Today We are doing something that we have never done before: We are opening up the gates of The Mom and Dad Academy for talented moms and dads of the world to empower us and give us tools to teach our kids new skills.
This is so exciting!
Our first mom-guest writer is Yifat Schwartz. Although I feel a very strong connection to Yifat, I have never met her face to face. Yifat was the first person to sign up to receive The Mom and Dad Academy blog – and I never forget my firsts. Through our online correspondence, I discovered that among her many talents, Yifat is also an equestrian. I thought to myself, how wonderful it would be to introduce our kids to horseback riding – except – that I know nothing about it. I approached Yifat, who lives in Israel, with a request for guidance and tips. This post is the result of our virtual conversation.
Yifat, the stage is yours.
What’s the best age for my child to begin learning horseback-riding?
There is no “right” age to begin riding. It really depends on the child’s desire – that’s not less important than the parent’s desire. If a child shows an affinity for horses and riding at age 4, there is no need to wait. You can take him to a riding ranch to see horses, pat them, watch others ride and get on a horse while an instructor leads the horse. In my opinion, the optimal age to begin riding in structured lessons is 6-8 years old. Any age after that is fine as well. It’s never too late to begin horseback-riding.
How can I help my child learn horseback riding?
Horseback riding is first and foremost a love for this animal. The connection between the child and the horse is the most basic component here. The difference between riding and any other sport is that you always need to be synchronized with an animal, unlike tennis or bike-riding. Understanding this animal and how it thinks is an entire doctrine.
Before you begin, it’s good to know there are two main types of horseback-riding: English and Western. Western horseback-riding is how cowboys ride and is subdivided into many styles. English riding is a competitive sport which can be seen in the Olympics. Western style is also competitive but is not in the Olympics. English riding is divided into styles such as Dressage where horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements and Show Jumping. Its best to explore various riding ranches in order to observe different styles of riding and to decide what style works best for you and your child.
As a child, I started riding English style, but as a parent my children will begin riding Western since it is more informal, less rigid, and more appropriate for children, in my opinion. There is not much prep work to do at this point. After you have picked a style that you like, you need to find an appropriate ranch and let the local instructors do their work.
How did you get into this sport, Yifat?
My love story with horses began from the moment I saw my first horse. I have always loved horses. My parents were not involved in my decision to begin riding. They don’t ride. This is something that emerged from me. I grew up in a city in Israel. I started riding at age 10. Riding has been a significant part of my childhood and adolescence. My life was intertwined with the local riding ranch. Most of my friends were other kids who rode along with me (and many of them are still my friends today). As a young girl and a teenager I would go riding 3-4 times per week and on Saturdays we would take part in horse competitions or help out on the ranch.
I learned a lot from riding but also from everything that is involved in being on a riding ranch. I learned to work hard, to clean the stables and maintain riding equipment and take care of the horses. I never complained – it was just a natural part of riding.
What should I check for when selecting a riding ranch for my child?
As in anything that has to do with your child, the human factor is most important. It is important to make sure that the instructors are friendly and are capable of communicating with children. You can request to watch another child’s lesson and observe how the instructor communicates with that child.
There are some mistakes that parents make though. Often, the parent himself is not familiar with horses so it’s important to observe your own reaction when you’re near a horse. A horse is a big animal and I can understand mothers who feel a need to shriek hysterically when a horse brings his nostrils next to you the first time – but please don’t shriek. It’s important that the kids get a sense of security near the horses and that the adult who is with them will appear confident.
What else should I keep in mind before my child begins to learn horseback riding?
Horseback riding is an expensive sport. In my opinion, it is worth every dime spent but it is still important to know what you are getting into.
It’s also important to make sure that the child knows all the safety precautions when working with horses. He will be taught on the ranch how to approach an animal that weighs 1700 lbs. There is no need to cause him to fear the animal – just to make sure he understands the rules of the game. When you are near a horse, you need to always be aware of how they behave and to read their body language. Learning how to read an animal’s body language is a huge advantage as well for the child, and an amazing learning experience.
What do you tell a parent who feels conflicted about the taming of horses and the fact that it is an unnatural process for the horse (torturous on some levels)?
In the past, in order to “break a horse” it was common to think that you have to “break its spirit”. This may have been true in the past when humans had to capture wild horses that have never seen a human in their lives. This is very far from being true today. The horses on which we ride are completely domesticated and were born on a ranch. They are very familiar with humans and enjoy their company from the first encounter. The process of taming a horse for riding is done gradually and is relatively pleasant for the horse. The horse enjoys the learning and especially enjoys the connection with people.
Academy Mom’s conclusions
Yifat has inspired me to begin visiting local horse farms. I am sure the kids will absolutely love it. Despite the fact that I myself am nervous around big horses, I am sure my nervousness stems from lack of familiarity with them. In our journey of teaching our kids about the world around them, I wish for our kids to feel “at home” with animals. This can only be done by face to face, physical encounters with animals on a regular basis. Let the horseback-riding adventure begin.
Yifat Schwartz is a mom of three adorable boys, happily married to a veterinarian, certified to treat babies and toddlers with developmental delays – loves to write about all of these. You can read more of her thoughts on life in her Hebrew blog http://skilledmother.blogspot.com/