The first rides kids or beginners make can shape their love of (or disdain for) horses for the rest of their lives. To set my students up for future success I like to focus on safety, balance, hand placement, and demeanor in their first lessons.
To keep my students safe, especially the little kids, I like to start them out on a safe lesson horse (see Horse and Rider.com this month for what makes a great first horse) in a round pen. The smaller the environment, the better for the beginner to remain in control.
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