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Training your children and their horses

Advanced training for your children and their horses can make a world of difference. Here's how to shop for a riding stable.
Beth Baustian, 14, and her buckskin mare, Miss Kitty, benefited from advanced training at a professional stable. Beth recently purchased a registered Quarter Horse named Cash.
Weeklong, horsemanship day camps offer young riders experience in everything including riding over obstacle courses and learning about proper horse care and grooming. The culmination of camp is a mini horse show to demonstrate new skills to family and friends.
When selecting an equine training facility, make sure each child will get plenty of one-on-one attention.
Disabled children can benefit from horseback riding. Often three people are needed to help each rider.

Dan Baustian likes to rib his youngest daughter, Beth, about housing her hayburners at his Scott County, Iowa, farm. Even so, Dan and his wife, Terri, are helping their 14-year-old daughter become an expert horsewoman. The couple added two stalls in the barn for horses and constructed a practice ring. They also signed up Beth and her buckskin mare, Miss Kitty, for advanced training at Veritas Stables in nearby Davenport.

Beth took lessons once or twice a month and boarded Miss Kitty at Veritas periodically so she could ride in the stable's heated, indoor arena. Veritas instructors coached Beth in guiding Miss Kitty beyond basic maneuvers.

"We worked on getting Miss Kitty to give to the bit and put her head down, and to do a collected lope, side pass, and pivot," says Beth. "When I started taking lessons, I immediately saw how much I didn't know."

Veritas instructor Stacey Ickes remembers the early days, too. "I could see that her horse wasn't listening to her," says Ickes. "Whenever Beth pulled back on the bit, Miss Kitty stuck her head up and fought it. We worked at lots and lots of turning and patterns in order for Beth to learn how to make her horse respond. They needed to learn to communicate and be good partners.

"With a younger or green horse, you start with the basics of establishing ground manners," says Ickes. "If a horse respects you on the ground, then it is time to think about the saddle. Safety is the first and foremost thing."

7 things to look for in a stable

Equine Extension specialist and nutritionist Peggy Miller, Iowa State University, offers these seven tips for selecting a horseback riding stable or equine training center:

1. Choose a facility that makes safety a priority. Helmets should be required for all riders. If they aren't, that's a red flag, says Miller. Inquire about safety rules and general policies to get a sense of the attitudes and expectations for riders.

2. Ask if the instructors and trainers have expertise in your chosen riding discipline. For example, if show jumping is your goal, then you probably won't want to take lessons at a facility that specializes in another discipline, such as Western pleasure or reining. Find the barn that can best help you progress in your chosen area.

3. Observe horses to make sure they exhibit good manners while being handled. Are horses in the stalls, paddocks, or pastures calm, with their ears forward? If horses are constantly biting, kicking, or rearing their heads, it is a sign of poor handling or barn management, says Miller.

4. Note whether horses are well fed and healthy. "You shouldn't see snotty noses or emaciated- looking animals," says Miller.

5. Look at the cleanliness and general upkeep of the facility. These are good indicators of overall management. Stalls should be clean, aisles should be swept, and all areas should be clutter-free. Fences, gates, and tack should be in good repair.

6. Make sure the barn meshes well with your particular needs. For example, if you plan to ride after work, will the barn be open during the evening hours and off er good lighting? Proximity is another important factor to consider. Is the facility in a convenient location? If you plan to transport your horse to the stable, is it easy to access with a trailer?

7. Get references from horse owners, tack shop owners, and local veterinarians who handle equine cases. These people usually know which stables have knowledgeable instructors and good reputations for treating people and horses well.

Beyond serving as an information resource, a riding stable can provide a social outlet for horse lovers like Beth.

"She's always liked being around horse people, and there are a number of girls there about her age with the same interests," says Terri.

Pick a pony club

Certain stables, such as the Wisconsin Equestrian Center in De Pere, Wisconsin, sponsor organized activities like Pony Club. "Pony Club is a wonderful international organization for kids," says Bobbie Wier, the center's owner. "Our Pony Club has monthly meetings that off er practical knowledge and information about horses. They might hold a braiding demonstration or another clinic about a specific topic. They also sponsor rallies and competitions."

Safety, horse care, and instructor expertise were Wier's chief concerns when she was searching for a riding facility for her daughter years ago. "It is a good idea to shop around for a stable, just like you would when you buy a car or anything else," says Wier. "Visit the stable. Walk through the barn and see how the horses are being handled. Watch a lesson and ask, 'Is this a person I would want instructing me?' "

Sounds like good advice.

Special needs riders

Horseback riding can be recreational, a competitive sport, or an effective therapy for riders with physical, mental, or other disabilities and disorders. There are approximately 700 therapeutic riding centers across the U.S. and Canada affiliated with The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA). They serve approximately 36,000 riders annually.

Volunteer horse leaders and side walkers (often three volunteers are required per rider) help riders control their horses and maintain their balance and safety. NARHA promotes equine-assisted therapies and activities, including recreational riding for the handicapped; hippotherapy (a specialized form of therapy using the horse's natural movement); equine-assisted psychotherapy; driving; vaulting; competition; and other therapeutic and educational interactions with horses.

To qualify as a NARHA center, a facility must demonstrate adherence to strict safety standards; be supervised by a NARHA-certified trainer; maintain insurance; and have an open-door policy for educating the public about its practices.

For information on riding or volunteering at a NARHA therapeutic riding center, or to locate a facility, call 800/369-7433 or visit www. narha.org.

Learn more

Veritas Stables, Davenport, Iowa
Phone: 563/343-7562
Wisconsin Equestrian Center, De Pere, Wisconsin
Phone: 920/336-8005

United States Pony Clubs, Inc., Lexington, Kentucky
Phone: 859/254-7669
Web: www.ponyclub.org

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