There is something about a horse that inspires, that speaks to strength, freedom and flight. Each spring, thousands of children will beg for riding lessons, a pony, or some variation in between. For homeschoolers, equestrian sports offer a way to get active while developing stronger empathy and assertiveness.
I am lifetime rider with distinctly “non-horsey” parents. Although my mom had always loved horses, her personal experience with them was limited. I’m told that from the time I could indicate my own preferences, I demonstrated a strong and consistent love for all things equine. Horse stuffed animals, toys and books filled my room. The sight of any type of horse would fuel days of daydreams.
I’m not sure if my parents thought it was a “phase” but it’s one I’m still thoroughly enjoying as a 30 something mom with a busy career. Through school, jobs, marriage, and motherhood, riding has given me lessons learned and welcoming place to come back to. It’s a gift that I’ve also given my own 6-year-old.
There are so many sports and activities for our kids to choose from! Music, the arts, any number of team and individual sports all offer their own unique enrichment opportunity. But I’ve never experienced anything that had the balanced offering of riding. It is the ultimate leveler – a sport where even at the highest levels men and women compete against each other. It has aspects of both individual and team sports – in competition you are judged by yourself, partnered with an animal and often learn in groups with teams of barn mates.
Riding is both physically and mentally challenging. It requires strength and flexibility, much like downhill skiing. It encourages a level of body awareness similar to gymnastics: my upper body is ahead of my hips and I need to bring and keep it back. In the midst of the physical effort, riders need to steer their own horses and be aware of other horses and riders in the arena to avoid collisions.
Combined with the ever more important aspect of getting kids outside and some fresh air, the well rounded challenge of riding is a unique one for many of our very focused kids.
For several years while I was in college and first married, I taught riding lessons at my barn. One of my students’ parents asked if we could have a “learning day” with her daughter’s home school co-op. The day was such a rousing success that we immediately began making plans to do it more often – eventually leading to the development of a PE curriculum for several members of the co-op. I developed a program with multiple levels that the kids could test through that included horse care, nutrition, anatomy, history and technical skills plus measuring riding achievement.
Finding The Right Instructor
The secret to moving riding lessons from just another after school activity to a quality addition to your home school curriculum is finding the right instructor. Here a few key questions to answer when you are looking:
What is the student to teacher ratio for your lessons? You want a max of 2-3 to 1 for beginner students and 4-5 to 1 for intermediate students.
How do you teach the kids to be safe around horses? The instructor should be able to articulate to you their basic safety rules and how they educate and enforce them.
What is your equipment policy? Kids should be required to use an SEI approved riding helmet, long pants and boots with at least a 1″ to be safe in the saddle.
How do you incorporate unmounted work? Grooming, equipment and horse care can all be included as part of the unmounted learning around horses. Look for an instructor that includes these lessons on request.
A great starting point are instructors work with 4H or United States Pony Club. If your child takes riding lessons and you want to supplement their lessons with a curriculum structure at home, United States Pony Club publishes a set of books that outline their levels and contain much of the needed information. The beginner’s book will last many kiddos a year.
Perhaps the most important lesson from those hours of home school class was taught to me by the lovely group of kids who visited my barn. Not everyone wanted to ride – one young lady had zero interest in riding the horses but created a remarkable modification to the pitch fork we used to clean stalls. She happily cleaned stalls to test her modifications to satisfy the physical part of her PE class, stunning her parents who had despaired of finding an activity their little scientist would willingly to do. She simply needed her activity to serve a greater purpose. Each kiddo interacted with the horses in a slightly different way. Each relationship, though, offered the kids the learning opportunity they needed. In return, each child discovered the magic of a friend with a soft nose, strong back, and warm neck to hug.