Introducing a child to horses involves much more than helping them into the saddle. Trainer and coach Jackie Krshka says the best approach starts on the ground and includes valuable lessons about a horse’s nature.

Child on horseback
Photo by Ross Hecox.

Horse-crazy children aren’t all that uncommon, but giving those kids a positive experience with horses that will build into a lifetime commitment begins with teaching them about the nature of a horse, says Jackie Krshka.

The Yukon, Oklahoma, trainer and coach says that teaching a child to ride is about much more than getting them in the saddle. It starts on the ground, with lessons that encompass safety and a thorough understanding of why horses act the way they do. Children who understand the logic behind the instruction are more likely to become true horsemen, Krshka says.

“Horses, for the most part, don’t intend to hurt you,” she says. “But they have a fear-flight reaction sometimes. If they get caught off guard or catch something out of the corner of their eye that is suspect to them, by their nature they’re going to respond to it. And my program includes teaching kids about that.”

Krshka says that children around the age of 6 are ready to start learning about horses.

“Certainly my children were exposed to horses from the time they could walk, but as a norm, if you’re not talking about someone like me, where this is all we do, you really want to have children at a stage in life where they are beginning to understand fear, danger, correct and incorrect. They have to have some discipline established.”

Many of Krshka’s youngest students have had some exposure to horses, but she still starts at the very beginning with her lessons.

“Safety is imperative to me,” she says. “Horses are big, loving animals, and they become like pets, but it’s no different than a child being too comfortable approaching a dog’s face. How many dog bites do we see because of that? I want to teach children about how horses respond.

“It’s not just about telling a child ‘no,’ or ‘don’t get by that horse’s back leg.’ That’s not enough. I tell children that horses are born in nature, and God made them to react a certain way to fear. If they don’t see you and they see your shadow, or you suddenly cross in front of them, they’re going to protect themselves. I try to go into a deep explanation of it so that they really absorb the danger involved with horses before they ever ride.”

On the Ground
Before allowing a child to ride, Krshka makes certain that he or she can handle a horse safely from the ground, teaching the child handling and grooming.

“Basic care is extremely important,” she explains. “I want children to learn skills and develop an emotional bond with horses. When you can do that, you can develop the best performance and unity with the horse.”

As she does when explaining safety issues, Krshka helps children understand the “whys” of what they are asked to do.

“Children should care whether the horse is brushed and if its feet are cleaned out, but I want them to also understand why we do those things. There is a lot of information that should be taught from the start,” she says.

She begins by teaching a child how to safely approach a horse.

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