So your child wants a pony! Chances are you won’t want to go out and buy a horse right away (or at all) if your child doesn’t know how to take care of horse or how to ride one. Horseback riding lessons are a great way to satisfy your child’s desire to own a horse and your desire to stay on a budget.
The first decision you and your child need to make is whether to take Western or English riding lessons. In both cases, your child must learn to have a solid seat, with the hips and shoulders evenly balanced over the feet. Western riding is generally considered best for trail riding, reining, cutting, trail competitions and many ranch chores. English riding is generally considered best for dressage, show jumping, and polo. Gear is considerably different for each style but most people notice immediately that Western riders tend to wear jeans and cowboy type boots while English riders wear breeches, leather boots and, in competition, jackets.
What to Consider
In looking for a program, there are many things to consider but here are the most important:
- Cost. When considering cost, you can’t just go on the fact that one place charges $45 an hour and another charges $60. Be sure to find out what is included in the price. For example, some places may provide helmets, boots and all the gear while others may require you to buy riding wear. Some places may include grooming time in the hour while others use the full hour for riding and do the grooming outside the hour time. Also, group lessons can be less expensive but your child might not progress as quickly as in individual lessons.
- Introductory Lessons. If you and your child are undecided about the style of riding, English or Western, do a couple of introductory lessons in each discipline. Introductory lessons are also a good way to check out the quality of the instructors and horses at a particular barn.
- Check Out the Barn. When you arrive at the barn, observe the overall condition of the property and horses. Do the horses look well fed and healthy? Are the barns in solid condition? A fancy barn does not necessarily mean a better program. Also, be sure to inspect the tack. Danger signs include worn leather, buckles that do not fasten correctly and moldy saddles.
- Check Out the Instructor. Pay attention to how the instructor (often called a trainer) speaks to students. Are instructions clear and in a language appropriate to the age of the student? Is the instructor patient when children are having problems or become scared? Is the instructor’s attention on the students at all times? And—very importantly—does the instructor insist on students wearing specially designed equestrian helmets at all times? (Note: bike or skateboarding helmets are not adequate substitutes).
- References. Get references from parents of current students. Check out reviews of the program on FaceBook, Yelp and other sites. Ask if the instructor or someone at the barn has any certifications such first aid, CPR, EMT training or teaching accreditations. Be sure to ask if the barn has insurance and get a copy of the waiver you’ll need to sign well before agreeing to a lesson.
When going for an introductory lesson, you should be encouraged to sit quietly, observing your child and his or her interaction with the instructor and with riding in general. Don’t worry if your child is placed on a larger horse rather than a pony. Instructors generally pair the child’s ability and level of training with the horse’s temperament and training to provide a safe ride. But if you have done your homework in choosing a program, then you should feel confident that your child is in good hands.
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