Saddle up – The Benefits of Horse Riding
Just how can horse riding benefit kids? And how can they get started? We speak to Janet Rising, Editor of PONY Magazine to ask a few common parenting questions:
So your child wants to go horse riding. What’s that about? There are more than a few benefits – and some may surprise you!
Exercise: Riding a pony is a great reason to get up off the sofa and do some exercise (without realising it) – plus you get to enjoy the outdoors. Riding also speeds up the metabolism and improves balance. A cardio-vascular workout, it works all the major muscle groups and can be enjoyed by everyone from young kids to grandparents!
Negotiation skills: Riding a pony teaches young people that things don’t always go their way. Ponies don’t always do as they are told and are good for teaching negotiation skills. They’re too big to push about, so instead you have to think around the problem!
Confidence: Riding is a brilliant way for shy children to come out of their shells. Children who won’t say boo to a goose soon open up to a pony. Ponies never judge or bully, instead ponies seem especially in tune with a rider’s troubles, which is why they are used in helping transform difficult teenagers, and are brilliant for disabled riders. For all that, they are pretty great for anyone untroubled and able-bodied, too!
Concentration: Concentration is needed for riding – and co-ordination. Children need to be determined to get their ponies to do as they say, and to keep trying when at first they don’t succeed. It’s a great way to get them to focus too.
Responsibility: Riding can be an incentive to push the boundaries (I jumped today!) and to stretch one’s abilities (I didn’t think I’d could learn that dressage test?). It’s a way to learn responsibility (I need to take care of Snowy before I sit down) and to work with ones peers (I’ve been asked to join the gymkhana team!), and consideration for others (I’m going to give Snowy a rest now). The best part is that all these life lessons are being learnt in a subtle and enjoyable way.
There is always something new to learn in riding, always another pony or horse to ride, another challenge to accept and work towards. No one ever knows everything about horses and riding, which is why riders are so humble and open-minded. Horses are great levelers, and if it wasn’t for the fact that you’re aboard one when you ride, you could say they keep your feet firmly on the ground!
Riding is a proven stress-buster too. Loose yourself on a horse for an hour and escape the troubles of the day – including school!
How to get started:
It is always best to go to an approved riding school to learn to ride, one which is approved by the British Horse Society or the Association of British Riding Schools. These schools have been inspected by the relevant societies and customers can expect a high standard of equine care, qualified instructors and a duty of care for all customers.
What should your child wear? No need to rush off to buy a whole new outfit to rival Zara Phillips (good luck with that!). Close-fitting, stretchy leggings and boots with a low heel will work to start with (no trainers or baggy trousers). A close-fitting jumper or jacket (nothing flapping about or with a hood) and gloves, should be on your list. Your riding school should be able to offer you a hard hat and a body protector for hire until your child is certain she or he will continue to ride. A correctly-fitted, approved hard hat is a priority purchase once your child had decided riding is for her or him, and get this fitted by a certified fitter at a tack shop. Body protectors also need to be fitted and jodhpurs and boots will aid comfort and riding ability.
Children should be introduced to the pony they are going to ride to make friends before mounting. Beginner lessons should be small and intimate, with every child led individually to start with. The idea is to instill rider confidence, and encourage balance and co-ordination. As a parent you will no doubt be encouraged to watch the lesson – but resist the temptation to talk to your child. Riding is about doing something independently, and the instructor will need your child’s full attention. Your child will want to progress to more exciting things but it is vital that the basics are covered before running too soon.
Don’t be in too much of a hurry to see your child off competing and winning ribbons. Over-competitive parents can put off new riders and every child learns at a different rate. Everything to do with horses is fun – not just competing. Just developing a relationship with a favourite pony is an important part of learning to ride, and one of the most enjoyable.
Why not take up riding yourself to accompany your child? It’s a great hobby to share, and any benefits to your child will work for you, too!
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