Does your little girl want a pony? Does your son want to be a cowboy like Woody from Toy Story? You are not alone. As parents we love to encourage our children to pursue their interests and we love making their dreams come true. Riding or owning a horse is a dream for many. Riding horses has some incredible benefits, but those benefits come with some big costs and commitments. Before jumping into the world of horses, be sure you have the right stuff to make this new adventure a success.
The Right Age
There isn’t a perfect age to start riding lessons. It will vary from child to child. However, most trainers and riding instructors recommend that a child be in at least first grade or around 7 years old. While children show an interest in horses and horseback riding at a much younger age, they do not have the attention span or body strength that is required to actually learn how to ride a horse without assistance. Most riding schools do not take children under the age of 7 for group lessons. In a group setting, someone cannot stay with each rider, and children under 7 need someone nearby for safety.
If your four year old wants to ride, by all means, see if you can find a stable that will let your child ride one of their ponies. Just understand that you will be paying for pony rides where your child is led around by the instructor. That is not the same thing as riding lessons but it is not a bad thing either. Starting out with pony rides or visits to a stable before formal lessons begin is a great idea! Your young child can learn basic horsemanship and safety. For example, everyone needs to know not to walk up and surprise a horse from behind. Through visits to a stable, your child can learn the basics and will continue to fall in love with horses and feel comfortable around them. This will give her a head start when she does start formal lessons at an appropriate age.
The Right Commitment
If you are considering entering the world of horses with your child, start slow and do not over commit yourself. Don’t buy a pony for a birthday gift before your child has even learned to trot! Really take stock of what your schedule looks like, and start out with something you know that you all can commit time to as a family. Taking a group riding lesson once a week is a great way to start off your child on the path to becoming an equestrian. If your child continues to be enthusiastic about riding and wants to learn more, increase her lesson time or get her private lessons. Commit yourselves to more time in the saddle gradually and as you see fit.
Leasing a horse for riding lessons is a great next step when you think your little rider is ready for more than a weekly lesson. Riding schools lease horses to students who want to ride and care for a horse regularly but are not ready to buy a horse. Leasing a horse can give you a good idea of what kind of commitment is required from you and your child with horse ownership. Horses need regular exercise, not just one ride a week. You will see if your child still loves riding when she is at the stables everyday in warm weather and cold.
Buying a horse is a life changing commitment. Horses can live 30-45 years! Buying a horse is the cheap part compared to the lifetime of care that will be needed.
- If you don’t own a barn and enough land for a horse, you will have to board him and that will cost you around $600-$2,000 a month depending on the services required from the stable and where you live.
- Boarding does not include vet bills or farrier bills for shoeing.
- You will also be paying your trainer, apart from the boarding, to train the horse and your little rider.
All this before you even step one foot into a horse show ring. Don’t kid yourself and think you can own and show a horse on the cheap. You can’t! However, if you have the resources and want to devote them to caring for a horse, you won’t regret it. The bond that forms between horse and rider is incredible. Too many horses end up on rescue lists or even worse, on the way to a slaughterhouse. Make the right commitment and don’t buy unless you are truly ready for horse ownership.
The Right Gear
If you have decided to begin riding lessons for your child, you are going to need some gear. The requirements will be different for every stable and instructor. At a minimum, you can expect your child to need a riding helmet and hard soled boots with a heel. A riding helmet is just as crucial for horseback riding as a bicycle helmet is for riding a bike or a car seat is for riding in a car. The good news is that you can get schooling helmets without spending a lot of money and some are even adjustable and can be worn for years as your child grows. Troxel is a great brand that makes an adjustable helmet that is also affordable.
Riding pants are always a good idea and you can get an inexpensive pair of schooling pants like these from Dover Saddlery or from your local tack shop. You should not need to buy any tack like a saddle or bridle for a once a week riding lesson.
The Right Stable and Instructor
You need to do a little research before your child takes her first lesson. A visit to a local tack shop or a quick search online should give you some options for stables that offer children riding lessons. The American Riding Instructors Association certifies instructors and has an easy tool for finding one near you. Don’t just pick any instructor and sign your child up.
- Visit the stable first. Ensure that the facilities are safe and clean.
- Your child should be taking lessons in a fenced in area clear of obstacles and obstructions.
- The horses should look healthy and well cared for with clean stalls.
- Ask to see the riding equipment. Saddles and bridles should be organized and in good condition. If a stable is offering lessons to children, they should have child size saddles.
- The horses used for lessons should be calm and they should have horses in different sizes.
- Observe a lesson with your child. You both need to listen to how the instructor explains things. Get an idea of how much supervision is involved. Watch how the instructor handles the horses and the children in the class. You do not want someone who is rough with the horses or impatient with the children. After observing a class, talk with your child and see what she thinks about the instructor.
Once you choose a stable and instructor that seems right for your child, sign her up and get ready for her first lesson! While you should be able to drop her off and come back when her time is up, stay for the first few lessons and observe. You will feel more comfortable if you see how things operate and how your child handles herself. When you are both comfortable, feel free to let her take lessons on her own. After all, you did your research and picked the right place!
The Right Reasons
There are lots of reasons to encourage an interest in horses and horseback riding. You will see your child’s physical health improve through riding horses. Riding is an isometric exercise that improves core strength, balance, coordination, muscle tone and flexibility. Working with horses, whether through riding lessons or owning and caring for your own horse everyday improves self confidence and teaches your child how to be caring, responsible and in charge.
Horseback riding can easily become a part of your child’s life that will stay with her into adulthood. This is particularly true if you end up owning a horse and your child continues to progress in her riding and in her relationship with her horse. The love and trust between horse and rider is something you can’t fathom until you have lived it. Your child’s life will be forever changed in a positive way from any connection she makes with horses.
To be an equestrian is to be someone who works hard and is committed. To be an equestrian is to be someone who is fiercely confident and full of love. To be an equestrian is to be strong, patient, and caring. If these are traits that you desire for your child, get her started with the right stuff and don’t look back.
Photo Credit: Kristen Douglas
Sources: The Physical and Mental Rewards of Horseback Riding, Equestrian Sport Statistics and Facts – What You Should Know, The Real Cost of a Ride: 7 Expenses First Time Horse Owners Aren’t Expecting