Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.
Those of us that are riding instructors and trainers appreciate all of our customers. We just want to give a few simple suggestions on how to be a great barn parent or lesson parent.
Stay and Watch the Lesson
Though I do realize that things come up and you may not be able to stay for every lesson, it is important to us that you watch your child ride. We want you to get to see their progress and see what is going on during the lessons.
Not that we are thinking of the worst, but if something were to happen and your child fell off and got hurt (or just shaken up), you are going to want to be there to see if they are okay. If your child falls off and if they are upset, having a parent there to encourage them to get back on might be very helpful.
On the same note, if you see your child fall off, please try not to overreact. Instructors will tell you from experience that the bigger deal you make over a fall, the more upset the rider will be (not that we do not want to make sure your child is okay—we do and we will). The best way to get a scared child back on is to make sure they are okay as quickly as possible. Talk to them about what happened and what they could have done differently, and get them back in the saddle as quickly as possible.
I know it's hard and scary to see your child fall . . . it is hard for us too. We just want to make sure that as long as they are not hurt that they get back on and keep riding.
The longer it takes to get your child back on the horse, the harder it is going to be. Assuming they are not hurt, we want them back on the horse to gain their confidence back as soon as we can.
Communicate With Your Instructor
Just as we want our students to communicate with us, we want parents to also. If you have a concern or question, please don't hesitate to ask us to explain why we are doing what we are doing.
There is a method to our madness. We sometimes forget that someone who is not familiar with riding or horses might not understand what is going on. We would rather you ask us than to be worried or upset about something that you are seeing.
Unless you are concerned for your child's safety, please wait until the end of the lesson (or at least until we are taking a break from our exercises). Hopefully, you never will have a concern about safety, but if you do, that is a time when I would find it appropriate to say something while we are working.
Support Our Decisions
As much as we would like to be able to clone our lesson horses, we only have one of each. Every barn has a favorite or two. We choose the horses for our students based on which one will best suit what they need to work on at the time.
A lot of the time your child's favorite will be one of the "easier" horses, so if they move on to a different horse, it is most likely a sign that they are making progress.
We need you to back us up on this. Encourage your student to ride whichever horse they are assigned with an open mind. Tell them that they are making progress and learning new skills. We aren't trying to be unfair or play favorites.
Dress Your Child for the Weather
I have found for some reason though, many parents (maybe because they are rushing or because they work inside all day), don't send their children dressed for the weather.
If it's cold, dress them in layers and don't forget gloves. Gloves are so important in the winter—you can't hold your reins effectively if your fingers are frozen.
In the summertime, try to dress them as cool as you can. Light colors and fabrics, of course. Many sporting goods companies have great hot weather shirts and tank tops. The riding specific brands also have clothing meant to help you stay cool.
Also in the summertime, it is super important to bring your child a drink; it is a work out to ride. Not to mention, just being out in the hot sun, your child will do and feel a lot better if they stay hydrated.
If Your Child Has Tack, Take It Home With You
In a lesson barn situation like mine, a lot of students have things like brush boxes and saddle pads. We have enough of our own stuff to keep track of. If your child has their own gear that they would like to use that is totally fine. Just make sure that it is labeled with their name or initials. Then, after the lesson, take it all home with you.
Unless your barn has a designated place for riders to store their things, it is hard for clients supplies that are left behind to not get mixed up with the barn tack. Brushes, saddle pads, crops all those sorts of things, look the same after a long day of teaching, which makes it really easy for them to end up mixed up with our lesson horse tack.
Come Early and Stay Long Enough
Come in time for your student to tack up their horse if that is the barn policy. Make sure you know what is expected of you. Do you need to come early? Are you responsible for cooling the horse out and putting it away after the lesson? Knowing the expectations will help avoid conflict.
Know the Pet Policy
Some barns are open to clients bringing their dogs to the farm. Others are not. Make sure that before you do, you know if it is allowed. If it is, keep the dog on a leash and make sure that it does not distract or spook the horses.
Pick Your Child up on Time
We would like you to watch and be involved in your child's riding career. We know that this is not always possible. If you do have to drop off your child for the lesson, please get back on time to pick them up.
Parents tell us that "she can just hang out" until they get back. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. We are only responsible for your child during their given lesson time. Once their lesson is done, we need to focus on our next students, not be distracted making sure we don't lose track of your child before you come back.
Practice Good Sportsmanship
At my barn, my goal is for everyone to feel comfortable. Everyone learns at their own speed and has their own riding goals. As instructors, we want to foster a good environment for the kids to feel comfortable and learn.
Parents making rude comments or not being supportive of other riders is not good sportsmanship. We are all on the same team, and we love horses—we want the kids to learn and be safe. We want our riders to get along and support each other in achieving their goals.
I made many lifelong friends in my early years of taking lessons, and this would have not been possible if the environment I was riding in wasn't friendly and supportive.
We Are All on the Same Team
It's pretty basic stuff! Come prepared, respect your instructor, remember you brought your child to us for lessons because you didn't know about horses. So please, trust our judgment, communicate well when you have concerns, and be friendly to other parents and children.
When we are at the barn and with the horses, we are all on the same team!