Starting Young

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Kid Riding Horse

Q: What are some tips for introducing my kids to horses and riding? I want them to love riding but don’t want to do too much too soon and end up pushing them away.

A: Riding is a lifelong sport. However, for children to ride safely, they need to be big enough to carry the weight of a helmet and need to be old enough to follow instructions and pay attention.

Most barns require children to be at least 5 years old, and sometimes as old as 8, to begin lessons. Make sure that all early experiences with horses are fun, highly supervised and safe, and short enough to match your kids’ attention spans.

Remember, no horse is bombproof. Thinking so may inadvertently set your youngster up for an accident. The danger of falling is directly proportional to the height of the fall. If a child learns to fear horses because they seem so big when they are so small, it can be difficult to reignite the riding bug later. Matching a smaller child to a pony is an important safety consideration.

Speaking as a mother who hoped desperately to have a horse-crazy child, I found that it was important for him to have an appropriately sized mount. Brushing and picking up feet and being able to do things yourself can be really important to kids, especially horse-crazy ones. If they feel they can take part, they’ll want to do it more.

All that said, there’s plenty you can do to make horses and ponies fun and safe for kiddos. I started lessons when I was 6 years old. When my father saw that I had a passion, he made sure that I got the best education possible. I can attribute a big part of the success I’ve had in my career to the education I received from the classically trained instructors I had as a child.

When my son, Hunter, was young, I thought of riding as a privilege for him. “You can ride as soon as you clean stalls.” I rethought that parenting strategy rather quickly. I was the one that wanted him to love horses and riding, so I changed my thinking to make riding fun. I rearranged my schedule so that I’d have time to ride with my son. If a friend was coming over, I made sure to saddle up the pony and make riding a fun treat for the visiting children. I packed picnics and ponied my son out to a favorite lunch spot.

You may love dressage, but your child may want to barrel race. Hunter thought that picking out the horses’ feet and hanging out with the farrier was fun. I got him farrier chaps and some farrier tools. I loved that he wanted to be around the horses and supported whatever interest he showed. Don’t confuse your agenda with your child’s horse agenda. Instead, allow them to find their own passion within the horse world.

Julie Goodnight shares her lessons on her RFD-TV show, Horse Master (also online at tv.juliegoodnight.com), and through clinics and expos. Heidi Melocco (www.whole-picture.com) is a lifelong horsewoman, equine journalist, and photographer.


This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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