* Always provide reins. First and foremost, make sure that the child (or a rider of any age) has reins to hold, even if you’re leading or ponying the horse or pony. Holding the reins will help you teach the child to cue for direction long before he or she is ready to take full control. If the child is ready, attach the reins to the bit or other mouthpiece. Otherwise, attach the reins to an under-bridle nylon halter. Be sure to snap the lead rope on the halter, never the bridle, to avoid placing pressure on the horse’s sensitive mouth tissues.
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* Look for easy-hold reins. Choose reins that are slim enough to fit easily in the child’s hands. Also, make sure there’s not too much extra rope to hold onto. Keep it simple!
* Consider cues. Consider continuous-loop reins with a narrow diameter. You might also wish to consider rainbow training reins, which allow you to give clear directions and help the child to keep the reins even. With color-coded reins, you can say, “Put your hands on the red section to shorten your reins.” Or, “Hold onto the blue portion of the reins with both hands to make sure your reins are even.”
* Invest in a breakaway bridle. Also consider the bridle. Look for one with a breakaway component designed to break free in case of emergency. An entanglement can lead to serious injury.
To learn more trail-riding skills, see Goodnight's Guide to Great Trail Riding with bonus DVD, available from www.EquineNetworkStore.com.
Julie Goodnight (www.juliegoodnight.com) lives in central Colorado, home to miles of scenic trails. She trains horses and coaches horse owners to be ready for any event, on the trail or in the performance arena. She shares her easy-to-understand lessons on her weekly RFD-TV show, Horse Master, and through appearances at clinics and horse expos held throughout the United States. She's also the international spokesperson for the Certified Horsemanship Association (www.cha-ahse.org).
Heidi Melocco (www.wholepicture.org) is a lifelong horsewoman, equine journalist, and photographer based in Mead, Colorado.