When teaching very young children to ride, the hardest thing is to keep their attention. The easiest way to do this is to keep the lesson moving, constantly changing what you are doing. Use various exercises and games to do this. These also teach the child, as they concentrate on the task at hand, they naturally develop balance, co-ordination and confidence.
Begin very simply, by asking the rider to let go of the saddle / neck strap with one hand. Give them tasks to do with this hand – hand on their head, shoulder, tummy, knee, toes. Hand on the toe is most difficult, very few children are immediately confident enough to lean down and touch their toes. Then ask them to touch the opposite knee and toes. (Right hand to left knee / toes). Lean forward and touch the pony’s ears, you may need to help by turning the pony’s head towards them or asking the pony to lift their head up. Lean back and touch the tail. (Check that the pony doesn’t buck). Then test the rider’s knowledge by asking them to touch the saddle, stirrups and reins. When they are confident with one hand, repeat with the other hand or move on to using both hands. All of this can be done at halt initially or in walk with a leader.
Move on to riding without stirrups. At first just ask the rider to take one foot out of the stirrup and put it back, without using hands or eyes to help. They must rather just wiggle their toes in their boots, move the toe of the boot until they feel where the stirrup is and slide their foot back in. This is a very important exercise rather then just a game. If they are confident and quick about finding a stirrup in halt and walk then when they are trotting or cantering alone later and lose a stirrup, they won’t panic.
While they are walking without stirrups, give them exercises to do. A simple one is to pretend that the pony is a bicycle. Rather then squeezing / kicking with their legs they need to pedal, bringing alternate legs up, round and down. The up part should be high, knee close to the pommel, the down part really stretching the leg long. This develops co-ordination, strength and confidence.
Pretending their pony is an elephant is great for thigh and core muscles but can be tough so should be introduced slowly. The rider rests their hands on the pommel but shouldn’t actively press against them. Both legs are raised, up and away from the saddle so that only the rider’s two seat bones are in contact, the leg in riding position but several centimetres away from the saddle. The knee is kept bent, the heel is down. The most common “cheat” is that the rider leans too far backwards, remind them to stay straight.
Try the arm exercises again, this time without the security of having stirrups. The rider stays upright and still purely through balance and core muscles.
Most young children love to play Simon Says. Work through a list of instructions, E.g., touch your nose, touch the pony’s ears, take you foot out the stirrup, put your foot in the stirrup, both feet out and pedal etc. Every command that starts with “Simon Says” should be followed. Simon says put your hands on your head, the child puts their hands on their head. When Simon says isn’t used before a command, the child ignores it and continues with the last instruction. If they do something that Simon didn’t say, they are out. This is more fun with more then one child but it can be played with just the instructor.