Kids and horses are a never-ending story. Kids are naturally attracted to horses, and even though not every family has the money to buy a horse, the kids should nevertheless get the chance to get involved with horses. Caring, riding, and handling a horse can develop a host of positive traits in children, such as patience, responsibility, headedness, empathy, self-discipline, and kindness.
Why kids should grow up with horses
A horse is a friend, a sports partner, and a therapist all at once. In the process of becoming an adult, kids greatly benefit from dealing with horses. It means accepting responsibility, developing passion and drive, and being motivated to work hard at any time. They also grow into understanding how to treat an animal with respect and empathy. When you’re with a horse you become the leader of a team, and one quickly understands that treating the horse with love and as a friend works better than seeing it as a servant. This translates into excellent leadership skills later on. Riding and showing also teaches the kids to set a goal, work for it, enjoy rewards but also to deal with defeat and disappointment. At the same time, the kids spend a lot of their time outside. They get to know others likeminded kids and learn to enjoy exercising.
Shy kids especially benefit from spending time with horses as there’s no reason for them to be insecure. Horses don’t judge you for your appearance or for what you say. The only thing that matters to a horse is how it is being treated. It is much easier to open up to an animal than to a human, and through learning to take care of a horse, kids build up confidence over time and get to know their strengths, weaknesses and limits. In most riding schools, older kids show younger ones and newbies the basics. While doing this, they learn to instruct others with confidence and empathy. Every kid knows how it feels to be new at the barn. Thus, they can relate to everyone who’s being shy and a bit clumsy in the beginning.
How do kids benefit from equestrian sport?
Horse riding is great exercise and fosters ambition and motivation. This sport is unique as it requires understanding and motivating the horse and yourself to always give everything. The relationship between a rider and his horse is as close as it can be, and their communication is invisible. Riding a horse means being open to learn and able to solve problems every day. But the most important aspect is the feeling. It is what makes horse riding particularly difficult. A good rider knows how the horse feels; he can encourage it to approach scary objects or calm it down if it is insecure. He must be fit and in control of his movements in any situation as horses are easily frightened. So, keeping a cool head and reacting quickly in such a situation is crucial. Kids learn to understand a horse’s behavior over time and know how to assess tricky situations and respond the right way. This minimizes risks that go along with the equestrian sport. A child that is in contact with horses and maybe even competes, is mentally and physically fitter than many others in its age group.
This sport is also extremely humbling as equestrians always work on themselves. The golden rule is: It is never the horse’s fault. So, you have to figure out what you’re doing wrong and how to improve. Additionally, mucking out stables, cleaning tack, and grooming the horses is a huge part of the day but it’s completely normal for every equestrian. You can’t practice horse riding without helping at the barn. This is simply not how it works.
Many kids even work in exchange for their training. You might think this sounds hard, but it’s actually the perfect leisure activity for all horse lovers. If you ask the kids, mucking out stables, sweeping the yard, and checking fences is not a liability and not at all like cleaning up their room at home. It is not seen as work because they would do anything for their horses and ponies. At the same time, they’re part of the equestrian community and spend time with like-minded people. Of course, children benefit from every kind of sport they play, and not every child likes horses. If they don’t, that’s cool, but if they express the wish to ride, this is great, and every parent should be happy about it. I’ve heard parents say: “Get ’em a horse. They’ll do all the work.”
How to make the dream come true as a non-equestrian family
If you’re a parent who’s never dealt with the equestrian community, you can start by reading a horse book to your child, watch horse movies or get a horsey quiz to play at home. You can also ask nearby barns if you can visit them. This way, you can connect with equestrians and get in contact with riding schools. Normally, equestrians know each other, so if you tell an equestrian about your kid and what you’re looking for, they will be happy to help. You can also go to competitions and see riders compete in dressage, jumping, eventing or western riding (whatever your child wants to see). There are even competitions for kids where you can find out about the participants’ clubs. This is another way of finding a good riding school.
How to find a good riding school
Have you already made an appointment to visit a riding school? That’s fantastic! Here are some tips for you to evaluate if it’s a good place or if you should keep looking.
The first impression: Is the barn clean and well organized? Are you being greeted friendly and shown around? Can you watch the training, have a look at the horses, the stables and the field?
There are a few principles every well-organized barn follows:
- After mucking out the stables the barn is swept clean. So, you won’t see any bits of straw or dirt in the yard.
- The tack is clean, and the tack room looks tidy.
- After someone used the arena, they clean up any droppings.
- There’s a good mood in the barn, and everyone helps each other.
- In the first training sessions, the trainer lunges the horse while the child learns to be comfortable on horseback and give the correct aids to control the horse. This is extremely important for the safety of inexperienced riders and shows the credibility of the trainer.
- The horses are brought out on the field every day where they have access to water and hay at all times. A healthy horse has a shiny coat, a calm eye, and is well fed.
- The trainer is a qualified riding instructor.
To sum it up, the barn doesn’t have to be new and shiny, but everything has to be clean and tidy, and the general mood should be good. The trainer and barn owner should be experienced- and qualified horse-people, and the horses must be kept under the right conditions.
The right age to start
Many kids start with vaulting, and most of them haven’t even reached the age of five when they start. Riding schools often only take kids that are 8 years or older to make sure they understand the instructions and are physically able to give the correct aids.
Things kids have to learn when they start dealing with horses
Horses are flight animals, so that certain situations are particularly scary for them, and it is necessary to learn how to deal with a frightened horse. Reacting the right way and sometimes even knowing in advance what is going to happen is essential. There are certain risks to be aware of, but they can be minimized. So, for example practicing the correct rider’s seat is essential to reduce risks.
Equestrianism also requires commitment. Riding is one part, but the work at the barn is another. Kids have to learn that they can’t just get on the horse and go home afterward. A horse needs grooming before, and after it was ridden, the tack has to be cleaned every time, and the yard always offers a task that needs to be done as well.
Can you leave kids and horses alone?
It is the experience that counts. If a child knows a horse very well and the horse is reliable, it is not a problem for most children to care of the horse on their own. Kids can groom the horse, tack up, muck out the stable and turn it out on the field. Nevertheless, there should always be someone available in case of an emergency, but overall, the kids know what they do after a few years of experience. Hoewever, never let kids ride a horse on their own.
How much responsibility can children take on?
Kids can groom, muck out, and turn the horses out on the field. They can give them hay and water. After some time, they are also able to exercise the horse on the lunge. This is already a lot, but kids can’t be fully responsible for a horse. An experienced adult must keep an eye on the horse to notice when a vet is needed and take care of everything regarding its health. That means making appointments with the farrier, the dentist, instructing the kid while riding, and exercising the horse the correct way. Kids love to learn about their favorite animal, and that’s what they should do. They cannot be blamed for mistakes because they don’t know better and always think what they do is right. So, giving a child the feeling it is responsible for the horse is a great idea, but only to an extent, it can handle.
Which horses are the best for kids?
There are many different pony breeds. The range goes from small cuddly ponies to very athletic competition ponies. However, It doesn’t matter what kind of pony a kid starts riding on, but the pony must be calm and attentive. The child must feel safe because fear can arise quickly, if the pony does some unexpected movement. Therefore, trainers should select ponies not only for their height but also for their character and temper. Shetland ponies for example, are the smallest ponies and should only be ridden by the younger and lighter children. They are very cuddly and good-hearted, but they are very intelligent and can be a bit headstrong from time to time. Welsh ponies, Connemara ponies, and German riding ponies are often seen at dressage, jumping or eventing competitions. They are built like the typical sport horse and were bred for junior riders to start competing. Haflinger, New Forest ponies and Norwegian horses are also great for children, but the breed doesn’t really matter as long as you’re not looking for the perfect compitition pony. It’s the character that determines if a horse or pony is suitable for children. So, even taller horses can be ridden by kids as long as they are reliable and reactive to the aids.
Horse riding as therapy
Physical and mental illnesses and disorders can be treated through riding and getting in contact with horses. Hippotherapy is often used for the rehabilitation of physical diseases. Sitting on a horse’s back requires balance and fitness. Especially the back muscles and the pelvic muscles start working while riding, and joints are being mobilized by adjusting to the horse’s gait.
Everyone who suffers from an eating disorder, depression, or any other kind of mental disease can learn to let go of stress, dive into a different world where only the horse matters, and will be able to reconnect to their body and mind in a positive way. Riding and working with horses enables many people to let go of negativity and free their minds. Their graceful appearence and loving nature has a unique influence on humans. They make one feel welcomed and listen to whatever you have to say. They don’t judge anyone by his looks or his background. Horses are grateful if you take good care of them and love you unconditionally as long as you treat them fairly and kindly. You learn about your strength and weaknesses and sometimes even reach your limits.
The feeling of being needed and loved is an essential aspect of life. Yet sometimes, it is not words and conversations that help to recover but the silent communication between humans and animals.