If you want to raise a rider, it starts with your child’s first interaction with horses, and the fun factor plays a major role. Along with that, you’ll need to balance the joy of horses with safety and education so your son or daughter can grow as a horse person who loves horses for a lifetime.
Here, I’ll cover tips for developing a love of horses, the role that games can play in increasing the fun factor (even when learning about safety), and a few thoughts about pressure and safety to ensure that no one gets hurt.
Starting small can apply to many parts of your child’s journey with horses—from the size of the mount to the size of your expectations to the duration of each horse encounter.
I like to begin with short riding times that keep a child’s attention—and keep him or her hungry for more. Horses of all sizes can be great fits for young riders, but my kids started with a miniature horse that they could groom and lead around for a few minutes at a time on their own. The manageability of a small horse/small kid combo worked for us and allowed my kids a sense of independence. I find that managing expectations as a parent helps, too, because your child might handle their horse for a few minutes and then want to move on to another activity—and that’s just fine.
By starting small, you can leave a lasting positive, fun impression that allows your child to anticipate the next lesson, no matter his or her skill level.
Read More: 11 Fun Things to Do With Horses
When you ask about your child’s day at school, they most likely lead with the fun activities, and those usually involve games. You can make almost any regular game a horseback adventure. Try Simon Says when your child is on the ground or in the saddle—even riding on the longe line. I like the egg-in-spoon game to promote balance
Grooming can become playtime, too. My kids love picking feet, braiding manes and tails, and brushing their horses. Add in horse-safe fingerpaints and glittery hoof polish, and soon learning safety on the ground and good grooming habits becomes like an art class or playing beauty shop!
The games you and your kids develop help ingrain good safety and handling practices, as well as build horsemanship skills. When it starts fun, it usually stays fun.
Especially with small kids, excessive pressure can ruin a child’s experience with horses. Pressure comes in many forms, whether it’s at home pushing a young rider too quickly to try new tasks or by going to a junior rodeo or horse show and expecting more than the child—or horse—can offer.
It’s critical that you and your child’s instructor recognize and respect your child’s threshold for pressure to go farther, especially at a young age and in the early phases of being around horses. Pushing too hard can lead to your child pushing horses away. The whole point of introducing young kids to horses is to build a love for the animal and the bond the two can share. Once that love is in place, your child can grow to love all the new experiences he or she will have with horses as they gain experience. That’s what leads to a lifelong appreciation of horses and all the excellent life lessons that they teach us.
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