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One of the most frequent goals I hear from the parents who sign up their child for horseback riding lessons is “I’d like her to get some confidence.” Typically the child is five or six and excited to be with horses, but neither the parent nor the child know what is involved.

For me, it is so fulfilling to watch a child blossom from unsure of what to do with the horse to having complete control, or as complete control as possible, of a thousand pound animal who doesn’t have to listen if she chooses not to.

It starts with grooming. Some horses are wall huggers, so the child learns early on that she has to make the horse move away from the wall or that side will not get groomed. It may take a few weeks of learning how to talk “like you mean it” with the horse, but it happens. The rider soon learns the difference between firm, questioning, and mean tones.

The rider learns how to lead the horse around the arena. This is not taking a puppy for a walk. The horse may decide to stop. The child needs to learn the difference between stopping because the horse does not want to walk and stopping because it’s potty time. This involves learning how to read the horse. Great skill not only with horses but with people as well.

Once on the horse’s back, the real challenge is presented. Make the horse walk, stop, turn, zig zag through a maze of ground poles, and other actions that teach riding skills and increase the rider’s confidence in their ability to control the horse. The rider learns that the horse mirrors her feelings and energy. If you feel tired, the horse drags and doesn’t want to cooperate. Feel energetic and the horse is ready to do anything you ask. Lose focus and the horse goes in the other direction.

In most cases, because of the rider’s age, ability, and size, the parent assists with the grooming, saddling, and leading of the horse. We encourage the parent to gradually step back as the child’s skills increase. One rider in particular was young and very small for her age. I could tell that her mother enjoyed interacting with the horse as much as her daughter did. It only took about six months when the rider looked at her mother and said, “I can do this by myself.” She did ask for help saddling the horse, but otherwise, she displayed the confidence that her mom was wanting her to gain – both in the barn and in school.

Horses – building confidence in young children that can be transferred to other areas of their life.

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.

The H.I.T. riders meet every Tuesday at 6:30 pm. This isn’t your typical riding class. In fact, some weeks there is no riding at all. But every week the horses are involved in some aspect of the challenge.

Yes, these young riders are up for the challenge of training a horse. H.I.T. is an acronym for Horseperson In Training. And although their riding instructor is present, it is up to them to determine what challenge they choose and how they will go about accomplishing it.

One of the young riders selected roping a steer for her challenge. We provided the cow, as it turned out, but she decided what steps would be taken to make sure the horse accepted the “steer” in the arena and allow her to rope it.

Eventually, this challenge will go one step further, and the cow will “run” along the long wall of the arena on a rail while the rider “ropes” it. But for now, we just got the horse used to the cow moving and the rope hitting the cow.

This video captures it. 

It did take about four weeks to accomplish this task. And although our horses are pretty much desensitized, it took an entire session to get Leslie really comfortable with the cow.

For more information about the variety of programs we offer, see our website at Pretty Pony Pastures.


Copper Boy_Sean gets mail 520If I had a dollar for every time one of our students was surprised that the lesson was over, our horses would never be out of carrots!

Especially with the therapeutic riders, I try to keep the same rhythm or structure for every lesson: groom, lead, warm-up, lesson, game and cool-down.

Now, admittedly, there are very few times that I’ve had an over-heated horse at the end of a class, but, the cool-down is as important as the warm-up for both the horses and the riders.

It gives them both a time to relax and get ready to complete the class. Most of the time we end the class with a game. It could be a ring-toss, bean-bag throw, scavenger hunt, or just a stop/start game like red-light, green-light.

Why games?

When I took lessons, our cool-down was just walking the horse. In circles, or down the path after cantering around the field. Five or ten minutes of slowing down and, if we were really running the horses, cooling them off. Boring!

Games, to me, is when everything comes together. It gives the rider a chance to relax after learning and practicing a new skill. Gives the horse time to regroup before the next riders come in. But, more importantly, it distracts the rider from the task of riding.

This is not counter-productive. This is often when everything comes together for the rider.

The game is now the focus, not the horse, not the skill. Even if the game practices the new skill, it is still not the same as the “lesson” itself.

Horse-rider skills

So one week I notice that the riders are having a hard time stopping their horses. Another time, the riders need to work on keeping their horses going straight. It’s game time! Nothing like ending with red-light/green light to get the riders to focus on stopping their horse. And yes, there is a three-step backward penalty if you can’t stop your horse! Funny thing, every rider can stop their horse within two steps of the call. A relay-type game of taking an object to the other end of the arena and returning is great for practicing keeping the horse on a straight line. The focus is on the target, not the skill.

Rider self-improvement

The riders improve their hand-eye coordination with a ring or bean bag toss game. Not to mention motor skills when they pick up an object and move it to another part of the arena. One of the attributes we look for in a rider is fluidity. Can the rider move one part of the body without moving the rest of the body, or move the body in a manner that would cause the rider to loose balance? We teach this with games where they have to grab something like a flag without stopping the horse and placing it in the target area.

So, in a sense, it’s all fun and games, and the lesson is over quickly. And the rider is gaining skills without even realizing the learning that is happening!

Linda Watson 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.


We have one group of volunteers at Pretty Pony Pastures that help when Scout troops or other groups visit us. They are our Program Aids. They are, very literally, our right and left hands with these programs. Their responsibilities include leading the horses if we have Daisy or Brownie Troops; being spotters for Junior and Cadette Troops and Cub/Weblo Scouts. They present information at the various stations that we set up and assist with the grooming of horses before the groups arrive.

The Program Aids receive so much in return. First, after a few sessions, we see such a difference in their self-esteem and confidence.

Grooming with Brownies

Even though every PA is an experienced rider and handler, taking on this responsibility means that they have to focus on being in charge of the horse the entire time the scouts are present. For some, this is the only place they are told that they are in control and responsible for another person. The parents and leaders of the scouts often remark about the great job the PAs do both in handling the horses and working with the riders. We always pass that information to the PA, especially if they were out of ear-shot when the remark was made. They have the realization that they can do something; they are experiencing success.

Every Scout group that visits our facility is divided into patrols or small groups of three or four participants. While one group rides, the other one to three groups participate in other horse activities that are pertinent to their badge or patch. Each group has a PA assigned to them. This PA takes on the role of leader, explaining and teaching the group one aspect of horsemanship, from grooming to parts of the horse to how to care for horses. Now the PAs are practicing public speaking as well as peer-to-peer mentoring.

We have had several reports from the parents of PAs. The PA’s teachers have commented on the growth of the PA in the areas of leadership and speaking in front of the class.

The best part is the PAs are doing something they enjoy, not realizing how it is preparing them for their future.