As summer approaches, parents are looking at summer activities for their children. Many of those kids are begging to learn to ride horses. Certainly, that was me! I went to horseback riding camp every summer from the ages of 12-15 and before that, took lessons at local riding schools. When I had kids of my own, I dreamed about going riding with them and sharing the fun that it gives me. The owner of the barn even offered to build a small stall if I wanted to get them a pony. For a while, they were interested. When a fellow boarder brought a camp pony home for the winter, they fell in love with Apple, who was about as reliable a kids pony as you can imagine. They spent quite a bit of time with her and their friends (especially my daughter’s friends) were green with envy that their mother had a pony they could ride.
Not everyone has a spare pony in their backyard and not many of the kids who dream of riding bareback on the beach have parents who are comfortable handling horses, but with some safety measures and supervision, a kid can enjoy the pleasure of riding and also realize some real benefits to their physical and emotional well-being.
Benefits of Riding Horses
Letting your children practice horse riding is not only exciting but has a lot of benefits. Let’s look into some of them. But before that, if you might want to know how much horse riding lessons will set you back, check this article for more details.
1. Relieves Stress and Enhances Mood
Let’s face it. Kids today are stressed. Especially during Covid there were a lot of things to be anxious about and group activities were curtailed. Riding is a treat that can help them relax and cope with their anxieties, plus it has the advantage of being outside with social distancing. Just look at the smiling faces of almost every kid on a pony and you can practically see the happy hormones like serotonin and endorphins, which enhance mood greatly and reduces stress, starting to flow through their bodies.
2. An Alternative to Screen Time
Is your kid glued to their phone? Horses are way more interesting than texting or games. Horse-crazy kids will happily put down their phones and engage with an activity that’s fun and non digital.
3. Makes Exercise Fun
Riding is a LOT harder than it appears and uses muscles that rarely get a workout. But the best thing it’s so much fun, kids don’t think of it as exercise. Horseback riding works important core muscles: abs, back, pelvis, and thighs. These stabilize the torso while enabling coordination, stability, balance, and flexibility. If you’ve never ridden, you’ll be surprised by how many parts of your body are sore from using muscles in new ways. If possible, find a barn where your child can help with barn chores, which will keep them moving and help them feel like they are making a difference.
4. Teaches Empathy
Similar to human relationships, successful relating with horses requires compassion, patience, kindness, and clarity. Many people are surprised by the level of cooperation that is required between a horse and its rider. For children, it teaches them how to work in partnership with an animal much larger than they are, to achieve the desired performance. Since horses are prey animals, they are also quite attuned to human emotions. If a child is fearful or upset, they can see how the horse reacts and learn to calm themselves. For children with emotional difficulties, learning to control their emotions is a powerful lesson that reaps many rewards both on and off a horse. Getting angry, or trying to force a horse to behave, doesn’t generally work, which causes children to be more empathetic and cooperative in their actions toward others.
5. Teaches Responsibility and Builds Confidence
Taking care of animals is a great way to teach children how to be responsible. Working with an animal that is so much larger than they are, gives children tremendous confidence in their skills and abilities. Many riding programs include handling and care skills as well as riding. Learning how to groom a horse, tack it up, keep its stall clean or even leading it can be thrilling. When I went to horseback riding camp, we were each assigned a horse to take care of. We fed them, mucked out their stalls, and groomed them. I took such pride in my horse that I spent hours with him. At the end of the summer, I was thrilled to receive the award for the camper who took the best care of their horse.
One of the most important aspects of horse care includes feeding them. It’s very important to understand what can and cannot be eaten by them.
6. Creates a Community
As all of us who have been bitten by the horse bug know, our shared passion gives us a strong and vibrant community. Horseback riding can give your children the chance to make new friends, work toward common goals and have adventures together. I can remember as a kid being dropped off at the barn in the mornings and collected by my parents some eight hours later. My friends and I shared our dreams, rode ponies (none of them were our own, but that didn’t matter) and lived and breathed horses. Being part of a community helps children grow up to be compassionate and value teamwork to create something meaningful and important.
7. Teaches Leadership
The most in-demand talents in schools and, later, the workplace, are leadership, teamwork, and cooperation. All of these qualities are improved and polished in children who are devoted to horseback riding.
Because a rider’s emotions may be detected by their horse, children must gain the confidence and fearlessness necessary to handle an animal that weighs more than 10 times what they weigh. Keeping their nerves in check during a ride, as well as preserving balance and coordination improves a child’s ability to solve difficult problems.
The obstacles and challenges encountered when riding serve as a stepping stone for children to overcome difficult situations and they learn the value of patience, practice and perseverance. Becoming both a good rider and a good horse person takes time and a willingness to learn, adapt and take direction. These are skills that never go out of style.
There’s no question that riding can benefit your kids; the next part involves tips to make sure their learning process is safe and fun.
1. Keep Them Under Constant Supervision
Horseback riding is a risky sport. It can quickly shift from enjoyable to painful or lethal. This is one of the main reasons why children should be trained by licensed experts who have experience with teaching beginners, who can instill confidence by teaching at an appropriate level.
Because a minor blunder, omission, or error might result in an accident, children must always be supervised. They are likely to make mistakes, but if a trained eye is continuously on the lookout, these mistakes can be prevented before they occur.
Most important is that the professional reinforces the need for safety. Children (and adults) should always wear a helmet when mounted, wear hard-toed, closed shoes to protect their feet, and never be put in a situation where they are in danger. Look for camps with excellent safety records, clean, well-run facilities, and horses that are well-fed, shiny and alert.
2. Teach Them the Basics
Whether you’re a kid or not, it’s nearly impossible, and NOT RECOMMENDED to skip the fundamentals and jump right into the difficult part of any talent, sport, or effort.
So it’s critical that you start your children on the basics before allowing them to ride a horse. The A, B, Cs—Attitude, Balance, and Control—should be the first things your child learns. They must learn how to handle, groom, and lead a horse.
Children can learn to take care of a horse. They should be able groom a horse, put on a saddle and bridle, and clean their feet. They should know how to lead a horse safely and understand how clean the horse’s tack.
3. Keep the Lessons Fun
Children have a very short attention span. Most lessons for kids are a half or less, as it’s important to keep them engaged and focused on the activities. Integrating horse care lessons into a program can also keep them hooked and interested.
Most important is to keep riding from being a chore. When my daughter was about four or five, I took her to a trainer I knew for some lessons. She hated them. She didn’t care about learning to post or progress through the levels. She wanted to enjoy the sun on her face, the feeling of the pony moving underneath her and to dream of being a princess on a unicorn. My trainer gave me the perfect advice: take her home and let her have fun. There’s plenty of time to learn the hard stuff. Each child is different, so it’s important to find what they enjoy and let them at it.
The Best Mounts for Kids
There’s no right horse or ponies for kids. In fact, many experienced horse people will remind you that pony is a four-letter word. Ponies are smart and often get away with murder. What’s particularly tricky is finding adults who are small and light enough to keep them well trained. Zelda loves kids and I’ve led many of them around on her bareback, despite the fact that she’s 16.2 hands tall and weighs about 1500 pounds. What’s most important is that you find horses that enjoy being ridden by kids. Most camp ponies and horses are well trained, calm and not too excitable. Apple, the pony treasured by my kids, was about a hundred years old and was phased by nothing.
What should you avoid? Untrained (green) horses. There is an old saying that green plus green equals black and blue. A green horse and a green rider are bound to end with bruises.
When Should Kids Start Riding?
Although kids of any age can get on a pony and be walked around, most camps and riding schools will not start teaching kids to ride until they are five or six. Children at this age have had time to develop their limbs, can grasp instructions, and have a fair state of cognitive focus. Of course there are exceptions. I’ve seen videos of kids as young as five jumping courses. And my father took me riding when I was two (I’m sure he often regretted the decision as it started me down the dangerous road of horse addiction).
It is incredibly enjoyable to teach children to ride. Children are terrific pupils because of their excitement, open hearts, and eagerness to learn. Their enthusiasm for ponies is infectious and it can be the start of a lifelong passion.
When it comes to riding, most youngsters are fearless, and it is the instructor’s role to ensure that their safety is the utmost priority and that their excitement to ride is carefully directed.
When did you start riding? Do you have any particular memories of horses or camp experiences?