How To Teach A Child To Ride A Horse?

Learning to Ride as a Child

Finding a suitable riding stable and riding instructor for a horse-crazy kid can seem like a big job, and it is! A child’s first riding instructor teaches basic riding skills and helps develop a young rider’s confidence, both of which may very well carry over into a lifetime passion of riding horses! Even if the young rider chooses not to continue riding as an adult, the sense of responsibility and confidence that is developed has a positive influence throughout a lifetime. Choosing the right riding instructor can be broken down into three steps: deciding what style riding the child is most interested in, making a list of nearby stables to visit, and then visiting area stables and watching some lessons to determine which instructor is the right match!

Correct, solid basic riding skills are interchangeable amongst the various riding disciplines. A balanced, secure seat is essential whether a young rider aspires to jump, ride gymkhana, or pleasure ride. It is a good idea, however, to talk to your child to get an idea of what he wants to accomplish with horses. There are such a large number of riding stables in the Connecticut area that it is certainly possible to find an instructor and a riding stable that specializes in the riding discipline the potential student is most interested in.

Many resources are available when developing a list of potential riding stables. An online search for area barns, the community newspaper, and local tack and feed stores are good places to start. The local 4-H club may also be able to offer suggestions. Word of mouth can often be the best way to find a reputable stable, so ask around! A co-worker or neighbor may know of a perfect barn for your child!

The third step is actually visiting stables, talking with the instructor, and watching a lesson. Some questions to consider are:

  • Does the stable teach horsemanship skills off of the horse? Learning to handle the horse on the ground through leading, brushing, and saddling carries over to a rider’s confidence about handling the horse once in the saddle.
  • Is the barn safety-conscious? Riding helmets and shoes with a heel are a must for any rider.
  • Is the instructor experienced at teaching children? Ask the instructor about her teaching experience, or better yet, talk to the parents of some of the students.
  • Are the horses suitable for the rider’s ability level? This can be something harder to judge for a non-horsey parent. While horses can (and will) occasionally misbehave, the riders should seem confident about handling their mounts and not overwhelmed or fearful.
  • Does the instructor communicate clearly? Does the lesson seem to have an objective? Is the instructor able to change her teaching style to suit a more timid rider and then a bolder rider? Is the instructor able to explain the same thing several ways if needed? Does the instructor periodically ask for student feedback to make sure the student understands and is learning?

Once a potential stable is found, set up some trial lessons before making a commitment. This is a good idea just to make sure that the instructor can interact with the potential student in a positive way, and that the instructor’s personality and teaching style is a good match for the student’s personality and learning style. It does take some time for the instructor-student relationship to develop, so at least several lessons are needed to get a good idea of how the instructor and rider work together. A riding instructor who teaches young riders must be able to instill confidence in the student. Remember that riding is supposed to be fun! The student should trust that the instructor would never ask them to do something they are not ready for.

Learning to ride as a kid teaches patience, responsibility, sportsmanship, and compassion for another being. Often a child’s love of horses develops into a life-long passion for horses and riding. Even if riding is just a passing phase, the lessons learned at the stable carry over into other areas of life. Finding the right riding instructor is essential for giving a child a safe, fun, and positive horse experience.

By Mary Jo Zanolli

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