6 reasons children should learn to ride (in case anyone needs persuading)

  • Are you desperate for your children to learn to ride, but your partner's not so sure? Here are six reasons that should convince him or her in a flash

    Childhood is full of exciting stories and role-play games, so learning to ride and ‘playing ponies’ can add a new dimension to your child’s experience of these four-legged friends.

    To prove our point, we’ve compiled six reasons why getting children off the sofa and into the saddle not only brings a great variety of physical, mental and social skills, which bodes well for them in the future, but how riding can instill many other qualities in children.

    A life long love of horses brings different rewards at different stages of childhood, but aspiring to be the next Charlotte Dujardin can be a great motivational tool for feeding their enthusiasm and achieving their dreams.

    1. Fitness and Health

    Any type of sport brings physical health benefits and riding a horse or pony isn’t any different.

    According to Public Health England’s 2015/16 latest child obesity figures, 19.8 per cent of children aged 10-11 were obese and a further 14.3 per cent were overweight. The figures also showed that 9.3 per cent of four-to-five year-olds were obese and another 12.8 per cent were overweight.

    The importance of getting children outdoors first starts with the physical advantages, and given the figures — it’s clearly important to get them involved as young as possible.

    Megan Hawkins, PR Executive for the British Horse Society (BHS), says: “Horse riding is a great way to get your children outside in the fresh air and keep them active.”

    British Show Pony Society (BSPS) judge, Fiona Dymond, adds: “I like that when my children come home from school they don’t sit in front of a screen, but go out and ride or groom their ponies. I think this is much healthier for them both physically and mentally.”

    2. Lifelong well-being

    The older a child gets involved in a specific sport, the less likely they’ll consider it as an important part of their lives, and the less chance you’ll have of securing their interest as they progress into adulthood.

    “Right from the outset riding offers great lessons in life,” says eventer Lucy McCarthy (née Wiegersma). “The value of perseverance and dogged determination, hard work, the rewards of empathy, how to deal with disappointment and losing, while also experiencing the sweet taste of success are all aspects that come into play.”

    3. Making new friends

    Getting your children out into new environments is a great way to help them make friends. Riding can lead to social-life benefits and meeting new people that could develop into life-long friends.

    Show rider and producer Natalie Reynolds says: “The friendships gained within riding disciplines are often life long, and it can be beneficial that children have different sets of friends to only their school friends.”

    4. Confidence booster

    Learning to ride and care for an animal that’s twice their size can really empower children. It’s a great way to boost their confidence through encouragement and compliments, highlighting areas where they’re gaining new skills and rewarding them for showing improvement in these areas.

    “I think teaching children to ride can be a wonderful way to bring out confidence and it can be a life long skill and passion,” says Natalie. “My three-year-old son Luke has a pony, but I’m conscious that I don’t push him too much.

    “I’ll never force him to ride. Sometimes he’s just happy brushing him or helping to muck out, and that’s okay. Other days he’ll ask me to ride and I hope his confidence continues to grow. He’s truly made a great friend in his pony and this is important too.”

    Megan adds: “Riding is suitable for all ages, and especially for children with special needs, interaction with horses can really help build their confidence.”

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    5. Learning life-lessons

    Riding is great for instilling an attitude in children that success and rewards comes off the back of hard work.

    “Looking after a pony is hard work,” says Natalie. “When I was a child my parents weren’t particularly horsey, so I learned at the local riding school where there was a strict policy of mucking out and grooming before you were allowed to ride. I whole-heartedly agree with this philosophy. Riding was a privilege if you completed your tasks and it really made you work for it and made that ride much more enjoyable and worthwhile.”

    Dealing with animals also helps children put others first. Lucy says: “If more people understood that someone else’s needs have to be considered alongside and often before your own, the world would be a much kinder place.”

    Natalie agrees: “Being around horses also teaches children about responsibility, kindness and compassion.”

    6. Responsibility

    The overall care of horses, including feeding them and keeping them healthy teaches children about caring for others. “Dealing with horses helps children develop respect and discipline. It teaches children how to respect and care for another animal,” says Megan.

    Lucy adds: “Learning to look after and ride a pony gives kids a sense of responsibility and accountability that stands them in great stead as they grow up.”

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