Daughter bucked off in lessons-confidence shaken and joy almost gone, how to rebuild?

My daughter joined a new riding program in April. We had switched because the place she was at had ill fitting / not child size tack, instructor seemed naive, lesson horses were new to them… So I took her to the place I had been taking jumping lessons and really enjoying it. I have been riding for 24 years myself so not a newbie. It was going really well for a while until she got bucked off during her first canter ever. She did keep riding and even cantering on a different pony that we were reassured would absolutely never buck. Well just a few weeks ago they were lunging at the canter in a field and the pony bucked. She stayed on but barely and it hurt her back quite a bit. Now her confidence is shaken. I think more than anything her confidence is shaken with the instructor as it was on the lunge line and it seemed like the instructor got a little too aggressive asking for the transition. But of course she’s a little nervous about the ponies there too.

She’s nervous and starting to not have any enjoyment even though she’s just doing walk-trot for now. Instructor is a bit of a tough love type and I think my daughter needs a little bit more understanding given the situation. We are going to try to switch programs to see if we can find the joy and confidence again.

But I would love to hear how people got their kids through this. I’m totally fine if she wants to stop riding but I just hate for her to stop because of this incident when she was enjoying it a lot prior.

I think she absolutely should focus on walk and troy only for now until she feels like cantering again. The only struggle is she gets frustrated with super lazy ponies that don’t want to go. But I think that really depends on the pony and the program.

I think trail rides and different games would be a great idea for her. Any other ideas? Her position and skills are really coming along before this and it just sucks so bad that this is hurt her confidence. I totally understand her feelings though.

As a kid and teen my friends and I were so horse obsessed we would bounce back from anything. We also did not have lessons. We just got on our horses and rode for hours and sorted it out. We also all did self board.

As an adult I have taken a lot of lessons and they have been necessary. But to this day I feel that even the best coaches can interfere with my feel for the horse and I don’t actually fully trust them. Indeed I never trusted any PE or swimming teachers as a kid, and tough love has never worked on me.

I know most kids these days learn to ride in structured lessons and if those existed I would have benefitted from them. But they also rob you of getting to know a horse on your own terms, which is important for more introverted or less competitive kids.


I might be off base but it sounds like she might be getting some of her tentative-ness about this instructor from you and your thoughts on things. As a long term horse person you know that no pony is ‘never bucks’. There is always a risk, even with the best behaved critter, that something will cause them to be naughty. It also seems like a no win situation for the instructor that your daughter does not want to make the lazy pony go but then the instructor is called “too aggressive asking for the transition”.

Now that aside, I do agree that any rider needs to trust their instructor, because even us old farts have moments where we might get nervous and we have to know that our instructor has our best interest at heart.

Is there a program near you that specializes in the little ones doing up down lessons? An instructor good at that is worth a ton. A program that has other little ones doing lessons will also help your daughter see the other kids having fun, which might help her nerves and maybe push herself to do new things.


How old is the kiddo? Did she approach you about riding, or is she doing it because you do it? I ask because I was/am such a horse crazy nut that a buck or coming off never persuaded me from hoping right back on. Depending on her age, she will need to understand that riding comes with work (getting lazy ponies to go) and risk (riding a faster horse requires more focus and strength etc)

If she genuinely wants to continue riding, maybe taking her out of lessons w/ the tuff love instructor and just trail riding is a good idea. Maybe take a break until she is a little older and stronger? If she was enjoying it “a lot” before, she will want to return.


Children tend to enjoy lessons where there are other kids having fun with them. Solo lessons with a tough-love instructor tend to suck out the joy.


I think this is good advice. Ideally, she will be in a program that creates a fun environment for the kids, mixing riding lessons with “barn fun” like mounted games, pony decorating, pony bath days, or whatever so the kids have fun together and form a little community. --Possibly a week or two of summer day camp at a barn would be a way to foster this.

I guess it’s just bad luck but it’s disappointing she’s been bucked off twice in her efforts to learn to canter. I know intellectually “any pony can buck,” but I never saw my daughter or her friends bucked off during their first few canters. They learned on a pony and a horse who were both at least 20 years old. It does make me wonder if these instructors have the proper mounts for a real beginner.


Lunging a rider is an art and apparently has to be learned. Me lunging my husband on a horse for decades I had just presumed he would know how. Not so, as he does not learn by osmosis.

Lunging a horse with a rider on is also different from lunging a horse without. You want the horse forward and working by itself, with a rider you want a calm horse that gives confidence to a rider.

I didn’t realise I was putting my life in his hands asking him to lunge me on my horse and he caused my boy to buck who has never bucked in the arena.

It sounds like you need to find an instructor who can lunge to give confidence to the rider and ideally that is not done in a paddock.


It may be a common practice but I don’t like the idea of a child being on a horse that is being lunged. I do a fair bit of lunging and no way do you have enough control to make it safe for a beginner/ child.

If the child isn’t capable of cantering on her own then she isn’t ready to canter at all. She needs a horse who does nothing but what is asked so she can build the confidence she needs.

Some kids just don’t bounce back when a fall happens and once the experience it the fun is gone. Other kids just get back on and go like nothing happened. Age and personality have a lot to do with it.

I wouldn’t baby her but rather get her on a suitable horse/ pony. Let her progress at her own pace, not the instructors pace or timeline.


Go slow and don’t add any pressure! I had a really bad fall for my first fall. Horse took off multiple times around the arena at a gallop when I’d only cantered maybe twice before and I almost got thrown into a wall. Ended up going to the ER with a concussion (they thought I broke my back). I loved riding and didn’t want to quit, but I was petrified of riding on my own. The instructors were AMAZING and had some of the the older students walk and trot along side me with a lead line for a couple lessons until I felt comfortable walking and trotting on my own. Not every barn has this capability to give such individual attention (and it was a group lesson so I still got to hang out with my friends), but I needed it. I was a sensitive kiddo with lots of anxiety. The next year I got bucked off 13 times by the same pony, but in the year between those incidents I gained lots of confidence and saw it as a personal challenge to sit the ponies bucking spree and try #14 and beyond I did. Some kids are born daredevils and some need a little time and ability to get comfortable before the daredevil shows up.

If your daughter is scared that a horse is going to buck her off when she canters and it has been proven more than once? Let her go back to walk trot and don’t push her. If she doesn’t want to canter and just wants to piddle about then let her. Pushing a scared kid is not going to create a confident rider. Important to find a good instructor who won’t necessarily coddle but who also won’t be too aggressive and show their disappointment if your kid just wants to go at their own speed. Another thought is maybe pick up a grab strap to clip on the saddle that she can hold the next time she canters. May be a bit of a false sense of security, but the mind does amazing things and it might get her to feel a bit more confident. And only do a few steps if that is all she is mentally prepared for. Woohoo you did 3 steps awesome job! Next time she may want to try more. Celebrate the small victories!


I have a hard time imagining that a “tough love” approach would work well with any child when they’re trying to learn a new skill and would do anything except create more fear around that particular activity… like if they’re being lazy and skimping on grooming or caring for the horse or whatever that’s one thing, but pushing anyone to do something riding-wise that is out of their comfort zone is (in my opinion) VERY ineffective and only makes things worse – especially for a young child doing all this for the first time, but even for adults who have been riding for years!

I totally support your decision to find a new program! This is supposed to be fun!


What I mean is the pony that bucked the second time is very very very lazy. So when she is on the lunge the instructor does not ask for the canter and then back up with the whip. She goes straight to using the whip in a kind of chasing and crouched down aggressive type manner and I believe that the pony is very scared of her. In my opinion she should ask the pony first before going to level 10 to get the canter transition right off the bat.

But then when they are off the lunge it’s very hard to get the pony to go. Often instructor does need to follow around with the lunge whip and that usually goes fine. But she has caused two different ponies to buck and a transition for her canter. I don’t blame my daughter for being nervous about cantering on a lunge line now.

To be clear I really like the instructor myself and I have taken lessons from her. I think she’s very good about a lot of things but honestly I could post a video and I think pretty much 99% of people would agree that she is not lunging the pony properly to have a kid on them.

I was trying to make it work since I really do like the instructor myself and she’s really helped my daughter in a lot of ways. But my daughter has been crying and not wanting to go to lessons so it just doesn’t seem like it’s going to work at this point with her. :confused:


Yes I personally think this is what is going on. The instructor has a really good eye for equitation and teaching people to jump over all but I have seen with teaching my daughter that she does not lunge well at all.

The first time I chocked it up to an accident. And I honestly don’t blame the ponies necessarily. Like I’ve stated before I like the instructor and I think she has a lot of talents but I honestly don’t think lunging a child is one of them.

And I think regardless of who’s fault it is I think now the mission absolutely has to be rebuilding the confidence and joy.

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It’s a bittersweet thing because personally I think being on a good school master in the lunge line is just the best thing for everybody’s seat. And for the last few months she has reaped a lot of benefits and her seat is actually very good (one reason why she stayed on during bucking incident number 2.)

But I myself have been bucked off on a lunge lesson as well and there is no doubt it can be risky.

Her position and seat her pretty phenomenal at this point. But she does need to work on more independent ridingg skills. We just need to make it fun and hopefully not get her bucked off anymore!

Yeah I’m definitely not going to push her to canter because how could we? It’s so understandable of why she’s nervous now.
She actually did have a grab strap and that and her solid leg was what kept her on for bucking experience number two.

But for example at her last lesson she was supposed to walk and then trot over some poles for the first time. She was having a really hard time getting the pony to trot or keep her in trot. Instructor wanted her to carry a crop and use it. My daughter was scared that the pony might buck because of the crop. The pony definitely is too lazy for that but it’s hard to explain to my daughter after the pony getting scared of the lunge whip and bucking.

I definitely think we have to take a step back but also take some sessions and do more game type activities or just fun stuff to kind of get the enthusiasm back.

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Yeah the tough love just isn’t working. The pony is very lazy most the time. So instructor wanted her to use a crop. Well my daughter was very nervous… because she thought pony might buck her off because of that. And besides that she was preoccupied with how to hold the crop, was looking down to make sure she had her reins short enough.

But worst of all, she didn’t have Fun. Just a couple weeks ago she was super proud of herself and having a blast. :frowning:

IMO a good trainer and a good “beginner/ kid trainer” are like two totally separate skills that have almost nothing to do with one another.

Some of the best beginner/ kid trainers that I know aren’t even super accomplished riders themselves they just have to be really good with kids and have almost a sixth sense for identifying safety hazards before accidents happen. You just can’t be waving a whip at a pony on a lunge line to get it to canter when there’s a kid on board. This trainer might be great with you but it sounds like she just doesn’t have the feel you need to be a good/safe pony trainer.


Yes absolutely I think that’s what’s going on here. It might be that this instructor is one my daughter can come back to- but probably not for a few years. I think she’s great for probably more intermediate/advanced riders.


I used to teach kids and one of the ‘fun’ things I would do is have the kiddo steer the pony around the ring while they were following me. Your child may be beyond that type of ‘easy’ riding but to get her confidence back up, it there is a pony that will follow the adult, it might get her to be more confident that she can control the pony and stop it when she wants. And have fun keeping up with the adult. Heck, even a little taller horse might work out better for this exercise. I used my 14.3 hand Arabian who was wonderful with kids, even the 4yr old ones. Maybe your barn doesn’t have a pony/horse like this but if you can find a program with such a horse, I think it would help her confidence. Then she could do the follow the leader behind another horse as she gets more confident with the pony/horse. Make it fun again. My kiddo’s liked to follow their mother around the ring while she was riding her horse.

Just more thoughts for something fun. But IMHO, she needs to be on a different pony/horse. She’ll always be wary of the ones who have bucked with her if she’s naturally a timid person/rider.


If she were my kid (and totally hypothetical because I don’t have any kids), I would back off all the way to grooming, handling, and leading the pony.