Tuesday 16 July 2019

Trying to Build Confidence - Kid Edition

I have a kid that I started teaching to ride last summer. Let's call her K. She's either 11 or 12 years old. And riding terrifies her.

I think it took 4 lessons before she was able to touch the pony on the face. It was 3 lessons before I could unhook her from the leadline. Anytime the horse whinnied, flipped it's head due to a fly, took a slightly larger step, basically anything other than a quiet steady walk, K had a little panic.

She also gave up really easily. Picking up feet or doing up buckles, I heard many times "it's too hard". This also fell over into riding - she would give up very quickly if steering got a little wonky.
No pics that go with this post, so enjoy a few that I took with the DSLR this week. I was having fun playing with a wide angle lens - this one made me laugh.
For the first couple of months, every week I fully expected to get a call from her mom saying that she didn't want to do it anymore. But she kept showing up.

We started to make some progress under saddle. K actually liked trotting. Her rhythm and balance were fantastic, and her equitation was quite good for a beginner rider. I was optimistic that things were changing. She was still not overly comfortable on the ground around the horse, but was getting better.

Then this winter hit. We started back close to the beginning again but were able to progress quicker this time.

One day this spring, the pony spooked. And K fell off.

It wasn't a hard fall, she bounced up right away. I convinced her to get back on, just on the lunge line, because I knew that if she didn't the next time would be very difficult for her. Unfortunately, that month there were a bunch of events at the barn and most of our lessons were cancelled. So it was a couple of weeks before she rode again.

I always end up with a bunch of nose photos - I can't get my horses to stay away from me!
Ever since then, we have not been able to make much progress. Her position has deteriorated - she now leans forward, leg slips behind her, and hands rest on the neck. Her fear is quite significant.

I swapped to a different pony, who is generally much quieter to be around (as in no calling to buddies outside), but also bouncier. K had some decent moments, although she tended to be more tense at the end of the ride than the beginning. It's almost like her fear has built up through the ride and by the end it's just bottled over.

K has gotten much better on the ground with the horses. I showed her one day how some horses like their ears rubbed, and she loved giving that pony a good scrubbing on his ears. One day she decided by herself that she was going to try picking feet by herself, and has made great progress and no longer just says that it's too hard. If she doesn't get it the first time, she'll continue to try. A couple of weeks ago we did an unmounted lesson and cleaned a stall, then she brought Phantom in and washed and combed out her tail and stuffed her full of treats. Then she brought in Cisco for his food. She seemed quite comfortable around two horses she's never done anything with.
Haha - tied up in the barn means no nose close-ups!
I fully acknowledge her fear. I've told her that it's a very big deal that she keeps coming back and continues to try to ride despite her fear. Most people would have walked away ages ago. But my job is to push her just a little bit past her comfort zone. Which some rides, has meant only trotting 10 steps by herself.

K is not able to tell me what she is scared of. Her mother doesn't know where the fear comes from. But it's definitely there.

I've been struggling to figure out which horse to use for her. The lesson horses all have some quirk that worries her. I need a horse who doesn't whinny, doesn't stumble, doesn't spook, and isn't too tall.  Basically, Phantom.
Here's the glamour shot. But I wish I had put a better halter on him and combed his forelock!
So, this weekend, Phantom gave a beginner lesson.

She had the slowest, saddest walk in the world. But she steered.

There were plenty of mare glares in my direction. I ignored them and tried not to get too close to her so that she wouldn't veer towards me.

K trotted on the lunge line. I had picked up a lunge whip since it was going to be tough to get the trot from the slowest, saddest walk. It took K a bit to find her rhythm with Phantom's longer stride but by the end she was getting it.

K started off very worried - new horse, taller horse, and someone else riding in the arena. It took her a couple of minutes at the mounting block before she could swing a leg over, and the first half of the ride she was really tipped forward and I had to keep reminding her to sit back and put her leg forward.

But after the trot, we did a bit more steering at the walk. And she was sitting up nice and tall. Without reminders. This was the first ride in a long time that got better instead of worse as the ride progressed. Huge win.

So Phantom might have found a new job. Well, once a week. I don't think she'll be perfect - I'm a bit worried that she might trot too fast. She'll slow down to a walk easily, so we'll see. I also would like to try her in a sidepull hackamore rather than a bit since she doesn't like her mouth being pulled on, but I can't find the one I own. I'll figure something out.

I'm really hoping that Phantom is the confidence booster that K needs. The kid really wants to ride, so I'm more than happy to take the time she needs to get there.


  1. Aw that’s awesome that phantom could pinch hit to help this kid out. Hopefully she’ll be just the ticket bc otherwise it doesn’t sound like the kiddo is very eager for the sport :(

    1. I think she is eager enough for it, but the fear just takes over. She definitely likes being around the horses, it's the riding that is the problem. Time to work on my sport psychology skills!