Over the weekend I took my (nearly) niece for her first riding lesson. Well, not so much of a lesson but an introduction to ponies as she’s only two and a half years old.
I asked a friend if I could borrow her Shetland, and with a bit of encouragement, my niece patted and helped brush the hairy pony. I think initially she was overawed, but she soon cheered up when she saw the funky “princess” hat that she got to wear. I think the fact it was pink leant itself to being a hat suitable for a princess. Which complimented my niece’s new Frozen wellies, which she refused to get wet by walking around the yard!
She chatted away to me while I tacked the Shetland up – I don’t think I will ever get used to handling something so low to the ground! And then we went into the school to get on and walk around. She was a bit scared of the movement at first, and held on tightly, but soon I managed to get her to just hold the reins loosely.
I thought it was a great sign that she didn’t want to get off at the end! But we persuaded her that she had other jobs to do, like brush her pony and feed him an apple. This time she was much more confident around the pony, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the attention.
This “experience” is to me what should happen to all young children when they go for riding lessons. So often parents expect instructors to teach their pre-schooler, who’s fingers are so tiny they can’t grasp the reins, and they have little understanding of daily conversation, let alone adding in the weird and wonderful compendium of equine terminology. I think it’s best to get kids interacting with the pony, finding their balance in the saddle, and the just enjoying the rhythm and noise their pony makes.
Of course, some children are immersed in horses as soon as they come out of the womb and teaching them can be much easier – one friend I have has a two year old who can do an excellent, BHS worthy demonstration of the correct mounting procedure. But she watches Mummy daily, and rides most days. For these kids learning to ride is like learning to walk. For others, they need to learn at their own pace, and take in little nuggets of information, piece by piece. You can’t compare their progress, neither can you compare their academic progress as it is so heavily influenced by their development – cognitive, physical and social.
Which brings me on to the question; should riding schools offer riding lessons to under fives? Would they not be better off offering “pony experiences” for little ones to pat, cuddle and brush their pony before riding for fifteen minutes, and then having more pony cuddles? After all, I think my niece left the stables on Saturday confident and happy around ponies, with an interest in visiting again.