Be a parent first. "Think of your child's perspective, and emphasize fun," advises Teresa Larson, a lifelong horsewoman who's raised four children, three of whom are riders. "The right horse for each child is so important here. A mount that's hard to catch, for example, can make a sensitive child feel unwanted or ignored."
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She adds that you must let your child do the things he or she thinks are fun-which may or may not include competing.
Larson also recommends you share your child's other interests while waiting to see if a horse attraction emerges. "Participate wherever possible, to keep that child from feeling left out, or developing a resentment toward your own horse involvement," she says.
Mind your "tone." For professionals, especially-instructors, trainers, show judges-it's important to make sure your child doesn't feel as if he or she "plays second fiddle" to horses. Don't drag a young child along who doesn't want to go. When the child's older, don't make him or her do your barn chores for you; cleaning up after your horse isn't the same as doing the dishes.
"Above all," advises BJ LeMaster, who operates a busy show and lesson barn in Sacramento, "keep your own attitude about horses and showing positive. If you're having a dispute with a client, or a bad day at a show, don't take it out on your child," adds the trainer, whose own daughter has become an accomplished and competitive equestrian.
Stay tuned in. For all parents, it's important to stay "connected" to a child to monitor her horse experience as it evolves.
"Kids will talk to parents when things are going well, but often not when they're unhappy about something," cautions Doug Lietzke, a licensed psychologist, certified school psychologist, avid endurance rider, and father. "And, even if you ask them directly, they often still won't divulge. Instead, take an indirect approach. If you suspect your child is down about some aspect of showing, say, 'At the show yesterday, I noticed your friend Susie looked glum after her class. What do you think was going on?' That opens the door.
"If your child says something about Susie's parent or trainer putting too much pressure on her, say, 'Do I do that with you?' If your child says you do, devise a signal she can use to tip you off the next time she's feeling too much pressure."
As in all matters of parenting, says Lietzke, staying in tune with your child's inner feelings is key.