If I take riding lessons...then can I please have a pony?"
Most little girls (and some boys too) at some time or other in their lives experience an overwhelming dsire to posses a pony. Fueled by books and movies such as "The Black Stallion", "Flicka", "Black Beauty" and the "Man From Snowy River" this desire can quickly develop into an obsession that can give a parent prematurely grey hair with the constant whining and tears. Now this pony fetish may gradually give way to other ambitions (such as cheerleading and an interest in boys) but it's always possible that your child really does have an interest and aptitude for horsemanship, and may even choose a career in the "horse world."
Riding lessons can prove to be a relatively inexpensive way to see if your child's interest in horses is merely a passing fancy, or a deepseated, lifelong love and commitment to the sport. There's nothing like grooming, picking hooves, and mucking out stalls, to separate the born equestrian from the city slicker whose fantasy involves only cantering into the sunset. Even if your child moves on to other interests, riding lessons will provide fresh air and exercize; as well as instilling such character-building traits as sportsmanship and team work. Learning patience, developing compassion, and feeling responsible for the horse's well being can do much to transform an introverted child into a well adjusted one as your child bonds with lesson horses and other children who share the same interests.
If riding lessons for your child seem like good option, do your homework. The internet, your local tack or feed store, or the phone book's yellow pages, can often lead you to good lesson barns and instructors who teach children in your area. Before commiting yourself, visit the facility. Make sure that there is a good fenced riding arena, a wide selection of happy, healthy looking horses of varying sizes and temperments suitable for beginners, that the tack is in good repair, and be sure the facility is neat and tidy. Observe the instructors as they give lessons to others; watching to see if they get along well with children, place a proper emphasis on safety, and react compassionately and empathetically when things go wrong. Talk with the parents of some of the students to get their opinion of the stable and instructors.
Most instructors prefer to teach children who are at least 7 years of age, since younger children quite often have a short attention span, and do not usually have the physical strength or dexterity to manage a horse by themselves. Boots with a heel are of course a must, and for added safety, a reputable instructor will require that the child wear a protective helmet.
Lessons will usually begin with instructions on how to approach and safely lead and work around a pony. Brushing, cleaning hooves and the proper way to put on a halter, bridle and saddle maybe covered as well. Then finally the good stuff ... mounting and dismounting, the proper seat position and learning to walk, turn and stop the animal. These lessons are usually done at the end of a longe line in a controlled environment. Later, as your child improves in balance and confidence, trotting and cantering will be introduced in the arena.
Private lessons are of course ideal, but can be more costly than "clinics" or group sessions of a set amount of hours at a set price. You can expect to pay about $40.00 and up for each group session; whereas private rates may be $60.00 for 30 minutes or $80.00 an hour, and possibly even higher. Whatever your budget allows, you'll know it was money well spent when you see the benefits to your child's physical and emotional health.