Today I will share with you 11 thoughts on teaching children to ride. The thing I enjoy the most about giving lessons to kids is their imagination. Unrestricted, unspoilt, free mind. I feel we can learn a lot from that as adults.
Here are some of my “rules” when teaching 6 to 9 year old pony mad kids:
1) I get the child to help me prepare the pony for first lesson. Especially, when they are afraid of ponies. It lets me show them how to groom and tack up the pony. From my experience most kids love doing it.
2) I teach them basic pony body language before they get on.
3) I let them just feel the movement of the pony first before letting them touch the reins. I always start on the lunge or lead rein doing various exercises to get the child to feel happy in the saddle and connected with the pony.
4) I always teach sitting trot first. Most children, if not scared or tense, will follow the movement of the pony’s back beautifully.
5) Over the years I noticed that children best learn rising trot if they watch it done well first…kids are masters in imitation. I learnt to never underestimate that 😉
6) I take them out of the arena for lead rein walks over as varied terrain as possible. I even took London kids on local common in an attempt to recreate “hacking out” and I can tell you that their imagination transforms the boring field into the most exciting, adventure park! Small hills are mountains, little downhill descents are a bottomless drops, there are lions (brown dogs) and wolves (darker dogs) from which ponies must escape from (because in the wild the lions and wolves would be the natural predators – just in case you didn’t know 😉
Experiencing different terrain works magic on balance, movement awareness and on pony knowledge…It teaches feel.
7) I never teach “kick to go”, “pull on the reins to stop” event to tiniest tots. I have taught thousands of little kids and they are all capable to understand passive resistance when explained well. Over the years I worked for riding schools where semi-green ponies were used that had little clue about rein aids and would run through the bridle, twist necks, pull down etc etc I taught kids how to be strong with upper body, how to bridge the reins and how to use the pommel of the saddle to help with stability. I know that once you learn to pull back it takes lifetime to unlearn. I also hate seeing children pulling ponies mouth apart and moving legs forwards to create leverage. It’s my pet hate so never teach any backwards use of the reins.
8) With children who are not scared, I canter them very early on on lead rein. I use ponies with good, slow canter and run with them. Absolutely love Welsh sec A ponies for this work. They are ace, little power houses and much nicer for children than Shetland Ponies who are way too independent most of the time 😉
I canter children early on as a movement experience NOT to teach them to canter. Experiencing all paces increases confidence and self-awareness. I never to this with children who are scared for whatever reason. With those I tend to work in walk until they are so “bored” or grown in curiosity that they beg me to go faster 😉
9) I only teach canter once child sits well in trot, is balanced in all basic figures and basic transitions.
10) I like chatting with kids and let them learn in their own way. I like coming up with exercises that teach something without the child even realising he/she is being taught. Having said that, I am not good at “games”, I find them boring. I like teaching to ride not teaching how to use ponies as a “play tool”…
11) It is thought children love being in groups at young age but I find that 5 out of 10 kids will love private lessons and will learn better this way. Not all children enjoy learning in groups. I always recommend parents to book some private lessons if they can afford them because learning aside, kids build an incredible relationship with the pony they ride when it’s just the “two of them”. That partnership and connection is what I strive to teach from young age.
Do you teach children? What are your thoughts? Please share in comments if you have a minute 🙂
All the best,