How to Teach a Child to Ride a Horse

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Teaching a child to ride a horse is easy if you follow the steps outlined in this article. Some children naturally gravitate towards riding, and it is rewarding to see a youngster grow up in the sport.

Things You'll Need

  • Horse
  • Saddle
  • Bridle
  • Girth
  • Saddle Pad
  • Halter
  • Lead Rope
  • Grooming Brush
  • Mane and Tail Brush
  • Hoof Pick
  • Lunge Line

Get the Horse and Prepare for Riding

  • The horse may either be in the pasture or in a stall. Get the halter and lead rope and go to the area to retrieve the horse. It is best that the child not be with you when this is done, as sometimes horses are either difficult to catch or spooky. Have the child wait in the tack room or away from the grooming area until the horse is secured.

  • Learning to ride a horse is about more than just riding. Once the horse is in the grooming area, get the grooming items (brushes, hoof pick, etc.) and invite the child to walk slowly to the horse, facing towards the horse's shoulders. Tell the child never to run, make sudden movements or scream around horses.

  • Show the child how to hold the grooming brush. Begin grooming the horse, starting with the neck and moving back towards the hindquarters. Tell the child to be careful when brushing the belly and stifle area, as they can be ticklish spots. Also advise the child to never sit around the horse's legs and to not stand directly behind the animal. When the horse's body has been brushed, show the child how to groom the mane and tail. If the child is young or has a short attention span, it is best if you perform this part of the grooming. Next you can demonstrate how to pick the horse's hooves. Depending upon the child's age, you may not want her to pick up the horse's legs. In this case, the child can stand by your outside shoulder and observe.

  • After grooming, show the child how to tack up the horse. It is always best that the first few times a child rides, this part is demonstrated by an adult. Tacking up can be complicated depending upon the tack used and the animal's temperament. Have the child stand away from the horse about 10-feet while you show him how to properly saddle and bridle the horse.

  • Once the horse is fully tacked up, get the lunge line and attach it to the horse's bridle. Lead the horse to a mounting block, with the child walking by your outside shoulder.

Riding the Horse

  • At the mounting block, have the child step up on the block and prepare to mount the horse. Remind the child to always check the girth before mounting. This habit must be implanted firmly in the child's mind from the first lesson. When the girth has been checked, have the child take the reins in her left hand, along with a handful of mane. She then places her left foot in the stirrup. She then puts her right hand on the back of the saddle (the cantle) and swings her right leg over the horse. Tell the child not to plop down on the horse but sit quietly and easily. As the handler, you must hold the horse the entire time. If the child is very small, another adult can assist the child with mounting while you hold the horse.

  • Once the child is secure in the saddle, adjust the stirrups as needed. Tell the child to hold the reins gently and to keep some mane in their hands. This article assumes the horse you are using is a schoolmaster (a well trained, quiet horse) who is used to packing children around. Lead the horse away from the mounting block.

  • Take the child into an area where you can work in a small circle, about 20-meters in diameter. Just have the horse walk at this point, so the child can relax and begin to feel the horse's movement. As he walks around, have the child close his eyes and just move with the horse.

  • Not all children are ready to master faster gaits such as trot and canter in the first lesson. It is never a good idea to over face a rider, so take things slowly. If the child is ready to trot the horse, you can ask the horse to pick up a slow trot. Tell the child to grab mane and keep his hands low so the horse's mouth is not compromised. Have the child keep his heels low (to provide support and balance) and hands quiet (tugging on the reins will confuse the horse and quite possibly make her stop). Most children understand that by pressing their lower legs against the horse's sides speeds the horse up, and closing their fists on the reins and sitting deeply in the saddle asks the horse to stop.

  • As your young student gains confidence, you can repeat these steps and add to them. Once the child is able to post and sit the trot, she can then ask the horse to canter. It is always best to have the child experience faster gaits on the lunge line first, so that you have control over the horse. The lunge line also allows the child to work on herself rather than worrying about steering and stopping the animal. Most children want to work more quickly than they should so patience is key throughout these first lessons.

After the Ride

  • When you are finished with your lesson, tell the child it is time to dismount. Stop the horse and hold him securely while the child dismounts.

  • Explain to the child to always dismount on the left side and that dismounting is just like mounting, but in reverse. Instill the practice early of the child dropping both stirrups, swinging her right leg over the horse and sliding down the horse's left side.

  • You can then lead the horse back to the grooming area, un-tack and cool the horse down.

Tips & Warnings

  • If the child is young, have them observe while you groom and tack up the horse. Take things slowly--your child has plenty of time to create experiences. Make sure the horse you are using is well-trained, quiet and used to children. Have all the materials ready and gathered before you get the horse.
  • Always have the child wear an approved riding helmet when they are around the horse--good habits start early and children should always have a helmet on prior to mounting. It goes without saying that you should never leave the child alone with a horse, even if the child is somewhat experienced.

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