The most important thing to know about riding horse is not the mechanics. It’s the relationship. It’s getting a feel for how a horse moves and what those movements mean. It’s gaining an understanding of the body language, and it’s learning how to use your own body language to communicate with the horse. This is a process that you can start when your child is just a little baby. Read on to learn how to teach a child to ride a horse naturally.
What You'll Learn Today
Children Learn By Soaking Up Knowledge
When I was a child, I was introduced to horses before I could walk. My mother took me along to take care of her trusted horse, Peaches, and I observed handling grooming feeding and vet care while I was still a baby.
I began learning to ride before I could walk, and I did this by riding in front of my mother, mostly bareback. In my opinion, this is the best way to teach child to ride a horse.
Sitting in front of my mother as we rode along, I learned to sense what the horse was feeling and thinking and to anticipate what might happen next.
I learned to watch my horse’s ears for signs of what the horse was thinking. I learned to watch far ahead for anything that might be alarming or dangerous or distracting.
I learned about reining with a light hand through simple observation and use of body weight and leg cues through the sense of touch.
Ground Work & Ponying Are Essential
When I got older, we had Shetland ponies and I began learning to ride by myself while being led. I was instructed to hold onto the pony’s mane, and I was not allowed to have reins.
The reason for this was that my mother wanted me to learn to keep my balance using my legs and seat and to avoid putting excessive pressure on the horse’s mouth.
I rode while being led from the ground and also from horseback (ponying) from the time I was about two or three until I was about five. That amount of time was probably a bit excessive, but we did go on quite a few challenging rides!
Get A Horse Your Child Can Learn From
There was a period of a couple of years when we didn’t have horses, and then when I was about eight we moved to a place where we could have horses again.
At this time, I got my own nice, gentle, settled older mare, Ginger, and began to learn to ride again.
My lessons restarted bareback, and continued with leading for a short time until I got the feel of the new horse, and then I was encouraged to ride on my own.
When my mother felt that I was completely capable riding bareback, I was allowed to ride with a western saddle and did so, off and on, until I was about 13 or 14.
At that time, I decided that I wanted learn to ride English and got myself an English saddle.
Make Riding A Natural Part Of Life
We rode just for pleasure, not show, and we rode in our 10 acre pasture or around the local neighborhood, which had quite a bit of open space.
I rode with my mother and also a neighbor who was a skilled and experienced horsewoman. Lessons were natural, informal and ongoing.
In my opinion, this is the best way for a child to learn to ride a horse.
There are a lot of articles and videos that give blow-by-blow, rather technical instructions on teaching a child to ride, and these all seem rather foreign to me.
They approach learning to ride as if it were a sport like tennis or soccer or some other activity that doesn’t involve a relationship between two living beings.
They give instructions on things like how to “steer” your horse rather than how to guide him or her.
They carry on about how short a child’s attention span is and how important it is to introduce all sorts of tricks and games to keep children engaged in learning to ride.
The fact of the matter is, if you and your child don’t find riding fascinating, you shouldn’t be doing it. Working with and handling horses is a gift.
Relationship based horseback riding involves knowing your horse and wanting to spend time with him. So, in my opinion the best way to learn to ride a horse is the way I did, as a natural extension of life.
Tips For Success
For success in this type of riding, here are a few tips you can follow.
- Work with a horse you can trust. It’s best to have your own horse, but if that’s not possible for you, ask the owner of the stable or your child’s riding instructor for an older horse who is quiet, settled and trustworthy.
- Work with a small horse. When teaching a child to ride, it’s best to choose a horse who is no taller than 13 or 14 hands high. Any taller can make the whole process difficult and scary.
- Don’t overlook donkeys and mules as possibilities for teaching your child to ride. These equines are typically quiet, gentle and easy-going.
- Don’t work with a stallion or a jack. My mother had a preference riding mares, but I prefer to ride a gelding. An unaltered stallion or jack will constantly challenge you with hormone -related negative behavior. A mare will occasionally challenge you with hormone related negative behavior. A gelding never will.
- Focus on getting your child used to being around horses with activities such as grooming, leading, feeding and simply being in close proximity. Being able to handle a horse confidently is a big part of good riding.
- Withhold lessons on reining until you’re sure that your child can keep his or her seat using the strength of upper legs and core body strength. Focus on not allowing your child to grip with his heels.
- Don’t go straight to riding with a saddle. Learning to ride bareback or with a bareback pad gives your child close contact with the horse. This is the best way to develop a secure, natural seat and core strength and to learn how to read your horse well for good communication and to avoid accidents. For security encourage your child to hold onto the horse’s mane.
- Don’t rush. Learning good horsemanship is a lifelong pursuit. If you’re rushing to teach your child to ride so that he or she can compete in rodeos, shows or whatever, you’ll be missing the point and sacrificing a lot of the joy of the experience.
Good Horsemanship Is Fun!
This video shows a little girl who is learning how to be completely comfortable with her pony. Notice that she is not reining at all, but she is entirely settled and confident around and on her pony.
I don’t recommend the acrobatics of standing up, riding backwards and other stunts that are shown in this video, but I do recommend the general attitude of making complete confidence and familiarity the main focus of teaching your child to ride a horse.
Frequently Asked Questions
Riding is excellent therapy for kids with physical disabilities because it helps with flexibility, posture and balance. Riding also offers many emotional benefits and is good therapy for kids with emotional and behavioral challenges. Of course, therapeutic horseback riding should always be well-supervised.
Caring for and riding horses helps kids learn to be confident, patient, responsible, self-disciplined and accountable. Learning to empathize with a horse can help children in developing positive and successful relationships throughout life.
This is a myth. Riding will not actually make your child grow taller, but it will help tone abdominal and back muscles as well as the shoulders and upper back. All this adds up to strong, straight posture which can certainly help a person stand as tall as possible.
Just as a calm, confident experienced rider can quiet an anxious horse, a calm confident and experienced horse can calm an anxious child. Riding may not be the best start. Children who are recovering from trauma or are anxious for any reason can benefit from just spending time with a quiet, friendly horse. Begin with feeding, grooming and just being. When the two become well acquainted, riding can be explored.
A helmet is always a must as are comfortable, well fitted jeans or breeches. For bareback riding, it’s fine to wear sturdy walking or athletic shoes, but if your child is riding with a saddle, get proper cowboy boots or riding boots with a heel to prevent the feet from sliding through the stirrups. Upper body wear should at least include a long sleeved shirt and/or light jacket to protect against scrapes and bruises. Many parents opt for horseback riding body protectors, as well.