Teaching Young Children

For my sins this week at Pony Club Camp I have a mixed and challenging group.

On the first day I started with six children, but by the end of the day I had swapped two sisters between groups and collected another child.

The group are all beginners and on the lead rein, and the youngest siblings are three and four. There are also competitive twin boys. There is a novice rider on a novice pony. One boy has Down Syndrome. One nervous girl was on a whizzy pony.

Yesterday I met them all, complete with leaders, and took them to an enclosed arena. We walked around in a ride, changed the rein and they demonstrated their transitions to halt. Then I asked them to trot one at a time to the rear of the ride so that I could assess them. The twins had lovely positions, but they were very reliant on their leaders and not particularly effective, but they could rise to the trot. The little ones bounced to their trot. The novice rider and pony rose relatively well, but gripped with her knee and her pony wouldn’t trot without Mum. The boy with Down Syndrome just about rose to his trot. When he thought about it!

We practised rising trot and then sitting trot (which initiated a lot of giggling and bouncing) one at a time and then I had everyone walking around the track and we took our feet out of our stirrups and shook our legs out. Then the kids played “heads, shoulders, knees and hips” with the addition of toes once they got confident. They played helicopters and windmills with their arms and then they trotted one at a time with one hand out to the side. We built up the exercises so that they did a windmill with both arms whilst trotting. This built up their confidence as well as stopping any reliance of the hands. At the end of the lesson everyone trotted around together on the lead rein demonstrating a much stronger and more established rising trot. We finished in the school then and went for a little walk around the woods.

During our stable management session we talked about caring correctly for the horse’s foot and I was pleased that even the little ones were able to demonstrate hoof picking and point out the frog. We spent a good hour painting the ponies hooves, picking out feet and looking at horse shoes, and then they started to grow bored of this topic. So I moved on to feeding the pony and we found some hay and haylage as well as feeding our ponies. Lunchtime came and I had a reprieve.

In the afternoon I used my imagination and put two sets of poles across the arena to walk between. Once they were competently walking and trotting between they rode transitions in the poles. This allowed the older children to learn about preparing transitions and riding them correctly, whilst the younger ones went through the motions. Once these exercises had run their course we walked and trotted over the poles, trying to fold into their jumping position. The idea of this exercise was to improve their balance and coordination.

I’m not going to lie, I was all kidded out by the end of the day, and knowing I now had an extra nervous child joining my group the next day, I scratched my head for ideas.

In the arena this morning I set up the bending poles and the kids started off with some trotting individually and then as a ride, before practising weaving in and out of the poles. I managed to get the older children off the lead rein for their trotting and weaving. Next we practised picking up flags and putting them into another cone. Surprisingly, the four year old was pretty savvy at this, grabbing it first try. The twins made it harder by choosing a specific colour flag to pick. A couple of the ponies took a dislike to the flags, and after the third time the novice pony walked straight up to the flags.

During stable management I tested the children on yesterday’s topics and I think they all deserve their mini achievement badges. They eagerly asked questions and demonstrated their knowledge. Soon we moved on to the “horse clothing” badge, and they were just starting to get bored when lunchtime came.

I was worried I may be over tiring them, and they need to be on the ball for tomorrow’s show, so after lunch we went into the woods for a scavenger hunt. They collected leaves, fern, flowers, stones, y-shaped sticks and many other things. An error on my part sent the kids hunting for ivy … Our part of the woods didn’t have any ivy in!

So the final day of mini camp is tomorrow, and I hope my kids enjoy their show, and show off their newfound skills to their parents. I’ve definitely got more skills in handling a diverse range of abilities and ages, and more tricks up my sleeve for the next pony day or camp!

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