A Child's Safe Start to Horseback Riding
Make sure your child gets a safe introduction to ponies
-- here's how.
By Jayne Pedigo from Equisearch.com

The way in which your child is introduced to ponies and riding may remain
an influence well into his or her adult life. A safe, fun experience will
probably result in a life-long love of horses and riding, but one scare can
put a child off for life. It is, therefore, essential to ensure that the first
equestrian experience is both safe and enjoyable.

Your child may indicate an interest in learning to ride because a school
friend has recently started lessons, or has a new pony and has some
exciting and interesting tales to tell. Or there may have been an interesting
movie on television which sparked an interest in riding. In my own case, my
uncle bought a horse for my cousins when I was about eight and after one
ride around the field, I was hooked.

The best way to make sure that your child has a positive experience is to do
plenty of homework first.

Check around your local area and seek out lesson barns and instructors
that teach children.
Check in the Yellow Pages.
Ask at the local tack store.
Check local online resources that maintain directories of lesson barns etc.
Visit the stables before booking any lessons.

It doesn't have to be state of the art, but it should be neat and tidy.

There should be some kind of fenced riding arena or school in which
lessons are conducted.  There should be a variety of lesson horses, of all
sizes, suitable for beginners.  The horses should appear clean and in good
health.  The tack should be in good repair. It doesn't have to be new, but
dirty, crusted tack should send up a warning flag!

Watch some lessons to get a feel for the instructor's style.
Does the instructor get on well with children?
Does she emphasize safety?
Is she a good teacher? Does she get her point across so all students can
How does she react when things go wrong?

Talk to the parents of some of the other students at the stables.
Would they recommend the stables/instructor?
Are they pleased with their child's progress?

Most instructors offer a course of lessons at a set price. Setting up a short
course of lessons will help you and your child decide whether riding is going
to be something they want to stick with. If they really like it, you can book
more lessons.

The age at which your child starts riding can vary, depending on the child's
size and maturity. Generally, however, most instructors require children to
be at least seven years old before accepting them into a lesson program.

A reputable instructor will require that your child wear a protective helmet
from the very first lesson. Ask if the instructor has helmets that students can
borrow for their early lessons. Once you know that your child is going to
continue riding, it's advisable to go to the local tack store and get an
approved helmet for your child.

The first lesson will ideally be a private lesson and will cover such things as
the correct way to approach the pony, leading and working around the pony
safely, mounting and dismounting, position etc. Children that are old
enough will probably be taught about grooming and tacking up too.

Early riding lessons will be on the lunge line or lead line and will cover skills
such as maintaining position at the walk, the basic aids to turn and to stop
the horse and exercises to enhance balance and confidence. Once the
child can apply the basic aids to stop and turn, lessons will be conducted in
an arena or other confined area, allowing the child to practice and hone
those skills and learn new ones, such as rising to the trot, in relative safety.

Once the child is confident and capable at the very basics, some instructors
like to group two or more children together in a group lesson. Group
lessons introduce the element of friendly competition, as the children each
strive to do their best in front of their class mates and cheer each other on
as they learn a new skill.

Some stables run informal "Schooling Shows" or play days where the
children can enter competitions on the school horses. Even beginners can
enjoy these shows, entering walk and trot classes and having the chance to
win a coveted ribbon. More experienced riders can compete in games and
jumping classes. Some of my earliest ribbons were won at these types of
shows in England, in classes such as "Best Child Rider" (hard to imagine
that now!) and "Peter Pan Jumping" (nothing over 18 inches high).

Children can gain so much from riding lessons. They learn patience,
compassion for another being, responsibility, sportsmanship and a lot more.
And, as I mentioned earlier, they can result in a life long passion for horses
and the enjoyment of riding.
Woodland Horse Center
16301 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20905