Our young rider

We are always getting calls about how young will we take children for riding lessons.

Our policy is four years old. And even at four, some children aren’t ready yet.

There are certain developmental traits we look for before putting a youngster on a horse.

First, let’s look at attention span.

Child development experts say that on average a four or five year old can stay focused for two to five times their age. So, one four year old may have an attention span of eight minutes and another can stay focused for 20 minutes. That’s quite a difference and if the average lesson is 30 minutes long at this age, we would want them to focus on rider for at least 15 minutes.

Even though we change the activity every five to ten minutes from weaving cones to going over poles to making circles or tossing bean bags, the child is still sitting on a horse. Even a 30 minute lesson can feel like forever if the child loses interest.

In addition to focus, we look at stamina, gross and fine motor skills, and the ability to follow directions.

Horseback riding means being able to sit balanced in the saddle for an extended period of time. Riders who lean forward, backwards, or to one side aren’t balanced. This takes a toll on their muscles to sit up and not lean. They usually tire quickly and then, horseback riding is no longer fun.

Now, I will admit that horseback riding will strengthen those core muscles and this is the basis of therapeutic riding for many, but, if strengthening core muscles is not the goal, then we want the rider to be able to sit comfortably without leaning or holding onto the saddle.

The rider must also be able to hold the reins during the ride. Dropping, letting go, or the worse, throwing the reins indicate a lack of control, poor fine motor skills, and/or a lack of focus.

Finally, the rider needs to be able to follow directions. A rider who is in a “no” or defiant stage will not benefit from or learn to ride a horse.

Children in a farm environment often start riding as soon as they can sit on a horse – right around two or three years old. But, they are not getting regular lessons. They pop on for a few minutes, get led around, and then go back to playing their typical kid games. My own grandson started riding at three. But we never kept him on a horse longer than 15 minutes.

When you sign up for lessons, unless the instructor is a friend who can fit you and your child in at odd times, the facility will have strict times set up. Many do offer 30 minute lessons for the younger child, but most have one hour lessons and have the minimum age of six or seven.

So, how old should a child be to start horseback riding lessons? Four or five years old if they have the interest and the criteria mentioned above. Otherwise, it’s best to save your money, let them ride a pony at the carnival, and wait until they are a little older.

Pretty Pony Pastures is an inclusive horseback riding facility located in Davisburg, MI. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities. Their recently published book, Fifty Blades of Hay, which highlights how horses help riders, is available in paperback or on Kindle on Amazon.

Last fall we did something new at our barn. I made a goal page for each rider. It included their name, a picture of them on their horse, their age, room for them to write their goal, and a place for me to sign off when they achieve their goal.

Fall 2019 Goal Sheet

I explained to the riders and to their parents that the goal should be something that they could attain by winter. It should be something that they are working on during their riding lesson. And, if applicable, I can give them “homework” in the form of exercises to help them achieve their goal.

I gave them examples, like keeping heels down, mounting the horse by themselves, looking where they are going to name a few. My thought was if they chose this as their goal, they will focus more in their lesson on doing it and they will make better progress.

The riders came back the following week with their goal or goals. Some of them got it and had one thing to focus on for the next few weeks. Others came back with goals that would take years to accomplish. No doubt one five-year old, who is making great progress came back saying her goal was to ride in rodeo. Great! But not by the end of the year. Another wanted to jump. Sure, you will be able to, but not in the next eight weeks.

So, for those riders we refined the goal to make it achievable. And hung everyone’s goal sheet around the viewing room window for everyone to see.

Goal Sheet for everyone to see

Spoiler alert: Not only was this a good reminder for the rider as to what to work on, but I could focus on their goal during their lesson to ensure that they would be making progress towards it.

Did the riders do it? A few did and I happily took down their sheet, signed it, and took their picture with it.

So proud of their achievement

The great thing was, everyone kept improving and with their goal in mind, they tried harder to learn the skill.

This is one activity we are going to keep doing at our barn. Why not? It’s a win-win all the way around.

Pretty Pony Pastures is an inclusive horseback riding facility located in Davisburg, MI. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities. The recently published book, Fifty Blades of Hay, highlights how horses help riders is available on Amazon.

It was the fall of 2003 when I told Tom that we needed a “grandma” horse.

We had just started our therapeutic riding program in July and our young horses were great, but being young they sometimes had more energy than I wanted to see for some of our riders.

Tom contacted members of our Haflinger horse organization in search of the “grandma” horse. Just before Thanksgiving he found her.

We brought Stella home the day after Thanksgiving. She was a seasoned horse. We were her fifth owners. She had been a driving horse until a few years prior. She was started under saddle and had been ridden in a few parades. She was laid back and steady. Perfect for our program!

After letting her settle in, we introduced her to some of our riders. It was Christmas break and the weather was unseasonably warm. That meant we could ride comfortably in our arena.

And ride we did.

My grandson was four and the other kids in the barn were between six and nine years old. They groomed Stella, they rode Stella, they loved on Stella. And Stella took it all in.

It was during those three days that we realized that the “grandma” horse that we found was perfect for our program.

She truly loved the kids and the attention they gave her. She thrived on being the center of attention.

She quickly became our “go to” horse for new riders that were apprehensive or fitful in the saddle. She had an “I can handle this” attitude and never failed us.

Christmas 2003 was a great holiday season and our Christmas horse made it the best.

Pretty Pony Pastures is an inclusive horseback riding facility located in Davisburg, MI. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities. The recently published book, Fifty Blades of Hay, that highlights how horses help riders is available on Amazon.

So true – I see this happen all the time with different riders on the same horse!

Doing the Work

There’s this thing about working with horses… it’s one of those things that is responsible for making working with horses difficult, soul-shattering hard work. And I don’t want to be Debbie Downer here, but it’s one of those kind of hard-to-swallow universal truths about horses that we sometimes really wish wasn’t so.

But it is so. And really, I wish this was the first thing we were taught about horses.

Horses seek the level of the person/people working with them.

Yes, I too wish that wasn’t true, because I’d rather it wasn’t that easy to get a report card on my work. But it is true. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later, for better or for worse, eventually our horses will end up at our level.

This phenomenon explains a lot of what goes on in the horse world. This explains why a horse could be a complete “angel” for the trainer…

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Sometimes I go to the barn late at night to check the horses’ water. It amazes me that I’ll be greeted by them regardless of what time it is.

Sure, some of them are sleeping, but others are awake. Yet, there are times during the day that the horses are sleeping too.

So, what are the sleep patterns for horses? Don’t they need a few solid hours of sleep like other mammals? I know our dog will sleep all day and all night if we let her!

Horses, I’ve learned nap more than they sleep. Power naps! Maybe it’s part of their makeup since, as prey animals, they always have to be ready to move on a moment’s notice. I always say they nap between riders to keep their strength up.

So horses have learned to take advantage of quiet times to get a nap in. They can and do sleep standing up most of the time – they have to be ready to leave if the “horse eater” shows up.

But, they also need to lay down and sleep. From what I’ve read, horses need about 15 minutes of REM sleep every day. That’s a lot less than what we need. When they are getting their REM sleep, their nose touches the ground. And just like us, if the horse is deprived of REM sleep, it could affect them negatively. Typically, when horses are in a herd, one or two horses stand guard while the others sleep.

Horses do dream, just like other animals and you might even hear them nicker once in a while. Hmm… Talking in their sleep.

The question still is, are they really sleeping when they are standing up? And if so, how do they not fall down?

Well, horses have a locking mechanism in their stifle that hold one rear leg in place while the horse can rest the other leg. This way, they don’t fall over and if they have to move quickly, the “locked” leg will have time to unlock while the unlocked legs start making the getaway.

So there it is. Sleep while standing, sleep while laying down. They take naps during the day as well as at night. And here we thought that they worked hard for their oats!

Pretty Pony Pastures is an inclusive horseback riding facility located in Davisburg, MI. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities. The recently published book, Fifty Blades of Hay, that highlights how horses help riders is available on Amazon.


We might be posting this a little late, but, we want to share our 15 seconds of fame that some of our riders got when Live in the D came to our place to see just what we were doing for Valentine’s Day!

We do Test Ride a Pony every month from February through October, but this one was very sweet as we were featured as one of the things to do with your kids for Valentine’s Day. Our riders were ecstatic to have a chance to be on TV!

Missed our February ride? Check our Test Ride a Pony web page for all the rides for 2019.

Pretty Pony Pastures is an inclusive horseback riding facility located in Davisburg, MI. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities. The recently published book, Fifty Blades of Hay, that highlights how horses help riders is available on Amazon.

 

 


In July of last year, we celebrated 15 years of providing Therapeutic and English riding lessons to mostly children from all over southeast Michigan.

We celebrated with an open house and invited former and current riders as well as anyone else who wanted to visit. Many families came to visit, others sent notes. We’ve kept in touch with many families through Facebook and Christmas cards.

Having been a school teacher, prior to starting our riding facility, I was used to the change in students over the years. What struck me at our anniversary, was how many of the students had become almost like family for us.

It’s always bitter-sweet when a student leaves. Some are advancing to the next level of riding, others have decided to try something new. In either case, we wish them well and ask them to keep in touch.

This year, it seems, I became very aware of how much time has passed and how our “family” of riders have matured and achieved.

robbieleadingOne of our students, who was reluctant to leave us, came back this year to work with our scout programs. I’m not sure if he’s been gone three or four years. I do know it’s been a while. Although he had grown – a lot – it was as if he had never left! He fell right into the routine we always had with grooming and saddling the horse. But today he was leading, not riding. I felt like a proud grandparent as I watched him give directions to the young rider. Yes, he might not be riding anymore, but he hasn’t forgotten a thing.

Another parent sent me a text message complete with a picture of her daughter and her daughter’s new horse. Wow! She said she was going to keep at it and advance, but also get a horse? Another proud moment, knowing that she is ready to own a horse because she learned everything possible while she was riding here.

callieteachesgrooming

 

Another rider, who started when she was barely 5, will be leaving for college this year. Both her and her sister, who also rides, purchased horses when they left. Now they will both be away at college. They sure grow up fast!

So now I can’t help but wonder as I see the graduation and engagement posts, how many “repeat” riders I will have when their children are old enough to start riding.

Yes, just like school they come, learn, and move on. But, unlike school, these riders have become part of our extended family and they are doing us proud.

Linda Watson-Call is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities, at this facility. Ms. Linda is also the author of the Fifty Blades of Hay which is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback.