Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When to Start

A lot of people ask me when is the best time for kids to start taking lessons. They are always surprised when I tell them between seven and nine years old, depending on their ability to focus and follow directions.

I suppose we are fixated on the age of young athletes—during every Olympics there is the “up close and personal” profile of a superstar who started a sport “before she could walk!” But the truth is, unless kids are able to get on a horse every day or several times a week, they are just not going to be that amazing protégé in an hour a week, at least not right away.

I remind parents that even the youngest beginning riders have to multi-task when they start riding. There are so many things to remember: heels down, sit straight, look up, process instructions given by the instructor, have some fine motor skills for holding the reins correctly, just to name a few. Anything else is a pony ride, which is fine, but given the cost of lessons these days, it’s not unreasonable for parents to want their kids to learn at a safe pace on quiet horses and have some fun, too.

Practicing riding skills on bare back improves balance.
Expectations are important, too. When I help my trainer start a new group of beginners who have not even touched a horse before, we are careful to set expectations for kids and parents alike. Hollywood movies have etched into our brains that iconic image of a cowboy hopping on the back of a horse without a care and galloping into the sunset (without a helmet, no less). We explain that the first few lessons are slow and heavy on the basics and big on safety: entering a stall, leading a horse correctly, mounting, dismounting, starting, stopping, the basics of steering. 

Safety first! Daisy is an excellent teacher.
She won't let young riders rush her out of her stall.

So, parents of the horse-afflicted, my advice is to make sure your kids really want to ride, are willing to follow directions and know that their first lessons won’t be wild gallops through flowering meadows and rainbows. If they are more interested in the petting the barn cat than the ponies, wait a year—for their safety.

1 comment:

  1. It's good to see you back! I've missed reading your posts. You are my window into the riding world for now. Take care. Give Truce a hug for me.