Don’t worry, parents, it only lasts a lifetime
“I want a pony!” It’s a line most of us have heard before, if not said it ourselves.
Once bitten by the horse bug, where does one go from there? For parents with children who dream of getting a horse one day—or maybe already have horses and would like to help start their kids off on the right hoof with horseback riding—these four tips from both a trainer, and an equestrian mom will help.
Tip 1: Let it be their decision
The daughter of an equestrian and team roper—and granddaughter of a 4-H horsemanship leader and farrier—young Payton was simply born into the horse world. “She loves her pony, Taco, a little Palomino pony with stocking legs and blue eyes,” said her mom, Ashley Wheeler, a ranch rider and former collegiate equestrian.
“We make sure that it is her choice and her decision to be involved in horses,” Wheeler said. “Of course, my husband and I want her to be involved in horses, but we know that it’s her choice, and it has to be a decision that she makes. Anytime she shows interest, we support it fully, but we're never going to say, ‘Hey, we have to ride.’ I've seen kids that have been forced to ride, and as soon as they can stop, they do. We want to encourage them to be involved, whether it's showing or barrels—whatever—but it needs to be their idea.
Wheeler says that while that's kind of frustrating, "at the same time, it is awesome when you see her be excited about it.”
Tip 2: Find a barn and lesson program
“Find a barn you’re comfortable with and learn the basics. We definitely encourage that kids take riding lessons,” said Esther Kuhlmann of Northland Equine Lessons and Training. “It doesn’t matter which discipline they are going with—the basics of any training of the horse is dressage.”
Kuhlmann says a great age for children to begin lessons is 6, 7, or 8. At this age, children “understand the concept and remember what we worked on the week before. I recommend a minimum of one lesson a week—the more practice they put into it, the better they will get.
Riding can be an expensive sport, but parents will need to understand that one hour a week won’t do a whole lot, but it will help them figure out if this is what they want to do—and if parents have the finances needed to do it—and then go from there.”
If both parents and the child are first-time horse owners, Kuhlmann highly recommends the child join Pony Club or 4-H, both are great programs that educate young equine enthusiasts how to properly care for their horse (and so much more).
Tip 3: Ensure horse care is a priority
Kuhlmann says, “When taking lessons at the farm, even our young riders have to brush, ride, then care for and put the horse away.”
Taking time to care for the horse is equally important, if not more so, than the ride itself. It builds a bond between young rider and horse, and instills responsibility, among other great qualities for a young person.
“We have a similar approach to my dad's when I was a little kid,” said Wheeler. “‘We have these animals, and it's our job to take care of them.’ That's definitely something that was important to my parents [both horsemen] when growing up. Payton continues to get more and more involved in the horses as she gets older. She’s even started helping me clean stalls now. She understands that if it's hot outside, we need to go check the water for the horses, or that Taco is hungry, and we need to go feed him breakfast.”
Tip 4: Make sure they have a safe pony or horse
A nice lease horse from their trainer, or a well-seasoned owned horse or pony, offers the best start for the avid young rider.
“I see a lot of people wanting to get a young horse for their young kids, so they can ‘grow together.’ But I personally think there is nothing better than a ‘been there, done that’ safe, older horse for a kid. I believe these horses know it’s a reward for being good for their earlier parts in life. They get to be brushed on and have bows put into their mane,” Wheeler said.
Kuhlmann more than agreed, saying, “I recommend young people get a pony that has really been there, done that. Don’t go out and buy a $500 Thoroughbred off the track—it will cost you more in the long run. Instead, work with your trainer to find an older horse who knows what they’re doing, one that the kid can have fun with.”