Giving Horseback Riding Lessons to Beginners
Before you do anything, take a look at yourself and your past riding history, and make sure that you are confident enough in your ability as a rider to teach others.
If you aren't confident in yourself, then it could be dangerous to teach children to ride horses. It would be like if you learned that someone who "sort of" knows how to skydive is the one giving your lesson . . . that would be a bad idea.
If you going to instruct someone in something you have to be confident in your skills and yourself.
The first thing that I always do when I get a new kid is to introduce them to the horse. All kids are going to react differently. Some might be shy, and some will be more afraid of the horses.
The first thing the kids have to understand is that horses are gentle creatures and don't want to hurt you, but at the same time they are 1,200 pounds and could easily do so.
Grooming and Being Around the Horse
The basics that you would teach a child in the first lesson are how to handle and be around the horse. Teach them how to put on a halter, cross-tie, brush, pick feet (if they are big enough), and fly spray.
Really take your time on the grooming. It may seem boring to us as instructors, because we have done it a million times, but kids LOVE it.
Tacking and Heading to the Ring
The next thing you are going to do is tack the horse up. Depending on your's and the horse's style it could be English or Western.
All of my horses are trained to be ridden in either type of saddle, so even though the child may end up riding English, I always start them in a Western saddle.
Almost everything you do in an English saddle can also be done in a Western saddle. The only reason I start them in Western saddles is so they feel safer.
When you are tacking up the horse let the kid do as much as they can, and don't worry about them learning the name of every piece or part of tack right of the bat. I can tell you right now that you will be lucky if they learn to put the halter on right within the first month.
Next, find them a helmet and head out to the ring. You can let them walk the horse out if they feel comfortable doing so, but stay with them.
And (this should go without saying) do NOT give them any spurs or a crop. It doesn't matter if it's the laziest horse on the planet; spurs are a NO for beginners.
The First Ride
Once you get out to the ring, have the rider re-check the girth to make sure it's tight and tell them they always have to do that before they get on, because it gets looser when you walk out.
Teach them how to get on with a mounting block, and once they are on you can fix their stirrups to the proper length. There are a few different methods to check stirrups before mounting so if you know one you can teach them to do it themselves. Then, show them how to properly hold the reins.
Once they are ready, teach them how to make the horse walk. Stay with them the whole time. Walk a little bit with them and then show them how to stop.
If you need to grab a rein and help them, you can. Repeat this until they know how to walk and stop on their own. I always tell my kids that if they can't do anything else they have to learn how to stop. It's a simple concept, but it can help in so many areas.
Next, add a few turns. Tell them to try to walk a circle around you and then stop. Repeat. My horses are trained to move off the leg, so if they want to go right they push with their left leg. Have them reverse and try some circles the other way.
Cones and Poles
At this point I would usually set up some cones. You can work on endless amounts of things with cones. For the beginners, I have two basic patterns that I use the cones for.
- Set up 4 cones in a medium-large square. Simply have the kid walk around square while you stand nearby or in the middle. They have to stay on the outside of the cones and can't hit them. It's a great way to get them used to steering.
- Once they get pretty good at that I move onto something a little bit harder. Set up the cones in a straight line. They can be about 10 feet apart to start off. Then have the rider weave through them again and again. To make it harder, move the cones closer together. Again, they cannot hit the cones. The key here is to keep the horse very straight and instead of "turning" in between each cone it's more like "side-passing" over a step and then back the other way. (Take a look at my lovely works-of-art to see illustrations.)
Another tool I like to use is ground poles. I have them walk over several ground poles, but the key is to have them aim towards the middle. Many horses will try to take advantage of them and walk to the side, so it's a good exercise for the riders to take control of the horse.
Can We Go Faster?
I get this question ALL THE TIME, especially from the younger kids. By the way, it's probably a good idea not to take on any kids under 8. First, they don't really have the attention span to learn to ride. Second, their legs are usually too short to reach past the saddle pad.
Anyway, at this point they might be getting bored and want to step it up a little. Trust me, they just "think" they want to go faster. If they knew what faster really was they would never ride again.
But, depending on how they are doing at this point you can either be done or let them have a little speed. There's a couple ways to do this.
You can put them on a lounge line and let them try to jog/trot around or you can run alongside them while the horse jogs/trots. Don't worry, they don't know how to post yet so they won't last long.
That's usually where I would end the lesson. Teach them how to dismount and bring the horse in. Then teach them how to untack and put everything away. If you want to show them to clean tack that's fine. Hose the horse off if necessary, and put the horse up.
They also love giving horses treats so you could teach them the proper way to do that.
I hope this helps some of you who are thinking about giving lessons. It's not something I ever thought I would like doing that much, but I do enjoy it, especially with the older kids (10-12 years old), and it's a great way to make some extra cash.
Important Things to Remember
- Don't overload them with information on the first day. There's a lot to learn and they won't learn it all at once. Pick out the most important things.
- Be patient and work on basics only
- Probably a good idea to only accept kids 8 and up