The baby riders
Horseback riding is a practice that can be started at a very young age. As a physical activity, it helps the physical and mental development of the child. The riders of these awakening sessions are called baby riders.
“The baby rider is how the child from 12 months can discover trust, the relationship with the animal, the monitor and build a relationship of trust with his parents“, describes Olivier Rabouan, director of the horse club Forêt de Moulière.
The club has been developing this baby rider activity for nearly thirty years, launched by Josette Rabouan. These very young riders are between 10 months and 4 years old. “A child can start riding a pony as soon as he or she has acquired a good sitting position, where he or she stands with a straight back” explains Anne Thomas, a former paediatrician.
The child can take his first steps in contact with an animal, develop physically and boost his self-confidence. The setting up of these sessions in equestrian structures often starts with the observation of a lack of activities proposed for young children.
“I realized that when my children were young, there were no activities for them. I wanted to put in place what I, as a mother, could not find and offer it to other parents” explains Maud-Aline Leyval, director and teacher of baby riding classes at the Merville Pony Club.
“Generally speaking, I find that baby riders are very interesting. It brings a lot to the children, as long as it is done in an appropriate way“, says Anne Thomas. The watchword of these sessions is to adapt to the child’s rhythm.
“The lessons begin with a welcome for the young riders and their parents, with a presentation of the structure to put them at ease and get to know the other children. In autonomy, the baby riders learn to brush, put the saddle on and take care of their pony. The child bonds very quickly with the pony,” explains Olivier Rabouan.
“We are there to show, accompany and allow the child to do everything on his own”, continues the instructor. For the content of the sessions, there are many ideas, and each equestrian structure proposes its own method.
Lessons with music, riding lessons on foot or on horseback, initiation through the circus, the children discover the horse environment through activities adapted to their age.
For all the sessions, the parents accompany their child and follow him/her on the pony. “Almost everything I offer here is shared between the child and the parent. The father or mother comes to share a moment with his or her child, to get away from the fast pace of life which can stress children. Parents realize their child’s abilities and become aware that they need to give them time to do things” says Maud-Aline Leyval.
At the Forêt Moulière horse riding club, the sessions are held to music, with more or less loud rhythms to help the child find his or her own. «We put on rhythmic music to walk next to the pony, which allows the child to become aware that he can connect to the pony, he can be in connection but in movement» details Olivier Rabouan.
The instructor explains that all sessions begin with a time of observation of the ponies by the children. «This phase is always interesting because this is when the child learns and understands on their own. They will see that depending on the time of year, the pony does not have the same behavior or that it can talk to another» he explains.
The baby rider sessions are beneficial for the children and their development, but also for the parents who can share a moment with them and see that the child is able to manage. The benefits of these sessions for children are multiple. The first benefit is the development of balance.
“The child has a general muscular tone that will be set in motion to maintain a free balance. He must function on his horse which has a natural movement. If he is stimulated by the movement, he will find his rhythm, hold and balance. It is through the movement of the pelvis that children hold on to the pony“, describes Maud-Aline Leyval.
Carried by the movement of the horse, the child will find the same swing as in the womb. “Some children are more comfortable when the horse is moving and are afraid when the horse is stationary and vice versa. For those terrified by the movement of the pony, it is often because the mother has experienced a complicated pregnancy, even traumatic“, says the teacher of the pony club of Merville.
From a psychological point of view, the child develops an emotional attachment to the animal. They become aware that the horse is a living being and that it must be taken care of. «An animal does not cheat. If you want to do something stupid, it will quickly put you back on the right track» explains Anne Thomas. «I think that the links with an animal, at the emotional or educational level, are very important. »
Finally, one of the other benefits of the baby rider sessions is the moment of sharing between the child and the parent. «The parents are always there doing the child’s job, out of fear, but it is not an accompaniment. With this activity, they become aware that the child can do it alone and that he can learn», underlines Olivier Rabouan. Baby riders are becoming more and more popular.
The French Riding Federation had initiated a course for instructors in January on the theme of pedagogy. But for Maud-Aline Leyval as for Olivier Rabouan, it is necessary to go further and to integrate this training in the training of the instructorship. «Riding is progressing because the methods are progressing. Baby riders are an evolution for the horse world», concludes Olivier Rabouan.