Tip #1: Get the Right Horse/Pony
A kid safe horse/pony is worth their weight in gold. Find a safe, older horse, preferably one that has been previously been handled and ridden by kids the age of your children. The size of the pony can be a consideration too. A smaller horse/pony is less intimidating to kid, however, a pony that is too small for an adult to ride can be difficult to keep tuned up if they start to learn some bad habits. The kid's first pony, Potter was about 13 hands, the perfect size for us to occasionally ride him and keep him tuned up. A good, safe pony should stand quietly even when kids run around them, tie without pulling back, and in general have an attitude of calmness. Kids are loud. Kids are unpredictable. Kids make sudden movements, and don’t always follow safety guidelines. Having a pony that is accustomed to rowdy kids not only helps build the kid’s confidence, but also greatly reduces Mom’s level of panic every time that a toddler ducks underneath the pony’s neck, rides his bike behind his tied pony even though you have told him a gazillion times not to, or yells and throws a temper tantrum because his brother is riding HIS pony in HIS saddle and using HIS green rope!
Tip #2: Get the Right Equipment
A saddle that fits the horse and the kid is necessary. The quickest way to ruin a good, safe kids horse is to put on an ill-fitting saddle that causes pain, which then causes bucking and other bad behaviors. Regularly double check the integrity of the stirrup leathers, off billet and latigo straps. Don’t let a cheap saddle or cracked leather be the cause of an accident! Having safe equipment is an easy way to give Mom peace of mind, and well worth the expense! A set of buddy stirrups can also help your kid feel more secure in the saddle. We have a 12” kid’s saddle with a solid wood tree and full quarter horse bars so it is wide enough to not pinch a chunky pony’s withers, and it is made of thick, quality leather. Take care when choosing the bit that your kid rides in-a milder bit that is more forgiving of unsteady hands on the reins can ensure that their pony stays happy. We added a night latch to our kid’s saddle, and we encourage the boys to grab a hold of that if they feel unbalanced instead of hanging on the reins. Another useful piece of equipment is a Booma Rein. It attaches to the saddle, then clips to the reins, so that your kiddo can't lose their reins if they get distracted or drop them. And don’t forget about safety equipment too-you can buy toddler size helmets and boots (and even really cute kid’s chaps!)
Tip #3: Let the Kid Set the Pace
If your kid doesn’t want to ride, don’t make them. If they just want to brush their pony and not ride today, let them. If they want to just sit on their pony and pet his neck instead of walking around, let them. If they want jog trot all over the arena, let them. Don’t push them to go faster than they want to, but also don’t hold them back either. As long as they are safe (which they should be if you have followed Tips #1 and #2) let your kid set the pace. I'll fully admit, this one has been the toughest piece of advice for me to follow!
Tip #4: Keep it Short
Short sessions are best-little kids do not have a very long attention span! I understand how difficult this can be for busy moms that are trying to ride their own horse along with their kids. I often do not have a babysitter myself, so the only way I can ride my own horse is if I ride with the boys. I sometimes pony them around the arena from my horse, sometimes they ride on my horse with me, sometimes they mosey around the arena on their own horse along with me. I have also found it very helpful to keep some toys in a safe corner of the arena, so when they are done riding their pony, they can play with their tractors, balls, sand toys, etc. After all, a riding arena is really just a big sandbox! This way, even if they are done with their pony, I can get in a slightly longer ride on my horse as they play. I do recommend that you choose a quiet horse for yourself too if you decide to let the kids play as you ride. If you horse isn’t already used to flying balls, kids making tractor sounds, riding bikes, or whatever other shenanigans that toddlers can come up with, they soon will be!
Tip #5: Keep The Focus on FUN
This tip was very hard for me to learn. Before my kids were born I taught riding lessons to riders that wanted to show their horses, so it is natural for me to want to instruct riders to keep their heels down, ride in rhythm with their horses, and refine their cues. As soon as my kids were able to sit up in the saddle on their own, I wanted to instruct them. I wanted to help them develop an independent seat, a steady lower leg, and soft hands. My kids, however, had different ideas. They wanted to yell “Hi Ho Silver, Away!” at the top of their lungs as they bounced around in the saddle, waving their arms wildly. If I insisted that they keep their heels down and properly hold their reins, they would quickly lose interest and want to be done. If I instead made games out of riding, like playing Simon Says, Red Light/Green Light, and follow the leader, everyone had more fun. And honestly, it surprises me the natural balance and correct riding position that my boys have without being taught. I mean, of course they got their natural horse abilities from me!
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