11 Thoughts on Teaching Children to Ride Aspire Equestrian Style

teaching kids to ride
Aspire’s new website: http://www.aspireequestrianacademy.com/

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 😉

Aspire’s new website: http://www.aspireequestrianacademy.com/

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.

Aspire’s new website: http://www.aspireequestrianacademy.com/

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 😉

Aspire’s new website: http://www.aspireequestrianacademy.com/

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,




33 thoughts on “11 Thoughts on Teaching Children to Ride Aspire Equestrian Style”

  1. I found this post really interesting and I wish my daughter (and I) could have some lessons with you!

    I daren’t comment on some of the examples of bad teaching I’ve come across or this comment will be six miles long. It’s a hard one to crack in some ways: for example, my daughter and I have very limited access to riding schools in our area (there isn’t much here), so if there was a problem with anything, what do we do? My general response would be, move school and find a better instructor, but if there’s nowhere else to go?

    I’m lucky in that I do ride with my daughter so, most of the time, I can see what’s going on and I do make the odd suggestion. But again, you can’t go too far with this, because you’re potentially undermining the instructor.

    The bottom line is, children need committed, thoughtful trainers. And we need more of them.

    Please keep flying the flag for doing the right thing and thank you for re-blogging my post, even though I am a bad mother for letting my child canter like that.

    1. Thank you! Maybe one day 🙂
      I wouldn’t call you a bad mother, sometimes there just aren’t places to receive quality riding education and that’s what ‘bad’.
      I feel this is such a waste of a wonderful sport at lower levels where so much can be learnt not just about riding but about life (through horses) in general.
      I wish there were more RS level instructors rebelling at low quality tuition, refusing to teach at shabby standard and like you said, being thoughtful and committed.
      Perhaps one day quality grassroots education in riding will catch up with that of tennis or football…

      All the best,

  2. Catching, leading, and grooming gives the horses as well as the kids a chance to get acquainted. But I only give beginners reins after they can take the horse through both upwards and downwards transitions- walk/trot/canter/halt- with their seat alone. Then even if they don’t have an intellectual understanding those neural pathways are laid down and become second nature. I also teach a flying dismount at all three gaits. If kids know they can easily hop off when ever they wish, anxiety goes way down, and again, even if the brain shorts out in an emergency the body still knows what to do. The combination reduces injuries and accidents to a minimum. I also like to start older kids learning about reins with ground driving, following the ‘teach one thing at a time’ principle, but little ones rarely have the coordination or size to keep up with the horse.
    Sadly, as you mentioned, getting the students (and their parents) to agree to work on the basics is the real challenge.

    1. Thank you for sharing those! I am seriously impressed you teach flying dismount to all kids 🙂 It was really refreshing to read!
      I really like the idea of ground driving, I have done long reining with kids and they like it a lot but more from whole body control perspective.

      1. Most kids enjoy the flying dismount. Hopping off a cantering horse and landing on their feet gives them a genuine accomplishment to brag about, motivates them to keep working on their riding, and gives the instructor a nice dramatic answer to the persistent ‘when can I ride by myself’ question. It also makes it much easier to give anxious kids the time they need to get comfortable on the horse.

      2. There isn’t a single riding school I know that would let me teach this in the UK! I wonder how much my insurance premium would be if I included this in my programme, probably unthinkable.
        I have hard time trying to continue with bareback lessons, now this would definitely rise some eyebrows 🙂

      3. That is really a shame as it actually prevents accidents. The horses learn not to panic when a rider starts to come off, and the riders are more secure because they know how to get down if they need too. New Mexico has a state law limiting liability for horse related injuries which helps the legal situation. I suppose you could try calling it vaulting to keep the insurance companies happy.

      4. Yes I think calling it vaulting would be the only way to even have it on the programme. I have a feeling that you then need a qualified vaulting instructor on site and your insurance fee is higher.
        I agree though that it is very helpful both for ponies and children.

      5. Given that horseback riding has the highest rate of serious injuries of any sport, I’d think that insurance people would be glad to have instructors give some consideration to how one gets on and off their horse. After all, most horse related injuries do occur when the rider falls off! Unfortunately, the situation probably wont change unless the BHS or the FEI takes it up as a cause and that is unlikely.

  3. I always find it important when teaching children it’s all about FUNdamentals! I always include lots of games. They learn so many things indirectly. I also find it so important to work on their equitation at a young age. That ‘chair seat’ is extremely hard to get them out of once they have it. Enjoy the children…they are so brave and we learn so much teaching them!

    1. I agree 🙂 Sadly, I am quite rubbish at games and all the “playing ponies” they so need so I usually stick to older children and teenagers but love teaching the little ones too 🙂

  4. I really like the way you teach children! I came across your blog because I’m going to teach a 10 year old her first riding lesson and so far I only tought adults or teens before. I also found tons of videos on youtube that were totally not my style, so I’m very happy to find some quality information here on your blog. I’m planning a series of blog posts dedicated to beginner riders and your post just reassured me in my opinion and style of teaching. Thank you!

    Best regards from Germany


  5. You have taken the words right out of my mouth. I wish there was a riding teacher like you somewhere around where we live. Here everything is kick-to-go and pull-to-stop etc. Drives me mad. I was lucky enough to have been taught the proper way. And I am so frustrated at the poor standard of teaching in our area that I am seriously contemplating to buy a safe pony and teach my daughter myself, given that I can actually find a pony that knows the meaning of aids somewhere around here! The thing I don’t understand is that all these “bad” instructors are BHS approved. How is that? They must have been properly trained and tested?!

    1. Hi Tina, thank you for your comment – I ask myself the same question over and over (“The thing I don’t understand is that all these “bad” instructors are BHS approved. How is that? They must have been properly trained and tested?!”) and I am as perplex as you are. Very sad indeed.
      I teach a teenage girl on one of my coaching programmes (Foundation); she also helps out at a big riding school. She’s just about learning to control her seat in canter, yet, during her “helper lesson” she was shown and told how to lower her reins and see-saw on her horses mouth to “round and lower the neck”. I despair. That’s also a BHS Approved Centre where she helps. It pains me especially that I make sure she learns the right way that is horse wellness focused and that teaches her how to create better balance in the horse and better posture without cruelty of idiotic rein actions.
      She is a lovely rider and one day will be a great rider if she stays in the industry. It’s so incredibly frustrating to hear about the practices she is asked to follow at the centre.

  6. Hi,
    I’m just entering the world of pony club & to be honest I’m not liking or enjoying it one bit. I’m myself a rider but slowly retraining/teaching myself a better way of riding which after 32 years, old habits die hard… So now my girls are starting to show a little interest I want to make sure they get a better start. I’m very interested in your no kick, no reins policy. How do you achieve this? Does it come back to a well educated mount? Thank you in advance

    1. Hi Vanessa, thank you for stopping by! I believe the healthy approach comes from well educated teachers and ponies as well as the well thought out riding programme. If the main objective is to progress fast and “have fun” without regards for how “fun” it is for the ponies taking part, then it’s very difficult to maintain more horse friendly methods. I hope you find the right environment for your girls to ride with empathy and understanding 🙂

      1. I agree with the “how fast’. I think from what I’ve seen they want their kids riding fabulously quickly & all I can see is lots of kids with whips & falling apart when they don’t have ‘the enforcer’ the whip. They’re all going but they’re all hanging on to their reins to balance themselves. It certainly doesn’t look fun for anyone esp the ponies… I’d like to teach my girls quietly at home but just need a plan of how best to do this.?!?

      2. Yes, sadly this is quite the picture at many centres.
        I personally always start with groundwork, both with adults and children. They learn the principles of pressure and release with as basic exercises as walking and halting, reining back, walking again. They also learn how to move pony’s hindlegs and shoulders on the ground by touching the hind leg with a longer whip and by correct positioning of their own body to move pony’s shoulders. I teach to use the whip as an extension of a hand or leg, never as a tool for punishment or a nagging tool.
        It’s way beyond the scope of this comment for me to describe the whole plan but you could try to get hold the “Think Like a Pony” books and workbooks as they might give you a nice framework to follow 🙂
        Here is a link to the books on Amazon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akvi9B3oafQ&list=UUX_tkh7a4yFG_ObCyHVrR4g

  7. I would also spend some time working with the ponies yourself as if they were fear trained i.e. if no whip nothing happens, it will be difficult for the children to be effective when not applying fear driven methods.

  8. I would love to learn the flying dismount, would certainly make me feel more secure! When my daughter was very little, I taught her initially on my little old pony with reins attached to his head collar so I knew she wouldn’t be pulling his mouth around. I have also taught her to get on and off both sides (something I can’t do as the left has been so ingrained in me). One major thing I have taught her and any of her friends who have come to have a ride is the fact they are on a living, breathing pony, not a toy or machine. I always ask them to cuddle the pony at the end and say thank you. When they are on them, they can’t see the face of the pony and I think it is easy to forget it has feelings. This goes along with what Wiola says about getting the children grooming etc. We have also practiced times tables and spellings at different gaits – doing two things at once, getting used to the horse’s movements and improving balance without realising it and doing homework, much more fun on horse back!!

  9. Really really interesting ideas. We have just bought our 4 &5 year old daughters a very quiet Welsh Section B, they found my 16.2hh ID X a little too large…… I have grown up with ponies and my daughters started getting interested six or seven months ago (it has taken that long to find the perfect pony). I have always found riding a new horse with my eyes closed one of the best things to do – ride with your mind. I would be interested how to get over ‘stop – pull and go – legs’. Any more information on this. We rode her for the first time today and I could hear myself saying it but it didn’t sound right. She is a really sensitive little mare and I would hate her to loose that!

    1. Hello Louise, thank you for your comment and sharing your story 🙂
      I teach the principle of passive resistance to stop but mostly to children 7 years up (I have done it with younger children but they don’t really have the focus or upper body strength at that age so I find it tricky and would probably help myself by leading or voice training the pony so it reacts quicker to the lighter signals). To stop I teach progressive halts i.e. teach them to shorten the horse’s steps until the horse/pony can’t walk anymore and halts. We progress to less and less “shorter steps” once both the child and the pony start communicating better with each other. I caught a glimpse of this on a video recently although it’s not very instructional: https://www.instagram.com/p/BJ5RtwPg1yn/?taken-by=aspireequestrian The horse the girl is on has a bad habit of pulling the reins out of rider’s hands but she has been better and better since the girl learnt to release pressure with good timing. She’s 8 years old and have been riding for several months.

      As to legs to go – it depends whether I have “hot” or lazy pony. On a hot one, I teach inwards squeeze with upper calf that lasts to a count of two plus tell them to imagine they are getting ready to run so they sit up and “motivate” the body. I help with the voice to cue the horse.
      With a lazy one I teach quick tap wit the lower leg that is faster than the pony’s steps (tap-tap) but avoid calling it a kick so the kids don’t learn it’s ok to treat the pony like a football.

      At 4/5 I would just focus on training the pony so it’s very tuned in to the voice, work with it in-hand so it’s switched on as much as possible to body language and take it from there 🙂

      Good luck!

  10. My 4 year old son who has been riding for two months has a decent sitting trot but he can’t seem to get the hang of rising trot. The instructor is reluctant to give a 4 year old beginner private lessons. What can I do to help him (especially out of the saddle as he only has access to a horse once a week)?

    1. Hello Mika, thank you for stopping by and comment 🙂
      I personally would let him do everything in sitting trot, once he is older he won’t want to do it so often! If that’s the way he is comfortable, I would;t force rising trot and I too would be reluctant to push them at such a young age. I would wait until 5-6 years old and make sure the pony isn’t too wide for him so he can actually physically perform rising trot.
      Many very young children have a lovely posture and good enough core stability for gentle introductory rides so I would put emphasis on relationship with the pony rather than on riding technique at this stage.

      All the best,

      1. Thanks for your comments. I agree the emphasis should be on enjoyment especially at a young age but just thought I would ask as my son loves horses but gets a little discouraged when the instructor tells him he should be able to rise in the trot by now.

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