|Photo by: Flickr User matlock-photo|
Ask any horse person when their love for horses began and their response will most likely be “when I was a child.” There is some type of infinite fascination held by children for the beauty and majesty of horses. Many kids are lucky to advance beyond riding their magnificent horse through their day dreams and have the personal opportunity to interact with or own a horse.
While there isn’t any one breed of horse better than another when choosing a horse for your child, it is best to find a “been there, done that” horse that has a laid back disposition and a quiet and forgiving demeanor. Gender may play more of a role than breed. Mares may be moody and stallions too rowdy, but geldings are generally more even-keeled and could be the better selection.
As parents, it is our responsibility to keep our kids safe when they handle and ride their horses. Implementing safe practices and making sure your child understands them and uses them are important not only for their safety, but also our peace of mine.
- Helmets save lives! Every child should wear a helmet every time they are around their horse, in or out of the saddle. Boots should always be worn when handling horses.
- Structured care and riding lessons are important, whether they are done in a formal setting from a professional instructor or provided by a family member on the family farm. Lessons will build confidence and ability, helping your child develop balance and a strong seat in the saddle. Hands on learning is important, but always under adult supervision. Younger children should never interact with horses without an adult being present.
- Teach your child about horse dynamics: fight or flight reactions, how they communicate with other horses, pecking orders in the herd, etc. This will provide awareness for your child whenever they are around horses. Instruct them to always be on alert to what might spook their horse: dogs, loud traffic or farm machinery, the wind blowing things around, etc.
- Safety on the ground. It is very important that children understand how to approach a horse, and how not to! Always approach horses from an angle off the shoulder or in front of the hip from behind. Never approach directly in front of their head or from straight behind. Always speak to the horse as you approach. Never approach quietly.
Just as important is teaching your child where to stand when near a horse to prevent foot injuries from being stepped on or from being knocked down if a horse whirls around. The safest place to stand is just off the shoulder. Instruct them to always have a hand on the horse. This will let the horse know they are there and will also alert your child if the horse is planning to make a move or is tensing up.
- Never let a child crawl/walk under the horse’s belly or under his neck. This may spook the horse and the child may be knocked to the ground and trampled.
- Children should never pick up the horse’s feet to clean them. This should always be done by an adult.
By: Darlene M. Cox