So your son or daughter wants horse lessons, what should you do? What should you look out for? What should you avoid? What questions should you ask?
I've broken this down into four small, easy to remember parts. I hope this helps.
Assessing your child:
How strong is this desire to be around horses? My daughter likes tennis, but not enough to invest hundreds of dollars in private lessons. But she LOVES ballet, and because of that extra boost in desire, I'm willing to invest lots of money into her passion. Maybe you're not sure how much desire resides in that little heart... An easy way to tell is to go to the nearest horse barn and watch her or his expressions. If your kid just can't get enough and can't stop talking about it, it's probably time to get started. In the case you are ready, please stop to consider your child's confidence level. For some odd reason, people put kids on horses and expect the kid to start trotting and cantering too early. Cantering just happens to be the most exciting/scary part about riding but it also happens to be the most dangerous part and kids can sense it.
Don't push too hard and fast if you want the good feelings to last.
But if your kid is uber confident you'll want to make progress quickly to avoid boredom. However... if boredom is an apparent issue, it's pretty safe to say that your child might like riding but doesn't like horses enough to justify the risk of riding. Real horse lovers love their animals! Not just "riding" their animals. They want to take care of the animal. They want to bond with the animal. If your child doesn't care about those things, DO NOT get him or her a horse or start lessons unless you've got a teacher that promotes awareness to the horses mental and emotional experience and you think your child could learn to value life at a new level.
Assessing the teacher:
Good teachers are out there, you just have to look a little harder. This is, without any doubt, the most important factor to consider. A bad teacher will ruin your child's experience, but worse than that, a bad teacher can actually screw with your child's inner voice and make lasting negative impressions for life. I can attest to that exact experience. I've had bad teachers, and their negative voices ring out at the worst times in my life. But I've also had great teachers. Teachers who care about my experience. Teachers who carefully walk the line between confidence and progress. Teachers who listen and read the expression of the student.
Here are two simple things you must ask the person who potentially could be teaching your child:
If a horse won't go, what should you do?
This question is important because it gives you information about the heart of the teacher. If the teacher says, "kick him" or "make him", then you're staring in the eyes of the worst teacher for your child because that teacher is abusive or ignorant at best.
But if the teacher says things like, "help him" or "try to understand why first" or "it's not the end of the world", then you're looking at someone who could carefully guide your child into a bright future and not just with horses.
Do you work on the ground with the kids?
Teachers who only focus on riding are missing an important part of leadership training. You want your kid to learn about horses in every way, otherwise, it's not fair to the horse or your child. You don't want to build ignorance into your child's experience by not exposing them to the body language and communication you get while on the ground.
Assessing the horse:
If your teacher has a horse for you that seems great, you're on the right track. You want the horse to be calm 100% of the time until the rider's control mechanisms improve. This could take up to twenty lessons before moving to less calm horses. In the early learning phases, you want a horse that is older and has hundreds of hours of experience carrying all types of humans from old to young. Just because a horse has never bucked anyone off, it doesn't mean they won't. You want a horse with a stellar history. Size is also a factor. Big horses are often scarier for young riders. But don't be fooled by small horses either. Sometimes smaller is less intimidating or even "cuter", but that doesn't always mean calmer.
Assessing the environment:
Believe it or not, horse barns can be vacuums for negative energy. Imagine stuffing twenty middle age women in a space where twenty 1,200 pound horses can bump into each other, kick at each other, rear up into, and run away from their handlers. Does that sound like a normal environment? Of course not... but it is the norm, for the horse enthusiast. Some lucky few, get to be part of a training/boarding barn that caters to natural horsemanship, positive, leadership based communication, and friendly people who care for the facilities, the customers and the horses. This is the kind of place you want to find for your child. Don't be too quick to jump into lessons if the overall feel of the place is dark and moody.
I hope this helps you make the best choices for your precious, horse loving child!
To your success, Don Jessop
Comment below and thank you for reading!