LEXINGTON, KY. – “It’s important for parents or grandparents who gave a child the gift of riding lessons to know what to look for in choosing the right lesson program for their child,” warns Wayne G. Hipsley, Chairman of HorseSafetyUSA.com . Remember, your child’s safety and well-being is placed under the guidance and supervision of their riding instructor and the instructor’s assistants. So, set a realistic horseback riding goal for your child.
Understand the horseback riding experience provides a child the opportunity to build self-esteem while participating in a physically demanding sport requiring physical balance, coordination and strength, in addition to learning decision making through discipline and dedication, along with the development of a partnership with a powerful animal.
Horseback riding is a fun and rewarding activity. So, allow the child enjoy their riding experience as they learn the basics of the sport before their introduction to the competitive aspect of the sport. As a parent, do not live your dreams to ride through your child’s life experiences. So, consider a non-competitive riding lesson program as the place to start, where the pressure to perform in ‘horse shows’ is not the ultimate goal. Keep it fun, positive.
Years of observation and experience have taught us that men view horses and their uses differently than women. Therefore, we would be remiss not to address the gender difference between young boys and girls in their personal attraction to developing a relationship with horses. The natural affinity of females to the sport of horseback riding over males is significant. So, if your child is a young boy, give him a chance to develop his level of confidence through fun activities that cultivate his athletic abilities and curiosities about the unique opportunities that horses provide. Perhaps he needs to experience the feeling of being a ‘cowboy’ after learning the basics to safely ride and control a horse, introducing him to the non-competitive experience of trail riding. The key is to recognize the differences in how each gender views horses differently.
12 factors to consider before choosing that “just right” lesson program for your child are:
1. Introductory Lesson
Give some thought to allowing your child to take a ‘first lesson’ just to introduce them to the sport of horseback riding. And, during this introductory process, let them seek their level of comfort in riding style, English or Western. So, this might take a couple of different stable visits which will serve as great introductions to local riding stables, as well as the instructors and the quality of horses being used in their teaching programs.
2. Location of Riding Stables
Develop a list of farms in your area and call each to get an idea of what programs are offered for children. Your state Horse Council can serve as a resource.
3. Observe the Riding Lesson Program
Ask if you may stop by “sometime” to observe the program. Best times are weekday afternoons after 4 p.m. and Saturday mornings or afternoons. Observe the overall condition of the property, including barns, stables, paddocks, etc., as well as the condition of the horses. The property does not have to be fancy. Some very good programs are offered in modest facilities – and the cost may be lower.
a. Inspect the tack, looking for worn leather and buckles that do not fasten correctly.
b. How does the instructor speak to the students? Is the instructor’s full attention given to the lesson? Is the instructor on a cell phone at any time?
c. Is the area large enough for the student(s) in the lesson?
d. Are there sufficient number of instructors and assistants to monitor all the mounted students?
e. Are all the students wearing protective riding helmets?
f. Are multi-performance levels of horses available to students so they can advance to higher levels of riding competency?
Get references, including contacts for current students, for the riding instructor and the farm owner, and then check them out through links on the internet such as Facebook and website searches. It is feasible to contact your local Better Business Bureau for additional information on their past business practices. Check to see if registered sex offenders are associated with the stable which can be done discreetly on the internet.
5. Certification and Insurance
Be sure to inquire if the riding instructor(s) and/or stable have any certifications or specialized licensing, such as first aid, CPR, riding accreditations. Learn about their professional background for teaching horseback riding, and their experience in teaching horseback riding. And, inquire about the instructor’s and stable’s professional insurance for the operation of a lesson program.
6. Legal Documents
Obtain a copy of the waiver the parent and/or guardian must sign before their child commits to the riding lesson program, making sure there is adequate protection for your child’s well-being.
7. Introductory Lessons vs. Long-term Package
Provide your child with an introductory lesson before making a commitment to a series of lessons or some form of a lesson package.
8. Decision of Riding Instructor
After visiting the stables and observing their lesson programs, mutually decide with your child that discipline to pursue (Western or English, which includes huntseat, saddleseat, and dressage).
9. Observe and Encourage
Parents should be encouraged to remain on the site during the introductory lessons. Sitting quietly, observing the progress of their child and their child’s interaction with the instructor and horse or pony.
10. Safety Equipment and Attire
Make sure your child has the proper riding apparel: shoes or boots with a heel (no sneakers or sandals), long pants or (preferably) jodhpurs, leather riding gloves, and a new properly fitted riding safety helmet approved for equestrian use (never substitute with a bike or skateboard helmet). Make inquiries where clothing can be acquired to prevent the expensive new purchases until the child has advanced in her riding experience. The purchase of a new approved riding safety helmet is recommended unless the riding stable is providing an approved riding safety helmet.
11. The Schoolmaster – Lesson Horse
Remember, your child might not necessarily be placed on a pony as a beginner rider. The key is not the size of the horse or pony, but the ability and level of training of the animal to provide the rider a controllable, safe ride. The well trained and behaved lesson horse is referred to as a ‘schoolmaster’, meaning the horse will teach the child.
12. The Compulsion to Own a Horse
As a parent be aware of the fact there is a bonding process between the child and their favorite lesson horse. So, be prepared to hear, “Can we buy Jingles, so I can have a horse of my own?” It will happen, so recognize a competent lesson program can be the gateway to horse or pony ownership and a new lifestyle.
Remember, riding instructors are not like sending your child to middle school, not all riding instructors are formally educated in teaching horseback riding. It is worth the effort to do your homework for selecting the most affordable, competent horseback riding program.
“Just a little homework and effort,” advises Hipsley “can lead to a lifetime of equestrian enjoyment for your child – and for you.”
A recognized national and international equine safety professional for nearly 25 years, Hipsley is the lead author along with of the upcoming publication Equine Risk Management & Safety. The manual is the first volume in The Equine Safety Library to be offered by HorseSafetyUSA.com in both e-book and softbound editions.
HorseSafetyUSA, founded in 2011, is dedicated to improving the safety of all aspects of the professional and amateur levels of the equine industry and equestrian sports through education, training, certification, and accreditation.