After more than a year of begging, my husband and I decided to get our seven-year-old daughter horseback riding lessons for Christmas. She has always been in awe of the large and majestic creatures and has a way with animals, so we thought we would give it a try and see how it went.
She took to it immediately, and her instructor described her as a “natural” during her first lesson. Although she hasn’t had many classes yet, we can already see a difference in her self-confidence, balance and coordination, and leadership.
These are only three of the countless benefits of learning to ride and care for a horse, according to Jessica Pelissero, owner of JP Equestrian and certified riding coach:
Jessica has been riding horses since she was two, and has been in the saddle for more than 30 years.
“There are so many benefits for kids riding. Fitness is a good one. A lot of people would like to say that riding is not exercise, but ask anyone who has taken a lesson - you get a workout,” she says. “The muscles that you use for riding are totally different from any other sport.”
The riding instructor of five years adds that one of the biggest benefits of equestrian work is building a connection with a living animal.
“Different from any other sport, your partner is a thinking, feeling creature and the things you do affect them as well,” Pelissero adds. “I think it makes kids more empathic and aware of the feelings around them.”
She adds that because of the complex instructions and safety aspects that are involved in learning to ride, the earliest age she recommends for horseback riding is around seven years old.
Jessica says that although most of her students start off learning in one-to-one lessons with her, they move on to group lessons because of the positive relationships that riding together creates among children.
“One of the important skills kids learn from riding is definitely teamwork,” Jessica says. “My students are always helping each other, and we are a team. The older kids learn how to help the younger kids and it builds leadership skills as well. We all cheer each other on.”
Another important skill learned is that of ‘getting back in the saddle.’
“At horse shows, if you did perfectly but the judge just liked the look of another horse better, that’s the way the cookie crumbles,” Jessica says. “The skill you learn over time is to take that and shake it off and go back in and do it again.”
She adds that riding and caring for a horse is hard work. No child likes to muck out the stall or the job of cleaning their tack, but the effort pays off and that teaches kids that it is worth it.
And many more…
Other benefits of horseback riding for children include learning responsibility for themselves and their animal, getting outside and away from screens, problem solving when something unexpected comes up, improving mood and relieving stress.
In fact, a 2011 British Horse Society study concluded that horseback riding stimulated mainly positive psychological feelings in participants. More than 80 percent of rider questionnaire responses claim that horseback riding made them feel "quite a lot" or "extremely” cheerful, relaxed, happy, or active.
We are so thrilled that our daughter has chosen this lesser-known sport as her hobby, and we can’t wait to see how much she will learn, grow and change for the better as she follows her passion for these gentle giants.
Stacie is the Editorial Assistant of Calgary’s Child Magazine and mother of a delightful daughter and silly son.
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