Kids and horses

I was recently musing about whether there might be some life-sustaining, mortgage-paying way to combine racing and education; while many companies employ educators and establish education programs about their work, my sense has been that most of them don’t pay a lot and don’t provide the same sort of perks (read: vacations) that my current field does, so while I have toyed with such ideas in the past, I have always concluded that my current gig is about the best a person could hope for.

But, intrigued, I thought more about possible intersections between racing and education. I received a press release not long ago from the National Museum of Racing, announcing that its pre-school program would start up again this fall; while not directly mentioning horses or racing, the Museum website notes that each class consists of story time, learning a letter and number, and a craft project—easy enough to incorporate information about horses and racing. “A” is for Appaloosa, “B” is for betting, “C” is for canter, “D” is for daily double…

Kids LOVE horses; I’ve never been around a little kid who hasn’t been psyched to come to the barns, to pet the ponies, to watch horses run. Children abound on backstretch tours and at morning workouts at Saratoga; at Belmont, the outriders attract flocks of kids as they wait in the tunnel between races, bringing the ponies near for the young visitors to pet and offer peppermints.

So how to get more kids to the track, increase interest in horses, and perhaps cultivate future fans?

Clearly the track itself is not the place to start; not enough racetracks offer the sort of kid-friendly atmosphere that would make for a great field trip, and I can see the permission slip now:

Dear fourth grade parents,

On Wednesday, February 11th, your child’s class will be heading to
Aqueduct for a fun-filled day of the practical use of fractions in a
multi-cultural environment that we hope will stimulate a life-long interest in
horse racing…

Though perhaps parent chaperones wouldn’t be so hard to secure?

So we can’t take the kids to the track…but we can take them to the backstretch.

Yes, the backstretch is a working environment; grooms, trainers, and riders are all busy during training hours, but surely one person—an assistant, a foreman, a long-time groom?—could be designated to host the occasional school group?

Kids could learn about equine physiology (biology); the history of the horse (evolution); training methods (health/P.E.). They could read books about horses in preparation for their trip (language arts); they could time horses as they run (math). Under the right circumstances, maybe a lucky few could get a ride a stable pony. Hey, where will Funny Cide be this winter?

Serendipitously, as I considered the viability of such a plan, I checked out Kerry’s latest post at Thoroughbred Brief, and, what do I find but Project Hoofbeat, a “teacher’s guide…and information about Virginia’s equine industry, classroom activities and field trip ideas.” It’s a product of the Virginia Racing Commission, “with assistance from the Virginia Equine Ambassadors.”

Included in this 51-page publication is information on the history and importance of the horse in Virginia; a variety of lesson plans centered around the horse, including one that introduces students to various equine terminology (blinkers, juvenile, post parade) and then asks them to use their new vocabulary in a crossword puzzle; instructions for science experiments; and creative writing exercises, et al.

And of course, at the end, are field trip suggestions. As the publication notes, “Field trips are an important part of maximizing a child’s educational experience and providing hands-on opportunities to explore a subject matter.” At the top of the list? Colonial Downs.

It’s really a great collection of learning and activities, combining a variety of elements of the horse world with sound educational skills; it reminds me a little of the after-school curriculum of Ice Hockey in Harlem, with whom I worked for many years (playing Simon Sez was never so much fun: “Simon Sez make the referee signal for hooking…”). In that program, we taught math by computing the Rangers’ total number of points by looking at the number of wins/ties/losses (we seldom needed a calculator); vocabulary by defining the names of various teams; and geography by locating the cities, states, and provinces represented in the NHL. Kudos to the Virginia Racing Commission and the Virginia Equine Ambassadors for putting together this curriculum–reader/commenter LindaVA, be proud of your commonwealth!

And NYRA, if you’re ever looking for an education coordinator, I hope you know where to start…

12 thoughts on “Kids and horses

  1. Superfecta: Am I too old to sign up for that?Brooklyn: “the history of the horse (evolution)”…tsk, tsk. EVERYBODY knows the horse appeared 4000 years ago when the earth was formed.

  2. Heh, I was actually getting ready to post the link to the VA Racing Commission when I saw that you put it up. In Virginia there are also racing events that have a more “kid-friendly atmosphere,” like Foxfield, the VA Gold Cup, Montpelier, and lots of Point-to-Point races. The advantages of using the horse in education is getting more recognition. I even read an article in the Wall Street Journal the other day about UNC’s MBA program, where they take the students out to a farm, where they learn about how horses think and behave, and then teams of four work with a horse and get it to move in a certain pattern.

  3. Cool stuff. I know my boys LOVE visiting the backside in the morning when we’re running at Canterbury. They may like it more than race day – unless they are getting their picture taken (they are VERY competitive). A school field trip may be too much for them to take!

  4. Love the line about the practical use of fractions in a multicultural environment.The Museum of Natural History in New York had a big exhibit on the horse this past year, though it didn’t particularly focus on thoroughbreds. They always have half the school kids in NYC going through there, so perhaps a few seeds were planted.

  5. Very cool program in the UK! When are you going to write a post about it? How hard could it be to launch a similar program here? I keep saying that I’m going to go to that horse exhibit…but I haven’t quite made it. A little more emphasis on racing would get me there…Thanks for reading and commenting, folks.

  6. “The Museum of Natural History in New York had a big exhibit on the horse this past year…”And there are seven full size horse sculptures, on loan from Saratoga Springs,outside the museum.

  7. why in the hell haven't they thought to put CAROUSELS @ the damn tracks a four hundred years ago & promote THEM…& yes you can take kids to the track…FRONT OR BACK(don't have to be 18yo to get in HORSE TRACK just to make wager i think)…get real here…BELLWETHER has a ton of ways to bring this NATIONAL TREASURE back to the top of the sports world where it belongs, but you folks look the other way cause you don't have the next HOOLA HOOP & we do…LONG LIVE THE CAROUSEL @ HOR$$$$$E TRACKS EVER WHERE if we can get them to listen…built by AMERCIANS IN AMERCIA…WOW WHAT A CONCEPT!!!…"Carousel Of Legends" trademarked…TAX BINGO TOO…

  8. I know one little man who is always helpful on field trips to the barn. He understands why horses can wear “boots” and “shoes” at the same time and how to brush a horse and feed one. To bad he still doesn’t have the key to the late P4 at Belmont…BTW, I’d be happy to chaperone a field trip to Aqueduct!

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