Find Focus

It can be difficult to sharpen a young rider’s focus, but the right approach can make a world of difference.

Focus plays a core role in riding of any kind, whether your child competes or simply rides for fun. Maintaining concentration is critical to ensure safety, and it takes a different form if your young rider shows or rodeos.

However, focus isn’t something children innately possess. It must be developed, sharpened, and tailored as a child matures. This also means you can’t expect your child to have the same focus level of other youngsters in the barn—it depends on maturity as opposed to an age number.

When coaching young riders of all levels, I’ve developed some key points to keep in mind when considering focus. Use them to help your child along in their journey with horses. Keep in mind that there’s not a right or wrong way, and every child has different needs.

Tailoring expectations for each child assures a positive experience for everyone—horse, rider, and coach. Photo by Jennifer Paulson

Keep Things Short

Especially for my youngest riders, I keep lessons short and to the point. If we keep it brief, the child is less likely to get caught up in something else happening in the barn or in their regular life.

Approaching the lesson with a clear goal and process to get there helps immensely. Without a plan, you can get off track and lose your rider’s attention.

Start Rested and Ready

A tired child struggles to focus, not to mention gets cranky, impatient, and difficult to coach. In fairness to everyone involved—the horse, coach/parent, and rider—if a child isn’t up for a lesson, it might be best to skip it for the day. 

A tired rider’s lack of focus is also a safety concern on top of being frustrating for everyone. Start fresh and ready. You probably know what times of day your child has the most productive energy and when they start to get tired. Work riding lessons into the child’s peak hours for learning.

Listen and Repeat

My beginner riders repeat what I ask of them in every lesson. I’ll give instructions for where they’ll make a transition, for example, and they repeat it back to me before they do it. Or I’ll tell them how to properly curry the horse, and they retell me those instructions before doing it. This helps reinforce your directives in their mind, and you can ensure that they’ve heard you correctly.

For my intermediate and advanced riders, I suggest using a riding journal. Once they’ve unsaddled their horse, have the rider write everything they remember about their ride in the notebook. Take a look at the journal entry and take note of what they thought they did well, what needs work, and what they forgot to mention. This helps plan the next riding session. Writing about the experience also further solidifies the concepts in the child’s brain.

Get the Sillies Out

Sometimes kids have more energy than is helpful for the task at hand. I tell them to go run it out. This helps with nerves, too. If they can go burn off that extra energy—whether it’s pent up from a day at school or because the child is nervous—it can really help them focus on their lesson or the competition.

Know Where They Are

Recognizing a rider’s place in their horsemanship journey and their level of maturity helps you determine what level of focus to expect. An immature, beginner rider won’t thrive if you throw a bunch of new concepts at them all at once. A mature, more advanced rider can probably handle more, but it depends on the child. Tailoring expectations for each child assures a positive experience for everyone—horse, rider, and coach/parent.

[Don’t Raise a Barn Brat]

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