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What Parents Should Know at a Child's Riding Lesson

By: Ann Compton

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One of the most difficult aspects of parenting is watching a child's world expand to activities that don't include us. It becomes increasingly hard when parental advice and direction is not required; for instance, in sporting activities.

For some reason, parents who would never dream of "cross-coaching" their son on the Little League field will stand at the side of the riding ring and give direction or instructions every time he rides by, even in the middle of a lesson. And the same parents, who wouldn't blink when their daughter takes a spill on the soccer field are screaming for a doctor the first time she slides out of the saddle into the soft ring dust.

Because the parents of most young equestrian students are not involved with horses themselves, it is usually a question of not knowing what is sensible when the child is mounted in the ring. There are some basic tenets, however, you should observe to make the time your child spends with his teacher more productive.

Lessons for Parents

  • Don't wander in and out of the ring when your child is taking a lesson. It's distracting to the student, the teacher and the horse. It is certainly permissible for you to watch the lesson, even videotape it if you like, but don't enter the ring to "chat" with the instructor unless he or she invites you.

  • If you bring other children to the barn with you, keep them under control. Do not let them run, yell, jump, bounce balls, rollerblade or the like, in or around the stable area. School horses can be frightened, and may take exception to the sight of a tiny screaming banshee.

  • Refrain from bringing objects such as umbrellas to the riding lesson, for the same reason. If you don't want to get wet, watch from the car.

  • Let the instructor do the teaching. Don't issue reminders to keep heels down or check diagonals. That is why you pay the instructor.

  • When your child falls off the horse – and they will – don't panic. Most children will take their cue from the parent. If you are calm, usually the child will be calm. It is important after falling from a horse to remount immediately, if there is no injury. The instructor will evaluate the situation and request your presence in the ring if it's necessary. Otherwise, he or she will encourage the child to remount the horse, even if it's just to walk around a bit to begin rebuilding confidence.

  • Even if you are a trained professional, do not race into the ring when you see someone fall. If there is an injury that requires treatment, the instructor will ask for assistance. Frequently, people trying to "help" only make the situation worse. Most falls are more injurious to the ego than the body and are better served by a little encouragement to try again.

  • If your child is having a problem with her horse, please do not scream, clap your hands, or yell, "Stop that horse!" This will serve to excite the horse further and make matters worse. A competent instructor knows how to deal with recalcitrant mounts.

  • It should go without saying, but deliver your child on time for lessons. Whether lessons are in a group or private situation, most stables run on a schedule, and if your lesson is 15 minutes late, so is everyone else's. There are times when life or traffic gets in the way and it can't be avoided, but it shouldn't be a regular occurrence.

  • If you are not going to keep a lesson appointment, call. And give the instructor as much notice as possible.

    Learn To Be Patient

    Finally, learning to ride, like learning any sport, requires time, patience and practice. Your son or daughter won't be ready to jump the second time in the saddle. Everyone learns on a different curve. Some children require more practice and time than others. One of the most wonderful things about riding is that it is a partnership between human and horse, and what matters is that synergy, not whether your child canters before someone else's.

    The best way you to encourage a successful partnership is to provide a supportive and safe learning environment. Trust your child's instructor to do the rest.

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