Is Your Child Ready To Ride'

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Your child’s experiences with horses need to build confidence, be fun and, of course, be safe. For most parents, even horse families, the big question is when to start your child in riding lessons.

Georgia King, a trainer in Southern California, says that much depends on your child’s nature.??Is she timid or inherently brave' Usually, five is a good starting age, as the child’s ability to focus begins to mature. King starts exceptional tots as young as two, but the riding portion of the??lesson may not last more than 15 minutes, followed by stable fun.

King begins all her children with basic vaulting.?? Regardless of the discipline they ultimately choose, the balance and coordination learned in these first few lessons will set a foundation that the child will carry throughout her riding career.

Sitting astride the horse, with handles to hold, walking around in a controlled circle on the end of a lunge line, the child builds a sense of security and confidence.??She learns to feel the horse’s movement and gains a sense of independence on the horse’s back.

You’ll need to find a trainer who is good with children. Teaching youngsters requires a special blend of patience, understanding how a child’s mind works, and the experience to spot a potential problem.??

Don’t go overboard on purchasing equipment and clothing — as the novelty wears off for some children — but a properly fitted ASTM/SEI helmet and solid footwear are musts. When choosing a potential trainer, consider:

•??When the trainer is teaching, does she pay attention to the student at all times, or does she become distracted or answer her cell phone'

• Does she incorporate grooming and horse care as part of the regimen'?? Working around a horse, feeding and grooming are all part of horsemanship. It will contribute to your child’s knowledge and her comfort level around the animals.

• Are the lessons all the same' A child needs variety to maintain concentration and enthusiasm, such as short trail rides, or a switch of saddles from English to western.

• Does the trainer allow a child off the longe line before the child has enough control'??Many trainers allow a youngster to wander around the ring before the child has sufficient skills to handle the unexpected.

Once you’ve found a trainer with whom you feel confident, the lessons may also begin for you.??Being a rider yourself, you may find it difficult not to contribute.?? Sometimes the best-intentioned parent can cause stress and confusion. Pointers can be distracting and even dangerous.

We all want to share our love of horses with our children. Make your child’s first experiences the best and you can expect her to walk away with a huge smile, maybe even bigger than the one you’re wearing.