Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Teaching a Child How to Trail Ride a Horse

Trail riding is a favorite pastime of mine. This past weekend was no exception: camping and riding horses with family and friends in Pillsbury State Forest.  Although hot, there weren’t too many bugs since we had a breeze – actually a wind! – keeping them off and cooling us down.  This group is usually known to take long rides, 4 to 5 hours at a time, coming back to camp for a rest and then going out again for another couple hours of riding.

But this time we had my 5-year-old granddaughter with us so we were limited in the amount of time we could be out.  Although Sophia has been on a horse before – being led around in an arena and competing in a leadline class at a couple of shows – she hasn’t spent a lot of time riding and had never been on a trail ride.  I was a little nervous about taking her camping with us, thinking that I’d have to stay back at camp with her while others went out on the trails, but my friend Max assured me that Sophia could go along and would have fun.

Max has started quite a few young kids (nieces and nephews ) horseback riding, and has a sure-fire method of getting them going.  She said that if you put a child up behind you on the horse, they can’t see where they’re going and tend to fall asleep back there.  Her method is to saddle the horse with a pony saddle and have the child ride in the front, handling the reins, while she sits behind them for support and confidence.  To quote Max, “you can accomplish in two days on the trail what you cannot do in six months in an arena!”

As we started out, Sophia was a little nervous and at the first hill was saying “I don’t like this, I don’t like this!”  But by the end of the ride, only an hour and a half long, she was giggling and saying “let’s go faster!”  We came back to camp for lunch and a rest and a little while later Max asked who was ready for another ride; it was Sophia who jumped up first with her hand in the air saying “I am, I am!”  That ride was only an hour and the only way we could get her off the horse at the end was to promise to go out again later, which we did.

The next day we had to almost start over again with the confidence, but it wasn’t long before Sophia was riding along with the reins in just one hand and the other pointing out things along the trail.

Tips For Starting Out:
Max gave us a few pointers in starting children trail riding.

First and foremost, use a horse that is calm, child-safe, is used to trail riding and has been ridden double before.
Be sure the child knows at least the basics in horse riding: how to "go" and "whoa," how to steer, etc.

Always use safe equipment – including a helmet for the child's safety!

Keep in mind: the adult rider will be sitting back a little further on the horse’s back than normal. The horse not only shouldn’t mind this, but needs a back strong enough to support two riders.  Before we put Sophia up on that first ride, Max got on the horse we were using – Will, my Arabian gelding – and rode him around the camp for a little bit while sitting behind the pony saddle to test his ability.

Next, have a pad that can be attached to the back of the pony saddle for the adult rider to sit on.  This bridges the gap between the back of the saddle and the saddle pad, making it more comfortable to sit back there.

You must also realize that horseback riding on the trail takes a lot out of a young child, so keep the rides short in duration.

It's always recommended the adult take the reins for letting the horse graze or drink.

The last thing is to take along snacks and water, even on the short rides, as once they get low blood sugar the whining starts.  At that point, stick a lollipop in their mouth!

If the proper steps are taken to ensure everyone's safety – for riders AND their horses – trail riding horses can be a fun and rewarding experience for everyone!

1 comment:

GunDiva said...

What great tips! All of our kids have grown up trail riding, as that's the only option for riding they have. We have horses and mountain trails; there are no arenas, so we do a lot of leading from the ground when the kids are young, then ponying from the lead horse before allowing them to ride "all by themselves".