Do you have a kid that loves horses and wants to take lessons? Or are you yourself an equestrian and you would love your child to share your passion and start riding as soon as possible? Are you wondering if your kid is too young? Or if your teen is too old to get started riding?
These are just some of the questions I am going to answer for you.
I first started riding when I was 5 years old.
I didn’t start off with riding lessons. It was my cousin’s horse farm where I first began to learn to ride. I had done pony rides before this point but it wasn’t until 5 years old that I rode off a rope on my own. One rein in each hand.
I started taking riding lessons at 8 years old after making friends with a girl I went to school with who took riding lessons. I begged my parents using kid tactics. “But Julia gets to take lessons! Why can’t I? It’s so unfair! Please let me take lessons, I promise I will keep my room clean…” And yada, yada, yada.
You get the picture. Luckily my parents eventually caved in after they saw I was going to my friend’s lessons every chance I got to watch her and see the horses.
Eventually, this all led to many horse experiences, horsey opportunities, owning horses, going to school for horses, riding at many barns, working at many barns, becoming a riding instructor.
Now as an equestrian adult with a child of my own I would love to see him get into horses and riding. But what’s the best age I should start him at is the question!
My son Colton is only a year old. He definitely seems to like horses. I’ve been taking him to the barn sometimes to wander and visit the horses. He goes in and out of the barn. Down to the paddocks to greet the horses, over to the miniature donkeys and squeals with excitement.
When I pick him up to go home he has a hissy fit because he doesn’t want to leave. It’s clear he likes coming to the barn and seeing the horses.
Colton did have a pony ride between 8 and 9 months old. It was a small pony and I walked next to him holding his waist. He loved it and was all smiles as he moves along with the pony’s movements. He was not afraid one bit.
This began my research into best practices for starting kids in horseback riding, beginning with finding out what ages are okay to start riding and what are the best ages.
Can A 2-Year-Old Start Riding Horses?
Riding at 2 years old even up to 5 years old can be controversial in the equestrian world. There is no official rule or law that states only certain ages can horseback ride. However, most barns won’t accept a 2-year-old in their lesson program.
If you do decide to let your child ride at 2 years old or even up to 5 or 6 years old, there are 3 important things to keep in mind and consider.
3 Things To Consider With 2 Year Old:
- Attention span
- Physical ability
Riding always poses a danger. Getting their foot stepped on or losing their balance and falling off the horses are risks when working with horses. There are ways to mitigate and reduce these risks, however.
A toddler 3 years old and under should have two equine savvy adults to the 1 child. This keeps it much safer. One adult should be leading the horse. While the other adult has a hand on the child’s thigh or waist.
I volunteered and worked as a side walker and a horse handler for a few different therapeutic farms and there were always at least 2 adults per 1 kid. For some disabled riders 3 adults to 1 rider.
This keeps young riders much safer, if anything was to happen, the side walker can pull the child off the horse. Whereas if one person was leading the horse and something happened your kid could easily slide right off the side. If the child was holding the reins with no one leading the horse, it could end up pretty bad if the horse took off and your toddler fell off at higher speeds.
So for your toddler’s safety have someone leading the horse and walking alongside the horse with a hand on your child’s leg.
The horse your toddler is riding is very important.
What kind of horse you would want your child to start on:
- Well trained and responsive
- Bombproof or not easily startled
- Calm, laid back personality
- Smooth gaits
- Slower paced
- Smaller is better if your child does end up falling off.
The gear your toddler is wearing is important. Helmet, protective vest, boots with a smooth sole and 1-inch heel (if riding with stirrups).
Some instructors like to start very young kids with a bareback pad. Many times the saddle is too big for the toddler and their feet can’t reach the stirrups.
The environment is important for safety. Your child will be much safer in an enclosed arena, preferable on the smaller side, so the horse is less likely to get excited with big open spaces.
A calm atmosphere is preferable to loud noises and farm work being done that could spook the horse. No hazards in the riding arena that could cause the horse to trip, spook or cause problems.
Your 2-year-old has a short attention span. First, make sure they are showing interest in horses and riding. You can always try again when they get older if they don’t seem interested at this point.
Keep in mind while riding they may only be okay for a couple of laps around the ring before they are done and want to get off. That’s okay.
They also may have difficulty listening to instructions while riding because they will be distracted by the horse, other horses, people, things going on around the arena.
Don’t expect much from your toddler and be cautious. They are unpredictable and regularly put themselves in danger without realizing it. You probably realize by now your job as a parent is to keep them alive or as least that’s part of the job.
Use this experience as a chance to let your child get used to being around horses, gain some confidence around them and begin to learn safety rules.
It is ideal to keep the lessons pretty short. But each kid is different and some have more ability to pay attention than others. If your child is expressing that they want to keep riding and really enjoy it, let them ride longer as long as time allows it.
If your child is showing you signs they are done, end it there. Don’t push them to continue. That would turn them off from horses and riding and they probably won’t want to keep doing it.
Don’t live your dreams and aspirations through your child nor live through your child’s accomplishments. That’s not fair to them. Be true to your kids and let them create there own dream and own their own accomplishments.
I am talking about muscle development, posture, core stability, coordination, and balance. Like I said before each kid is different. My 1-year-old son Colton is in the 99 percentile for size.
He is developmentally close to 2 years old. He can run, climb, jump and rides on my back when I pretend I am a horse. His balance is pretty good and he seems pretty strong. I saw him do a pull up holding onto the bathroom sink trying to look into the sink bowl.
But some kids are still crawling at this age. It is important that your toddler has a strong core and can keep their upper body straight when sitting in the saddle. Their balance will still be developing, but having a strong core will help with balance.
You want to make sure they can at least hold themselves upon the horse’s back. Personally I would definitely wait until the kid could walk around and not stumble about.
Coordination also comes with age and will be very difficult to learn at this point. This is why it is best for toddlers to not worry about using reins, instead be led around and just focus on having fun, building confidence and getting used to sitting up on the horse.
Also, I can see a toddler throwing themselves off the horse if they want to be done or if they get upset, as their rationale is not developed and their emotions easily take over.
This is why it is best to be cautious and have someone leading the horse as well as a side walker or two.
If you decide to wait until your kid is older that is perfectly fine. There are Olympic equestrians that started riding after 12 years old. Your kid has plenty of time. No need to rush into it if they don’t seem ready or interested.
What Is The Best Age For Kids To Start Riding?
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Based on my experience as an instructor and what I have learned from riding and working at lesson barns over the years, age isn’t as important as if your child is developmentally ready. But If I had to pick an age I would say 7 or 8 years old.
Why start at 7 or 8 years old:
- It is a young age with lots of room and time for growth in skills and ability, if they wanted to go professional someday.
- At this point unlike a 2-year-old, their attention span is much more developed and much more able to follow instructions.
- You will know whether horseback riding is something your kid wants to do as opposed to you deciding to have them start riding when they are younger and not as easily able to decide for themselves.
- Their muscles are much more toned and developed. Coordination and balance have immensely improved.
- Humans are most flexible as children which is a plus for riding horses.
- By 7 and 8 years a child has a better sense of awareness than a young child and has a better sense of danger.
- Though still a kid, at this age they are more in control of emotions than they were when they were younger.
At What Age Do Lesson Program Accept Students?
I have been at many different barns over the last 20 plus years, plus all the barns I have researched online. What I have noticed is that most horseback riding lesson programs require the students to be on average 6 or 7 years old to start taking riding lessons.
However more recently I have noticed programs for younger children as young as 3 years. It is more of an intro to horses. Short sessions. Grooming and maybe a pony ride. The sessions I have researched seem anywhere from 15 minutes to a half-hour.
Tips For Toddlers Riding Horses
- Make sure their helmet is properly fitted. (The helmet in the photo above is a bit too big.)
- Buy a properly fitting protective vest for your toddler, which will help protect the spine and rib cage.
- Don’t make your child ride if they don’t want to. Let your kid make the choice if riding is something they like to do or not.
- Make the experience fun. Games on horseback like I spy. Simon says. Be the leader point where we go next. Stretching exercises Etc.
- Make rides short.
- Have a horse handler and a side walker.
- Shetland ponies are a good size for a small child. Smaller the better. Of course not the only attributes of a good toddler mount.
- Don’t keep your toddler on the horse if they are having a tantrum or are putting themselves or others in an unsafe situation.
- Lot’s of specific praise. Good job looking ahead where you are going. Nice job sitting up straight. Awesome job stretching your arms up to the sky. Etc.
- End on a good note before the drama. Keep the experiences enjoyable. Don’t push your kid beyond there limits.
What Ages Should A Child Be In Lead Line Lessons?
Once your young child is well balanced and has developed sufficient muscle. I would say they are ready to be in lead line lessons, where there is no side walker but still a horse handler leading the pony.
When your child is at this point of balance and muscle tone, it will probably be somewhere between the ages of 3 and 6. It depends on how your child specifically develops and comes along with their riding.
How Do You Know Your Child Is Ready To Come Off Lead Line?
There are a few things that need to be checked off before a child should be coming off the lead line. You want your child to be as safe as possible and confident enough before riding on their own. Here is a list of milestones before coming off the lead.
- Be able to walk-trot keeping balance in the trot.
- Be able to hold the reins without using the reins to balance themselves
- Be able to steer the horse using the reins correctly.
- Be able to ask the horse to walk and trot correctly.
- Be able to bring the horse back down to a walk from the trot and down to a halt from the walk.
When I was teaching regularly I would start all my students even adults on the lead and lunge line to make sure they developed these skills before un-clipping and letting them ride on their own.
It is safer for the rider. It helps to build their confidence. It lets them concentrate more on their own riding than what the horse is doing. It makes it easier and more comfortable for the horse.
Are Teenagers Too Old To Start Learning How To Ride?
No teenagers are not too old to start taking riding lessons.
A friend of mine began learning to ride riding in college when she was in her twenties. Now she can walk, trot, canter, and jump. She has been learning dressage and owns an off the track thoroughbred.
Being a teen and starting horseback riding though not as young as some riders who started as young kids. It is still very doable. Some people even begin to ride as late as their 60’s.
I actually taught some lessons to a man that was in his 80’s. It was more of a getting back into riding after a long break and last hoorah before he would stop riding for good. He was partially deaf so that made it a little difficult and interesting. He was walk trotting with a smile planted on his face. It was great.
Riding as a teenager opens a door to making friends who are also interested in horses, especially in group lessons or if they become a part of a riding club or team.
Riding can help teens who suffer from low confidence and self-esteem issues. And It gives them goals to reach and a sense of accomplishment when they reach those goals.
Plus it’s so much fun and it keeps them out of trouble.
When Is The Right Age To Start Your Child Horseback Riding
No matter the age. Let the child make the choice to start horse riding.
Obviously you are willing to let them take riding lessons if you are looking up this article.
The biggest thing is that they have the drive and desire to be around horses and actually want to ride.
Whether it is 2 or 7 or 14 years old. Let your kid decide if and when. As long as you are willing to make the commitment and can afford it.
Did you find this article helpful? Check out:
- The Budget-Friendly Guide For What To Wear Horseback Riding
- Do I Need My Own Riding Helmet For Horseback Riding Lessons
- How Do You Give A Horse Treats Without Losing Any Of Your Fingers?
- Can I Wear Leggings Horseback Riding?
Poll: What Age Did Your Child Start Riding?
I would love to know what age you start your child riding horses. Share below and check the results to see what age other kids started riding.
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