Introducing Children to Horses
Before children start to ride, they need to learn how to interact with horses so that they can develop the mutual respect that characterises the partnership between horses and riders. Here are a few guidelines for how to introduce children to horses.
Never leave your child alone with a horse
Never leave a child alone with a horse, even if it's just a pony. Children don't understand animal behaviour and may not understand when they are in danger. Very young children should slowly be introduced to animals to become comfortable around them, there will be plenty of time for lessons when they are older. No matter how old your child is, they should never be left around horses without the direct supervision of someone who can teach them age-appropriate lessons about interacting with them.
Show your interest
Regardless of whether you are personally interested in horses or riding, it is important to ask your child about their experiences at the stable and constantly monitor whether or not they feel comfortable and understand what behaviours are appropriate. If you feel like your child does not know how to appropriately behave around a horse, it is your responsibility to step in and make sure they are getting the education they need.
Things children should learn about handling horses
Once your children are old enough, it is important they learn the basics of handling horses. Ideally, all children should understand this basic knowledge before beginning riding lessons.
It is important that children learn that horses are not toys or sports equipment. They should understand that horses are living beings with their own needs. They also need to understand that horses may resist commands and need to know how to behave in these cases.
Children should not only know what the basic needs of horses are, but should also understand them. This includes knowledge of how horses move, what type of feed they require, how horses behave around each other, and what kind of actions can harm horses or upset them.
A very essential point that children absolutely have to understand is: horses are essentially escape animals. If they feel threatened, they run away. They also scare easily. Children need to learn how horses communicate their moods and what behavioural indications show us what they are feeling.
It is equally important that children not be afraid of horses when they start riding. Horses are impressive creatures that inspire respect, so it is understandable that one might be afraid of them. Make sure your child feels comfortable being around horses and handling horses before they end up in the saddle. They need to learn how to feed a horse, how to groom it, and how to clean up after it before they learn to ride. They also should be comfortable leading a horse with a rope and halter. Give your child the time they need to get to learn these key basics, and don't pressure them into riding if they are afraid.
Before your child gets in the saddle, they need to know how to sit in one safely. A child MUST be able to sit safely in the saddle without using the reins before being taught how to ride freely. This ensures a pain-free experience for both the horse and rider. In addition, the child should be able to relax on the horse and have fun.
Most importantly, make sure that riding lessons and being around horses is something your child actually wants. Never force them into something they aren't comfortable with or are afraid of, no matter how badly you want for them to share your passion for horses or experience equine sports. All children are different and warm up to new activities on their own time, so make sure this activity is something your child is actively excited about.
While these tips may seem obvious, they are certainly worth thinking about! We wish all our young riders out there the very best!