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Understanding How Children Learn


When introducing children to horses it is important to leave them feeling safe, confident and excited for more.  However, understanding how children process information is often overlooked.  Children are sensory learners, so their learning styles are determined by which of the senses they are most likely to favor. The four sensory learning styles are:

  • Visual
  • Auditory/Oral
  • Kinesthetic
  • Tactile

Thus, knowing the child’s learning style will impact a parent’s choice in how they introduce their child to horses as well as their choice of stable, teacher, and even the personalities of the ponies/horses they ride.

IMG_7533Visual learners best remember what they see. These children tend to identify horses by their shape and color. They are good readers and have great imaginations. Seeing examples of their teachers or other riders on horses will be most effective for their learning experience.

Visual learners:

  • Often close their eyes to visualize and remember
  • Need clean, uncluttered stable environments
  • Benefit from visual presentations
  • Respond to imagery-rich instruction

Auditory learners best remember what they hear. These youngsters remember the names of horses, respond easily to oral instruction, and may like to talk while riding. They enjoy discussions about their horse and asking questions.

Auditory learners:

  • Remember the names of horses
  • Hum or talk to themselves
  • Enjoy listening to themselves and others
  • Remembers best by verbalizing what they are learning to their instructor
  • Have little trouble learning in a noisy stable environment

Kinesthetic learners learn best by doing. They thrive by interacting with their horse and their riding instructor.  These learners remember what was done, not necessarily what was seen or heard, and might have difficulty paying attention or staying focused in their lesson. They thrive in private lesson environments.

Kinesthetic learners:

  • Need to be physically active during their lesson
  • Express themselves with physical gestures
  • Get bored easily and require frequent breaks
  • Enjoy visceral experiences

Tactile learners like to use their hands and fingers while riding. These children enjoy being creative with their bodies. They benefit from instruction through physical contact.

Tactile learners:

  • Need to touch or feel the horse when learning
  • Like to illustrate their learning process through art
  • Find bathing, grooming, and cleaning relaxing
  • Appreciate physically expressed encouragement like hugs

There is no right or wrong way for children to learn. However, children struggle when asked to learn in ways that aren’t natural for them.  By identifying their learning patterns, you enhance their whole learning process, lowering unnecessary frustrations that often result in loss of interest.  Helping your child feel successful around horses by meeting their learning needs will add a new dimension to their pursuit of equine education.

Donnette Hicks has been teaching riding for over thirty years. Before joining the horse industry, Donnette taught skiing for eighteen years at Park City Mountain Resort and specialized in teaching children. While she was a PSI certified ski instructor Donnette completed further studies in child development to understand children’s unique learning styles.


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Donnette Hicks
Donnette Hicks is a horsewoman who bridges her ranch background with nearly two decades of dressage experience. She teaches and works with horses through the Grand Prix level enjoys exchanging ideas with horsemen across the world. As a freelance journalist, she blends her education with poetry, photography and film. Donnette and her husband Jim own Sage Creek Equestrian in Heber City, Utah. For more information go to sagecreekequestrian.com