“I teach children to make sure the horse understands where they are at all times and where they’re going,” Krshka says. “For instance, if a horse is being held by someone or is in a cross-tie, I’m going to extend my arm and touch the horse’s face or his neck, and make that connection first. If I’m going to do something with the horse’s leg, I never go straight for the leg. I first approach the horse and make sure his eye is on me. Then I touch his neck, move down his shoulder and on to his leg. That horse knows everything that’s taking place.”
Teaching a child this sequence of events is important, she adds, because it allows the child to understand how important it is that the horse knows the child’s position.
“Let’s say a cross-tie faces the barn door, looking outside. If there’s something going on out in the pasture and that horse’s attention is on the horses playing in a paddock in front of him, and you just run up there, that horse may very well jump sideways,” she explains. “It’s important that a child knows where the horse’s focus is, and that the horse’s focus should become the person.”
Krshka says that when she gets a new student, she tells the parents that a one-hour lesson could include about 30 minutes of riding and 30 minutes of other lessons.
“If a child is in the 7- to 9-year-old range, about 30 minutes of intense riding instruction is about all they’re going to absorb,” she explains. “The other 30 minutes will be focused on other issues, whether it’s caretaking, ground manners or grooming.”
“They need to be able to lead a horse, saddle one and understand safety,” Krshka says. “I also want to teach my students to start ‘reading’ horses, to understand the psyche of a horse. You have to be able to develop the ability to read horses. That sounds like a lot for a child, but in small ways you can teach them. The more they can understand what a horse is thinking, the better they can learn to work with him.”
In the Saddle
The first riding lesson usually comes in a small arena or other confined area, Krshka says.
“I want to assess [the child’s] balance, and if they are a brave rider or a fearful rider,” she says. “My teaching method will be dictated by those components. If the child is a timid rider, then I’ve got to approach it one way and offer a lot of positive reinforcement. I give them little [goals] to accomplish where I can give them a lot of individual praise. If the child is overly aggressive and forceful, I approach teaching in a different way. You have to rein in bolder riders at times to keep them from getting themselves in trouble. Many times that bolder rider will think fast and furious, and miss steps.”
The first lesson, though, always revolves around balance, athleticism, and a natural ability to ride.
“You’ve got to teach them to stay in the center of the saddle, keep their legs under them and keep their heels down,” Krshka explains. “Their carriage, seat and legs are imperative in the beginning. Most kids that haven’t ridden will lean forward or grab ahold of the horse because they don’t feel comfortable. They’re out of their element. I want to build their confidence and take it slow. I don’t start on the next step until I’m certain they’ve mastered the first step, and that psychologically and physically they’re ready to take on the next level.”
In the beginning, she places the reins properly in the child’s hand. If they are split reins, she ties a knot near the bottom in case the rider drops them.