October 27, 2015

Spending weekends at the stables, riding and caring for their very own pony… for any horse-mad child, it’s the dream. But a horse is a big commitment – both time and money-wise – and for parents who aren’t equine inclined, getting your child started in the equestrian world can be daunting.

First steps
“The number one priority for anyone getting into horses should be safety,” says riding coach Christine Johnson. “Many people think horses are lovely, but they’re actually quite a high-risk activity. It’s really important that you find a safe environment with an accredited coach and start with one-on-one training. You can’t learn the basics safely in a group environment.”

Christine’s tips? Do online research, read reviews, and look for Equestrian Australia (EA) accreditation. This means the coach will have first aid and risk management training, and all the necessary insurance. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and trust your gut if something seems wrong.

Realising the pony dream
Christine and her son George run Johnson Equestrian Centre in Nelson. As a young girl, Christine convinced her parents to buy her a pony – though she doesn’t necessarily recommend parents give in to pester power! The purchase price of a horse is usually just a fraction of the ongoing cost, which includes vet bills, feed and agistment.

If you do get to the buying point it’s important to enlist some professional guidance. Ask your riding coach to help you, and take them along with you when you go to see horses.

“Remember to always make sure someone else rides the horse before you do,” says Christine, “and always see the horse more than once, because a one-off performance can be misleading.”

You should also get a health check from a vet. Christine likens it to getting an NRMA check on a car before you buy it – unless you’re a mechanic you wouldn’t know what sort of things to check. Having your own horse might be a big commitment, but Christine says it’s incredibly rewarding. And if you’re not ready to commit, there are other options.

“For non-horsey parents, leasing or half-leasing a horse through your riding school is a great opportunity for you and your child to get a taste of what ownership is like.”

A home for your horse
The other big consideration is where to keep your new friend. Large Riverland blocks of 9,000m2+ or more could house a horse, as long as you have correct fencing installed and enough space to ride.

“If you have space to ride and a coach who can come to your home that’s great,” says Christine. “But inexperienced riders shouldn’t be riding around the streets, even in a quieter place like Pitt Town.”

You can also consider boarding your horse in a stable with good facilities and expert staff who can care for it when you’re not around. Many centres, including Johnson Equestrian Centre, offer both agistment and instruction.

Educate yourself
You can learn the basics of horse care – how to check their pulse, temperature and respiration – through a coach. But there are also more thorough Equi-Skills courses run by the NSW branch of Equestrian Australia, which cover feeding and nutrition.

See www.nsw.equestrian.org.au

“Those things are good to learn before you buy your own horse, so you don’t learn by mistake,” Christine advises.

Get social
Clubs can also help you with horse management, and they’re a great place to meet other riders and families. If you’re looking to compete, pony clubs and adult riding clubs are a good starting point. They run regular rally days, which are great for socialising, as well as lower level competitions in dressage, show jumping and eventing.

“We’re lucky to be in a really rich horse area in the Hawkesbury in terms of opportunities,” says Christine. “There are so many competitions and venues. Of course, you don’t have to compete if you don’t want to – you can just enjoy the training side of it, and your new friend.” Christine and her son George run Johnson Equestrian Centre in Nelson.

See www.teamj.com.au for more information.

Beginner gear checklist

  • Certified and approved helmet
  • Riding boots
  • Halter and lead-rope
  • Bit and bridle
  • Saddle
  • Saddle pad
  • A light cotton rug for summer and a thick, waterproof one for winter

Expect more at Vermont

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