Learning Young

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What age can an interested child begin horseback riding?

A toddler as young as 2 or 3 years old can be safely introduced to horseback riding, ideally led aboard a gentle pony and with careful supervision from the pony’s handler. Kids develop at different rates. But to sit on a pony, your child should have sufficient balance and muscle strength to remain upright in the saddle, to wear a helmet designed for toddlers, and to hold onto the reins or strap. Your child should also be capable of listening to and following instructions without any outbursts.

It’s worth noting, however, that children are usually more coordinated, more responsible and more aware of the risks of being around large animals by age 5 or 6. They’ve also generally grown enough by then to ride full-sized horses safely, making it a better time to start riding lessons, since the choice of lesson horse often varies. Of course, stables with lesson programs have their own age restrictions and guidelines. In many cases, for example, children aren’t considered ready for group riding lessons until around age 7.

However, regardless of your child’s age, learning can begin at home. Start talking to your child about basic rules of safety around horses, such as:

Basic Rules for Horse & Child Safety

  • Always speak and move calmly around horses (no running or screaming, please!).
  • When approaching a horse, make sure he can see you.
  • Stay away from equine rear ends to avoid being kicked.
  • When a horse pins his ears back, it’s a warning that he might bite.
  • Always wear a helmet and hard shoes with heels when riding.
  • Never go in a horse’s stall or paddock—or try to lead, tack up or mount a horse—without an adult nearby.

You can prepare your child for riding in other ways, too. Learning horse-related terms or the parts of a saddle and bridle, for example, contributes to a thorough equestrian education. There should never be any pressure or rush to climb into the saddle.

When you feel your child is ready, start researching nearby Time to Ride facilities. This is the best way to locate riding lesson stables with a) safe, kid-friendly curriculums designed to both educate and enrich; and b) staffs that meet the highest standards of professionalism.