First Impressions: Introducing Your Child to Horses
It’s an established fact that children aren’t ready to truly learn to ride until around 6 to 8 years of age. Though the love of horses may develop sooner than this, the American Medical Equestrian Association does not recommend riding before a child has developed the strength, coordination, and ability to not only concentrate but to follow directions. Horses are big animals with minds of their own, and a child who thinks riding a horse is a game like he or she plays on a tablet doesn’t need to be on a horse.
That being said, not every child fits into the same categories as others. If your child is able to follow directions and not lose his or her concentration easily, then he or she may be ready. You know your child best, so use your best judgment.
Introducing your child to horses is easiest once you’ve done your homework. It can be overwhelming if you have never been around them. Because of this, here are a few of the basics to get you started.
It’s best to have a discussion with your child about the risks and ways to be safe on a horse. Any decent instructor will have this talk with your child before putting him or her on a horse. However, it’s best to reinforce this as a unified front rather than simply putting it on the instructor to teach your child how to respect the risks he or she is taking. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t send your child to his or her first day of school without laying down some foundation. This is no different.
Children should understand that horses are living creatures with minds of their own who may injure someone without meaning to. Your child should know to respect the horse and the basics of being around a horse. For example, don’t walk behind any horse, don’t raise your voice around a horse, and don't run around a horse are a few lessons that come to mind. These are basics that will make your child’s introduction much safer and more relaxed. Plus, it will make life a little easier for your child's instructor.
Speaking of instructors, you want to do some research in this arena as well. As much as parents research local school systems to find the best fit for their child, so, too, should they research who instructs their child on horses. Tour the facilities. Talk to parents who send their children to the stables. Get referrals. Ask if your child’s first lesson can be private before jumping into a group setting. Ask about what safety precautions he or she will take with your child. Make sure that you’re comfortable with the trainer, and that you can both communicate with each other and your child.
The facilities don’t have to be state of the art with Olympians training at them, but they should be clean and offer both a fenced riding arena and pasture area for the horses to run and play. The barn should have a tack room, and that tack should be in workable condition. Just like crusty tack, any signs of disrepair that stay for an extended period of time is a red flag.
Ask if your child can meet the horses he or she would be riding. It helps to let your young rider develop a relationship with these horses, as they will be his or her teachers just as much as the instructor. The horses should be in a variety of sizes and in good shape, but, above all, they should be suitable for beginners. Anything less should send a red flag.
Trust your gut when it comes to introducing your child to lessons. You’ll be the best judge on if he or she is ready for them. You’ll also know when you find the right stable, instructor, and horse. The proper environment for your child will create a happy experience for both of you.
If you don’t know of any friends who ride, you can still find a stable near you using Go Horse. This handy website is a listing of every stable located in the United States. It’s going to be very helpful for me when the time comes for my upcoming foal to come home.
Good luck, and I wish you many happy horse memories!