Ready to ride
For us the start of fall has always been a time to evaluate our daughters’ interests in school and sports.
Coming off the Olympics, many of your children may have gotten the bug to ride. Well, where does one start and what points might be considered in choosing a prospective program for your child?
Now at the start of our 16th year as an equestrian family, I have compiled a list of tips for parents and their children to consider in evaluating a prospective riding experience.
Assess your child
Has your child been around horses, ridden on vacation, attended a summer camp or had friends who ride? Is he old enough to have the attention span to ride in a lesson? Is he bold or more shy in his approach to things? Does he like horses, read books about them incessantly, collect model horses, or pretend to be a rider or a horse? Answers to these questions will give you a basic measure of what your child’s level of interest might be.
Match his interests
Does your family have experience in either English or Western riding? You’re your child long to ride in a particular discipline? Do you already have a horse going in a particular area of riding along with the appropriate tack? If a child has family or friends in, say, the rodeo circuit versus English disciplines, this may be a more comfortable way for your junior to go. On the other hand, we know a family in which a parent had a long-term interest in reining, but the daughter was set on English riding because that is what her friends were doing. In this instance, the parent wisely capitulated to her daughter’s wishes.
Consider your time commitment
Dedicated sport parents must evaluate how much time a child has to introduce riding to the program. Your child’s lesson may last 30 to 60 minutes, but consider that your rider will need to arrive at least 30 minutes before his ride time to groom and tack up his horse Ð and earlier if the child must change into proper attire. After lessons, the child will be required to cool the horse down, untack and groom the horse, and then clean his tack. These activities are all part of the equestrian experience and, as you can imagine, consume plenty of time. Although some programs will allow your child to ride weekly, real progress is made when a child has the opportunity to ride several times a week.
Evaluate The Program
Take a look at what the program offers, whether it is presented by 4-H, a chapter of the United States Pony Club or a public or private barn. What will your child learn? How are lessons structured? How many riders will be taught in a lesson? Will your child have the same instructor for every lesson? How are make-ups handled for the inevitable colds or time conflicts? Is there a progression of skills offered in the program, or do the children just go to ride without a defined set of competencies at the end of the program? Are goals set, such as attending local schooling shows or more formalized competitions?
Dialogue with the Instructor
Is the trainer certified to teach in her particular discipline? For example, our daughters work with a United States Equestrian Association-certified instructor. This certification signifies that the instructor has met certain national guidelines. If not certified, what is the level of teaching experience of the instructor? Has she distinguished herself in her chosen discipline? What is her safety record with her students? Have any students been injured on her watch? Get references from other parents, and find out if they know about the instructor’s teaching style, manner with horses, etc.? Ask them if the instructor relates well to her students – knowing their names, being clear in her instructions, varying the content of lessons, etc.
Watch Several Lessons
Are students on time with well turned out mounts? Are other parents congenial? How does the instructor relate to the group and individual riders? Is there a specific topic for each lesson? Do lessons build on particular skills? Do the students seem to be fully engaged? Do the students and their mounts seem to enjoy the experience?
Tour the Barn
Whether there are just pipe corrals or a dedicated barn, tour the facility to get a sense of the atmosphere. When we first came to Nevada County we toured a well known barn with very nice facilities. We all observed that the boarders did not initiate any conversation or respond to our greetings. There was an air of tension perpetuated by the owners of the facility. We passed on this setting despite its amenities, as this would not have been a match for us. Look for a congenial yet professional environment where other riders, staff and parents are helpful and friendly. Is the barn clean and are tack rooms neat and orderly? Are there adequate facilities for tacking up and grooming?
Set A Budget
Find out the exact cost of lessons and all required gear such as pants, boots, gloves, helmets, etc. Will there be other costs associated with shows, clinics or other special events? Does the facility have a list of required equipment and suggested sources via local tack stores, catalogs or resale options? Perhaps the instructor maintains a list of riders who have either outgrown or gently worn items available for purchase. Make sure the option you are pursuing fits into the family budget to ensure that your child can enjoy all that the program offers.
In the end, have fun
For us it all started very simply with a “Mommy and Me” class through our local park district. I had retired from my hobby as a general aviation pilot for a sport that we could all enjoy as a family. I never dreamed that this first step on a grey pony named Stoney would lead to a family love affair with equines, but it has. Many years later my daughters are pursuing their individual dreams in riding and my husband and I have an activity which we fully enjoy and support. Every day has the challenge of learning something new and being involved with other families who share this passion.
Carolyn Bronson has been involved in showing and raising Welsh ponies and Cobs since 1994. She is a past District Commissioner of several chapters of the United States Pony Club. She is a director of the Welsh Pony and Cob Association of California, having served on several national committees for the breed. She is a long-time advocate of sound riding programs to promote pleasure and competitive riding for youth and adults. She and her family reside at their farm in Penn Valley. Carolyn can be reached at CPBronson@aol.com.
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