What breed of horse is best for kids? The short answer is that there isn’t one. Every horse is an individual, and it is dangerous to rely on breed as the primary indicator of temperament. That said, you can narrow your search a bit by looking for horses of a suitable size, appropriate conformation for your child’s discipline of choice, and breeds with national organizations that offer youth programs.
- American Quarter Horse
- Miniature Horse
- Pony of the Americas
- Shetland Pony
- Welsh Pony
- Grade Horse
Don’t see your favorite breed here? That doesn’t mean there isn’t the perfect one out there for your child. This list is only meant as an overview of the most popular mounts for young riders.
American Quarter Horse
The American Quarter Horse is the world’s most popular breed and has a loyal following of youth and amateur riders. The breed’s historic use as a ranch horse and modern popularity among western pleasure riders has helped cement their reputation as an easy-going, laid back horse. However, some lines are bred for speed and are not ideal for beginners. With literally millions of Quarter Horses out there, you’ll find individuals suitable for a variety of disciplines, both in and out of the competition arena.
The American Quarter Horse Youth Association offers an extensive youth program for its members, including a dedicated Youth World Show and educational activities for young riders.
If you’ve heard the common tale that Arabians are high-strung, you may be wondering what they’re doing on a list of horse breeds for children. While some lines bred for showing at halter can be sensitive and full of energy (and are often priced out of the average parent’s range), others make ideal children’s mounts. This ancient breed was cultivated to share a strong bond with humans, and that people-oriented nature is a hallmark of the breed today, making them a great best friend for a young rider. They are also very intelligent and versatile, which means you will be able to find one to suit your child’s chosen sport.
The Arabian Horse Association has focused a lot of resources on supporting the breed’s youth participants. Young riders can work toward competing at the annual Youth National show, participate in judging contests, apply for scholarships, enter art and journalism contests and more.
Miniature Horses aren’t meant to be ridden, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun for a budding equestrian. The grooming and care needs of a mini are similar to those of a big horse, so young owners learn how much responsibility horse ownership takes. However, the costs are typically less, making minis a preferable option for many families. Mini owners enjoy their horses by practicing obstacles and jumps in-hand and by driving them for pleasure and show.
Young equestrians can participate in a variety of programs offered by the American Miniature Horse Association and the American Miniature Horse Registry.
Known for their versatility, this American breed has something to offer any young equestrian. Morgans compete in all disciplines, from working western to saddle seat to eventing, and are also ideal for riding on the trails. Morgans are typically 14.1-15.1 hands, which makes them a manageable size for young children, but usually large enough that they won’t be outgrown as ponies often are. The breed’s versatility has led to specialized breeding for certain disciplines. Be sure to look for a horse that matches your child’s chosen sport.
The American Morgan Horse Association has an extensive youth program for competitive and non-competitive riders. The Horsemastership program allows members 21 and younger to earn badges as they check off riding and horsekeeping skills. Youth members can also join local clubs, enter creative contests and compete at youth and junior exhibitor classes at Morgan shows.
Pony of the Americas
No list of horse breeds for kids would be complete without the Pony of the Americas. The POA has the distinction of being selectively bred since it’s beginning specifically to be a children’s mount. These spotted ponies are similar in appearance to Appaloosas, but in order to meet registration requirements, they must stand between 46 and 56 inches (11.2-14 hands.) The breed’s heritage comes from Appaloosas, Arabians, Shetland Ponies and Welsh Ponies. Because the breed’s sole purpose is to be a children’s mount, its gentle nature and suitability have been preserved through generations.
The quintessential children’s mount is the Shetland Pony. The European-style Shetlands are stout and rugged while the American Shetland is a fairly distinct breed, more refined and animated in its way of going. Shetlands stand up to 46 inches (11.2 hands) which makes them less intimidating to the littlest riders. Keep in mind, however, that size is less important than temperament. Ponies are very clever, and you’ll want to make sure the one you purchase for your child is good-natured so that he only uses that intelligence for good.
Shetland ponies make great driving ponies, so parents and children can enjoy the same equine in different activities. Finding a pony that is trained to drive will also give your child a way to exercise and enjoy her pony after she has outgrown him.
If your child is interested in pursuing hunter/jumper competition, the Welsh Pony might be ideal. The breed is divided into four sections based on size and conformation. The largest of the breed, Section D, are up to 13.2 hands and can be ridden by small adults. These sporty ponies excel in jumping and carriage driving and can be ideal for taking out on the trail.
The Welsh Pony & Cob Society of America sponsors a Junior Merit Program designed to reward members age 17 and younger for equestrian, academic and community service achievements.
When searching for a child’s mount, don’t overlook the humble grade horse. These are horses of mixed breeding or purebreds that were never registered. A horse with papers is only necessary if your child aims to compete on a breed circuit. Kids can take their grade horses almost anywhere that a registered horse can go, whether they’re trail riding, participating in Pony Club or 4-H or competing at open shows. While the cost of upkeep is, of course, the same whether your horse is registered or not, the purchase price for an equine mutt is often more affordable than that of a similar registered purebred.
Whatever breed you choose, always look for a well-trained horse with a temperament that matches your child’s.