Prevent Bad Habits From the Start

It’s easier to nip bad habits in the bud before they turn into a lifetime of struggles in the saddle.
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Kids are easier than adults to teach, because they don’t really have any bad habits yet. They catch on easier, and they take more direction. They don’t already have any preconceived notions about what they’re doing, so the goal is to prevent them from falling into bad habits that’ll take years to fix later. Here’s how we address it with our own kids—Callie, 9, and Brayden, 5.

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Girl on a horse.

Callie uses two hands to ask her horses to stop and back up, keeping her from overusing one hand out of position.

Fun/Work Balance
We don’t force our kids to ride, and they don’t yet compete. But they do enjoy spending time in the saddle with our family, so we all try to encourage them to sit correctly, steer correctly, and ride correctly even when they’re playing around. We aren’t hard on them, but we do communicate to them that what they’re doing is affecting the horse. In our program, our kids already understand that we truly value our horses, so their communication with them needs to be a priority.

Rein Control
We want them holding their reins correctly—at even lengths, and low to their horses’ necks—even when they’re just riding through the pasture or down to their uncle’s arena at the end of the driveway. We remind them often to make sure their reins are even, so their cues are clear and direct.

Reinforcing the Whoa
If our kids are going to stop their horses, they need to put their second hand on the reins instead of just raising one hand up high. By keeping the original rein hand low and close to the saddle, and by adding the second hand farther down the reins, my kids keep the correct leverage on the bridle while reinforcing the contact with their second hand. That prevents them from getting their rein hand out of control or harsh—a habit we really want to avoid.

Assertive Signals
We’re constantly reminding our kids to use their hands correctly, pointing where they want their horses to go with their rein hand and kicking at the same time to go forward. Sometimes they’re asking their horses to back up without realizing it by pulling back more than across. We remind them to point and kick a lot at our house, because even when they’re just riding to have fun, we want them to be doing it correctly.

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Posture Problems
We work hard to prevent any sort of bad posture in our kids. In cutting, we want to keep our bodies relaxed but still correct. Our daughter tends to tense up more, so we’re always telling her to relax. We want her back and shoulders straight of course, but we remind her to drop her shoulders out of her ears.

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