Children learning through play

Get outside - its a big, exciting world out there!
Get outside - its a big, exciting world out there!
Get outside – its a big, exciting world out there!

Child riders learn as much playing on ponies as having a formal lesson. When they are out, thinking about things other then how they are riding, they just get on with it and actually ride. They get their ponies stopping, going and turning, they discover balance, they look up and around their surroundings and often they become braver.
A good way of getting children out of an arena and thinking of other things is by having a treasure hunt. First, make sure all the ponies are safe and solid outside. Preferably don’t use any pony not totally quiet, or put any more forward going pony on a lead rein. Then decide the type of treasure hunt that you want to have.

A hidden treasure hunt

If you are limited with space, time or ability of riders, this is the sensible hunt to have. Decide what you are going to be hunting for, and hide things in a contained area. This could be themed to the time of year, e.g., Easter Egg hunt, Halloween Candy hunt, Carrots for Your Valentine Pony hunt, Christmas Tinsel hunt. If the hunt is during a lesson it could be a hunt made up with questions. These could include; something metal horses can wear on their hooves; something long and orange that ponies like to eat; something used to make ponies clean; something farmers use to tie up the bales of hay our ponies eat. It could be a complete grooming kit or plaiting kit and the better the rider hunts and finds objects, the better they can get the grooming / plaiting done. One that is always popular is to hunt for a black outlined colouring-in picture and the pencils to colour it. The more pencils they find, the more brightly coloured the picture can be.

A list hunt

This type of hunt is suitable if you have lots of space, trustworthy ponies and more experienced riders. Ponies can go on the lead rein, either with fit, enthusiastic runners or led from a sensible horse. The riders must go out in pairs for safety. Try to pair up more experienced, solid sensible riders with less experienced or dare-devil riders. Unless they are very experienced, restrict the pace to walk or trot. The more adult helpers available to act as stewards the better.
Look around the area and think about what could realistically be found by the riders. These could include

  • 5 types of wild flower
  • 5 types of tree leaf
  • 5 types of grass
  • 3 different coloured stones
  • An empty birds nest (emphasize not in use)
  • An old horse shoe
  • A horse’s bit, other then the one your pony is wearing (if you are in a yard)
  • Something your pony likes (tests imagination, they could come back with mud!)
  • Some sheep’s wool (caught on wire fence)
  • A shell (if close to the beach)

Check girths, stirrups and hard hats, remind riders of the safety or walk / trot rules. Send all the pairs out together or at staggered times. The winning pair will collect all the items in the fastest time. If the list is long or some of the items are tricky to find, a time limit can be used. This way you’ll get all your riders back within your time allowed. The winning pair in this case would be those who find the most treasures on the list.

A sound hunt.

As with the list hunt, this requires lots of space and quite experienced riders. Think of 5 or 6 sounds that would carry well and will be reasonably easy to hear. Someone making realistic bird sounds could go unnoticed. Musical instruments work well if you have access to people who can play them. Otherwise whistles, drumming on a saucepan, mobile phone ringing, a hunting horn, car hooter or siren all work well. Allocate one sound per person and hide them around the area that you are playing in, out of sight of each other.
Give each pair of riders a card. They must hear a sound that they think is on the hunt and track down where it is coming from. The person making the sound then marks their card. The quickest pair of riders to fill their card with marks from each sound person wins.

The most important thing with this kind of hunt id having the right venue – ideally you want forest, hills, banks, places where the sound makers can hide and the riders cannot see each other. A flat, barren area where you are constantly in sight of each other won’t work.

A paper trail.

The final type of treasure hunt, is to lay a trail, and have the ride go out as a group, following a route, rather like a real hunt. There are several ways of marking the trail, but remember that whatever you use needs to be collected up / tidied after the ride. This could be a literal paper trail, which will be very difficult to clean up. A simpler way is to use some form of marker, maybe a small ribbon tied in branches, plastic cones, cardboard arrows etc, put in less obvious places along the route to encourage the riders to keep their eyes open and look for clues. Clean up becomes easier if you know that 20 arrows were placed, and where they were put. Again, you need safe ponies, or fit leaders who will walk or run alongside.

It is important for children to get out and about, to learn to ride their ponies over different ground, up and down hills, learning balance but also staying interested in what they are doing.

Beep Beep – Get out of my Way…

A good sized, enclosed arena is ideal for playing Beep Beep.
You will need at least three ponies for this to work. Four to six are ideal.
You will need at least three ponies for this to work. Four to six are ideal.

Beep Beep – Get out of my Way…

This is one of my all-time favourite games to play with kids and ponies.  It teaches so many elements and is great fun.  Even the quietest of young rider ends up laughing and joining in.  It is a great warm up game, checking you have control over riders and ponies, everyone is moving and thinking, and as an ice breaker for a new group or new instructor.

The idea of this, is to imagine that you are driving your car or motor bike in traffic.  When there is traffic blocking your route, you beep beep your horn, and hopefully the traffic will move out of the way.  One of our riders is going to be the road block, so they are going to get beeped….

You need at least three riders, and the game can be adjusted to any level.  Beginners can play on the lead rein, improvers can play in walk and trot while more advanced kids can play in trot and canter.

Have your three riders in a ride, nose to tail, on the outside track at walk.  Rider 1, in the front, Rider 2 in the middle and Rider 3 at the back.  On a command, Rider 3 halts on the track.  Rider 2 keeps on walking, while Rider 1 picks up trot.  Rider 1 keeps trotting around the outside of the arena, when they see that Rider 3 is blocking the way.  Now, they can only yell Beep Beep, that is their only tool.  The question is their timing.  When they yell Beep Beep, the halted rider needs to ask their pony to start to trot, and keep trotting at a pony distance in front of Rider 1 until they both reach the back of Rider 2.  As if traffic on a road.  If Rider 1 yells Beep Beep too early, then Rider 3 will start to trot too early, and she will never catch up – the idea is following distance in traffic.  If they yell Beep Beep too late, they will crash into the back of Rider 3 before that rider can get their pony from halt to trot.  Each rider needs to have an idea of how long each pony takes to get going.  So, Rider 1 is approaching Rider 3, and decides when they are about 50m away, to yell Beep Beep.  Rider 3 picks up trot, and now both riders are trotting around the outside edge of the arena, approaching Rider 2 who has been patiently walking around the outside.  When they get to Rider 2, both of our trotting riders come back to walk.  So now, all three riders are in walk, on the outside track, in a file, with the order, Rider 2 in front, Rider 3 in the middle and Rider 1 now rear file at the back.

The next round is exactly the same – now, Rider 1 (who is currently the back marker of the ride) has to halt on the track, Rider 3 (who is now in the middle) keeps on walking, and patient Rider 2, gets to pick up trot, go around the outside edge and yell Beep Beep when they approach the halted rider.  Keep repeating this until all the riders have had a turn at staying in halt, staying in walk and going up to trot and yelling Beep.

The beauty of this game, is that riders are practicing what they need to learn, without having to be focused on it.  The rider in halt has, I think, the hardest job.  They have to persuade their pony to stay in halt as the pony’s friend keeps walking.  The pony needs to remain in halt, quietly waiting.  They have to wait for the trotting rider to give the instruction, and they have to have their pony attentive enough that as Beep Beep is yelled, they can give a leg aid and have the pony walk and trot in as few as strides as possible.  The walking rider has to keep their pony in a walk, although that pony will often either want (expect?) to go with his trotting friend, or stay in halt with his stopping friend.  They have to keep straight and not cut any corners, otherwise the two trotting riders won’t catch up.  And the trotting rider has to get their pony to trot, not cut the corners, keep a good pace, watch out for the halted pony road block and get their timing right to yell Beep Beep.  If they yell too early, they need to persuade their pony to trot a little faster to catch up, and if they yell it too late, or the halted pony refuses to move, they need to have good avoidance reactions so they don’t crash or haul on their reins, but turn away smoothly – playing bumper cars IS NOT part of the game.

Experienced riders can do the trot part in canter, but instructors beware – it can get hectic.  If you are not sure about the riders cantering ability or the safeness of the ponies, stick to trot, its challenging enough already.