, child obesity figures is becoming an epidemic. South African dietician and nutritionist Professor Rina Swart conducted a study in 2021 which demonstrates that in the last decade, the obesity rate children has increased from one in twenty to one in eight children. “And it is estimated that by 2030 if we continue at this rate at least three out of every five children will be obese,” said Swart, also an academic at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).
The importance of getting children outdoors first starts with the physical advantages, and given the figures — it’s clearly important to get them involved as young as possible. Megan Hawkins, PR Executive for the British Horse Society (BHS), says: “Horse riding is a great way to get your children outside in the fresh air and keep them active.”
This gets our youth away from their screens and the inactivity associated with gaming and television consumption. Apart from its strength development aerobic benefits, riding also helps a youngster develop balance, coordination, and flexibility.
2. Lifelong well-being
The younger a child is introduced to a sport the more likely they are to continue with that sport for the rest of their lives. For youngsters riding offers great lessons in life. The value of perseverance and dogged determination, hard work, the rewards of empathy, how to deal with disappointment and losing, while also experiencing the sweet taste of success are all aspects that come into play when children are passionate about riding horses.
There are many obvious health benefits to riding, including developing a strong core and legs, but there are also many less obvious benefits, such as increased confidence and introspection.
3. Making new friends
Getting your children out into new environments is a great way to help them make friends. Riding can lead to social-life benefits and meeting new people that could develop into life-long friends. British show rider and producer Natalie Reynolds says: “The friendships gained within riding disciplines are often life long, and it can be beneficial that children have different sets of friends to only their school friends.”
4. Confidence booster
Learning to ride and care for an animal that’s twice their size can really empower children. Having an animal as large as a horse do what you ask it to do is a confidence-boosting experience. One can’t simply “ride” a horse. A person must develop skills and a relationship with the animal in order to be an effective team. This means working daily to improve communication skills. Horses respond to how a person uses body language to communicate with them. This skill takes years to develop and hone, but is priceless both in and out of the arena.
There’s also confidence in a job well done. Some kids don’t have terribly well-trained horses. They don’t win horse shows or go on to be lifelong horsemen/horsewomen. But they do gain confidence by setting goals and working toward them. There is also confidence to be gained by cleaning your equipment well or running a personal best in a practice ride or learning a difficult skill or helping someone else at the stables learn a skill you have mastered.
5. Learning life-lessons
Riding is great for instilling an attitude in children that success and rewards comes off the back of hard work. Looking after a horse or pony is back breaking work and dealing with animals also helps children put others first. Being around horses also teaches children about responsibility, accountability, patience, level-headedness, empathy, kindness, and self-discipline.
The perseverance needed to ride well can also translate into improved performance in the classroom. “Riding increases a child’s focus and intensity,” observes California trainer Carol Dal Porto, “You can’t let your mind wander when you’re riding a 1,200-pound animal.” This learned concentration later shows up in kids’ schoolwork, “to their parents’ delight,” adds Dal Porto.
One of the most important things children learn riding horses is leadership. Horses are herd animals. They have a very strict pecking order in the herd. A rider gets a horse to respond to them by being the leader. Those great horse/rider teams – the one where the horse will challenge its own fear to do as the rider wants – come about because the rider has shown leadership to the horse.
And finally. A child who is taught horsemanship, which is different from simple riding, will learn humility. There is always more work to do and more to learn with horses. People working with horses will find their deficits and limitations. Those who learn from those experiences may dig deeper and push themselves harder. Horses can teach humans the real meaning of humility – to be modest and respectful – not just with horses, but with all beings we encounter.
6. Self-discipline and patience
The overall care of horses, including feeding them and keeping them healthy helps children develop respect and discipline. Learning to look after and ride a horse gives kids a sense of responsibility and accountability that stands them in great stead as they grow up. Handling, riding, and caring for a horse or pony can develop a host of positive traits in a child and developing self-respect as among the greatest benefits of their involvement.
Horses have to be fed, watered, groomed and exercised. Their stalls and equipment must be cleaned. These are daily chores. One can’t put off feeding their horse until “later” and then expect the horse to respond well. A good horseperson takes care of all a horse’s needs first and promptly, no matter what else they have going on in their life.
Horses also teach children patience and to learn from their mistakes. Horses have minds of their own. A rider has to work with the horse to get it to perform as desired. It is a partnership, and one that doesn’t always go well. Children learn that they don’t always win the horse show or race. Overcoming their frustration is the first step to understanding the value of patience.
How does Super Six Racing do all of this?
Other sport and entertainment businesses are working relentlessly on acquiring young fans from the earliest possible age. Super Six Racing does the same for horseracing as it simplifies the sport and turns jockeys and horses into local and global heroes. Our events are family friendly (which is also a key attraction for corporates and sponsors) and caters for fans of all ages. The standard short-format and team-based structure is designed to appeal to racing novices.
Ideally, the attraction of powerfully branded heroes and participation in a sport is combined and used to attract children. Over the last 10 years racing events in South Africa have struggled to maintain or grow their numbers but Super Six Racing aims to change this through family friendly venues, children focused entertainment, and fans completely focused on the sport itself.
However, this will not be enough to build a sustainable fan base. Participation is key and SSR will run Junior and Teen training and racing leagues for children in every country in which it operates. Broadcasters, sponsors, and investors want to see fans fighting for the sport they love. It begins with fans. Super Six Racing is built for a new audience of fans who can participate and enjoy the sport from before they can walk.
Jennifer Forsberg Meyer, 2019, Why Kids Should Ride, accessed 10 November 2021, <https://horseandrider.com/ >
Rebecca Haywood, 2017, 6 Reasons Children Should Learn to Ride, Accessed 10 November 2021, <https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/ >