How to help children gain confidence in the saddle
By Brandy Von Holten
Confidence is a real issue for adults and children alike when it comes to handling and riding equine. However, children are a blank slate and are natural riders. Have you ever seen a child running a horse across a field bareback without a fear in the world? Or have you ever said, I wish I had the confidence of that child to “just go” and “get out of my own head”. Some children do not come with this massive amount natural confidence. Here are a few things to help children gain confidence in the saddle.
You need to have a good horse for a child. So many people want to buy a horse that the child can “grow with”. An inexperienced horse with an inexperienced rider has the potential to end dangerously. Have a proven equine under the saddle of a child.
Before the child starts riding, they need to be able to control the equine from the ground. They should be able to lead, turn the horse either direction, stop, and back up before they ever get in the saddle. The horse will view your half pint as a leader, rather than someone they do not have to take directions from once they are in the saddle.
Even though you probably did not have lessons as a child, it is ok to let a professional take the drivers seat. They have a ton of experience and have tricks of the trade to help children get a good grasp of fundamentals. Plus, most instructors require a helmet. This will automatically make you and your child more secure. If wearing a helmet is a normal expectation, it will not seem like a big deal.
With children gaining confidence, it is important to leave speed out of the equation for a while. Slow and steady wins the race. They have their entire life to add speed. Even if you know the horse, it only takes one fall to create a lifetime of confidence issues.
Just getting into the saddle is going to help children with confidence issues. They need to JUST GO. I see parents over coaching instead of letting the child get going and develop their natural seat. The parents tend to have the children so nervous about making mistakes that they develop a fear. Have distractions! That’s right! Go through their multiplication tables! Have them tell you words that start with each letter of the alphabet! Play music! Play I spy or have a scavenger hunt! In some of my lessons with younger students I put a miniature hat on the equine and I wear a massive cowboy hat and we do a photo shoot, or we act like we are getting ready to meet the Queen of England for a tea party! The point is to have fun and distract them from doing things wrong. The more seat time the child has that was a positive experience the more confident they will become.
My final tip is to be patient. A child’s attention span is not very long. Short rides in the beginning will add up to years of confident riding in their future. Inch by inch, it’s a cinch.