Is Your Child Ready for Horseback Riding Lessons?

Good Balance

HorseSense Riding Academy
Kids need ample strength and balance before beginning riding lessons.

“Balance is probably as important as anything else," Surrusco says. Balance helps riders stay on their horses and communicate with them as well. Children are still developing their sense of balance, so if they’re not strong in this area, you may want to hold off signing up for lessons until they are.

Body Awareness and Coordination

Kids need to be aware of how their different body parts work together to stay on the horse or give a horse commands. For example, a child should know right from left, Mann points out.

“If you have to tell the kids to put their heels down over and over again, it may be because they don’t even realize they have heels!” Surrusco says with a laugh.

Strength

According to the Equestrian Medical Safety Association (EMSA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the safety of people in all equestrian activities, kids should have enough muscle strength to maintain the proper position in the saddle. Surrusco agrees. "Strength in a child's legs helps balance and helps communicate with the horse," she says.

Surrusco's daughter, Nikki, who has been the riding instructor at HorseSense for more than 10 years, didn't start riding until she was 8, even though she was "horse crazy," her mother says. "She had the focus but didn't have the physical mass to really be able to ride effectively. She didn't have a lot of strength in her hands and legs." Instead, Nikki learned fundamentals and safety off the horse until her body caught up and she was ready to ride safely.

Good Listening Skills

The ability to understand and follow directions is critical. Kids need to have good listening skills so they hear the instructor, follow safety rules and stay quiet to allow other children to also hear instructions. Kids who aren't paying attention can miss key information. This can be frustrating as well as dangerous for the child. School-age kids who are accustomed to listening in class usually have more experience in this area than younger children.

Attention Span

It's natural for kids to be easily distracted, but a child must be able to maintain attention for an entire lesson, advises the EMSA. And, Surrusco points out, "Most kids can't multitask.” For your child’s safety and that of other riders, horses and instructor, your little rider needs to be able to focus. Again, school-age children generally have better attention spans than younger ones.

A Bit of Patience

If you’ve determined that your child isn’t quite ready to ride, there are plenty of opportunities for her to gain equine experience if she’s still eager and willing to wait a bit before she's on a horse by herself. Pony Club offers Junior Pony Club, a program where younger children spend time around horses, caring for them and observing them before they learn to ride. This helps give them an idea of what riding is about and helps prepare them to embrace all aspects of the sport.

Surrusco's academy offers a program specifically for younger riders who aren't ready to handle a horse independently. The Rainbow Level program, which is an introductory course for riders ages 4 to 7, includes basic positions, assisting with barn tasks, walking a horse on a lead line and more. "Kids in this level don't have the focus for an hourlong lesson and can't physically control a pony without someone being there,” Surrusco says. Once a child achieves certain milestones, she can begin safely riding a horse.

With the right foundation, instruction and parental support, horseback riding can be a lifelong passion. Be sure to start your child out on the right foot.

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