When I started horseback riding about 22 years ago, I was just a kid that loved horses and wanted to take riding lessons, but my parents didn’t know where all the horseback riding opportunities were. Over the years I discovered there are many many places for kids to go horse riding.
Where Can I Take My Kid Horseback Riding? There are a handful of options where kids can ride horses.
- Pony rides
- Trail Riding
- Horse Riding Camp
- Dude Ranch
- Equestrian Tour or Vacation
- Riding Lesson Barn
- 4H Club
- Pony Club
- IEA Team
Now that you have an idea of the types of places you can take your kid horseback riding let me give you a little more information about them, where these places are generally located, how to choose which is best for you and your kid and how to find places local to you.
Where Are These Horseback Riding Places Typically Located
Most of these opportunities are located in the more rural countryish areas at horse farms that offer riding lessons, such as pony rides, trail rides, horse riding camps, and riding lessons of course.
Pony rides may also be located at fairgrounds, zoos, petting zoos, and rental ponies for birthday parties.
Trail rides for the public can be a part of an established lesson barn but also be the business itself. Meaning the barn only does trail riding or that is their main service.
Horse riding camps may be located at a lesson barn during holidays or summertime or be located at a regular summer camp location.
Equestrian organizations like Pony Club and IEA and then the 4-H club have clubs and branches all over the USA that are governed under the main body and then also the individual branches. But they are nationwide and should have branches in your area. If not one could always be started.
Dude ranches, great for families to experience tend to be located in North America where western riding was developed by the cowboys in the American West. The most common places dude ranches are located are in Canada, USA, Mexico, and Argentina.
Equestrian Tours or Vacations best for more experienced older adults and sometimes older teenagers are located all around the world, in most continents. Not Antarctica… yet.
More About These Different Places To Ride
Before you move on to reading about each different horse riding opportunity I just want to point out that this is just a summary of the different riding options.
What To Expect: Your child will be sitting on the pony in a saddle which is most commonly a western saddle, where your kid can hold onto the horn of the saddle to help them stay on. Not what the horn is meant for but it works.
Your child will not be riding on their own with the reins. They will be led around either by staff leading the pony or the pony will be hooked up and led by a pony wheel. A pony wheel looks similar to a miniature version of a hot walker in which racehorses are tied to after exercising in order to cool down.
Some places may or may not have side walkers. That is where there is a second person walking next to your child while they are riding. They may spot the rider or have a hand on your kid’s leg if the rider is really young and unbalanced.
Requirements: To go on a pony ride your child needs to be able to sit up straight and hold their head up with no support. Usually, there is a weight limit with the top weight between 80- 100lbs depending on the ponies available. The minimum age is generally 3 years old but is sometimes as young as 2 years. My son Colton had his first pony ride when he was about 10 months old at Kimball Farm in Littleton MA. So there are exceptions to ages depending where you go.
Safety: There will probably be a waiver you need to fill out in case of injury. Depending on what state you are in your child may or may not need to wear a helmet. Usually, the business will provide one if required. I am pro-helmet and recommend helmets whenever possible.
Costs: Costs range from $5-$20 for a pony ride if you go to the location and $100-$350 an hour for renting a pony that gets transported to an event or party.
Recreational Trail Rides
What To Expect: Most trail rides to the public are guided trail rides. There is usually a guide in the front and at the rear. You will be able to ride with your child on the trail ride and you both will be assigned separate horses according to your size and ability. Be honest about both your abilities in order to be safe.
Usually, there is a general quick intro for beginner riders about stopping, turning and asking the horse to go. However on these guided trail rides the horses usually just follow each other in a line, because they are so used to the routine.
The trail rides are done in groups and can range from 3 paid riders to 20 paid riders depending on the barns policy. No matter the amount of people that are in the group, the ride depends on the rider who is the least experienced. For example, if the least experienced rider has never trotted a horse before, the whole group will only walk.
Requirements: To go on a trail ride the minimum age varies from place to place. I have seen the minimum ages from 6-12 years. Most barns have a weight limit of 250 or less because there are usually only a couple of horses that can carry heavier riders comfortably. A healthy horse can generally carry 20-25 percent of its weight.
Safety: There will probably be a waiver you need to fill out in case of injury. Depending on what state you are in you and your child may or may not need to wear a helmet. Most barns will have helmets available for you to use. I suggest you both wear one or buy one if they don’t provide any, at the very least for your child.
Costs: Costs range from anywhere $35-$100 for an hour trail ride. That time may include getting on and off the horse, as well as getting everyone acquainted with gaining control of the horse, learning the basics and lining up.
Horseback Riding Camp
What To Expect: If the camp has horseback riding, as an elective they will do the normal summer camp type activities and only the allotted time with the horses and riding.
In a camp focused on horses, your child will have mounted and unmounted instruction, work on basic riding skills and position, learn basic barn management and horse care, as well as have some other fun electives such as swimming or other non-horse activity. It is like the opposite of a camp with horseback riding as just an elective.
The majority of horse riding camps are day camps but there are also overnight camps as well. They generally have 1-3 riding lessons every day.
Requirements: For day time summer camps I have seen minimum age as low as 3 years old, but the average is around 7-8 years old. For overnight camps, I have seen as low as 7-8 years but the average is closer to 10 years old. The oldest acceptable age is around 15-17 years old.
Safety: There will probably be a waiver you need to fill out in case of injury.
Costs: The cost of a week at a day camp ranges from $250- $450. While the cost of an overnight equestrian camp ranges from $500-$5000. Expect to have to buy a helmet, riding boots, riding pants, and possibly a safety vest, which will add to the cost by $150-$300. Each program is different so check what is required for the camp you are interested in.
Dude Ranch Vacation
What To Expect: I can tell you from my own experience. I went to Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland, NY. This was more of a vacation resort type of deal, but with a western theme. There were 3 square meals a day with a set schedule. Riding was unlimited but you had to sign up for your rides. The riding was the same as I described for recreational trail riding. This ranch I went to provided helmets. The whole place was decorated beautifully and really brought home the rustic western feel. There were all kinds of activities from mini-golf, swimming, fishing, family events and more.
I have also researched other dude ranches that seem similar but have even more options like white water rafting, crafts, archery, scavenger hunts. Quite a few different dude ranches are available in the US.
Requirements: It seems 3 years is the minimum age for doing anything with horses on a dude ranch, which mostly seems like a pony ride at that age. The trail riding is available with the same requirements as the recreational trail riding.
Safety: There will probably be a waiver you need to fill out in case of injury. Depending on what state you are in your child may or may not be required to wear a helmet. However, the business will usually provide one if required.
Costs: Costs seem to range from $300-$700 per night for a family of up to 4 people.
What To Expect: Probably not the best option for you right now, but it seems like so much fun. This is something I would love to do with my son and husband someday. Unlike the other options, equestrian vacations are geared toward a lot of riding 4-6 plus hours of riding a day. They tend to be about a week long. Usually, equestrian vacations have a bed & breakfast type of deal and the riding is like a comprehensive equestrian clinic or involves camping and trail riding or others are point to point adventure rides where you end up staying at different places every night along your trek.
Requirements: There are a few that accept younger than 16 years, but most want 16 years as a minimum and sometimes 18 years. Also, most equestrian vacations are required to have at least basic riding skills. So if this is something if you have a teenager with the riding basics established or if you find a vacation destination that will accept your child’s age. Otherwise, this will be an option after you both learn the basic skills of riding which can take quite a while. You will obviously need a passport.
Safety: There will probably be a waiver you need to fill out in case of injury. Depending on what state you are in your child may or may not need to wear a helmet. Usually, the business will provide one if required.
Costs: Costs range from $2000- $10,000 per person for a week’s vacation. Also, you will need to buy a helmet, riding pants, and riding boots add another $150-$300.
Riding Lesson Program
What To Expect: You will be able to watch your child’s lesson. Normally beginner lessons are an hour and start with learning how to groom, then putting the saddle and bridle on. The lesson is usually divided up 15-30 minutes on the ground getting ready and then 30 minutes riding and 0-15 minutes taking off tack and quick grooming under the saddle.
There are some stables that do all the grooming (check out these cool grooming sets from Matchy Horsey) and tacking for you and all you do is ride the horse. Unless riding is a one-time thing, as an equestrian you want to learn how to care for the horses you work with and ride.
In the riding portion of the first lesson, your child will probably learn the correct basic riding position, how to stop, start and turn the horse and maybe might get a chance to try the trot. There may be a rope attached to the horse with a horse handler or not.
Riding lessons are available in half-hour and one-hour sessions with private, semi-private or group usually available. For beginners, one-hour private lessons are most ideal.
Requirements: The average age accepted in a riding lesson program is 7 or 8 years old but there are stables that go all the way down to 3 years old. Younger kids will most likely stay on the lead line with a horse handler. The maximum weight is 20-25 percent of the horse’s weight, so it depends on the string of lesson horses the barn has. Usually, max weight is 200-250lb but I recently saw a max weight at a stable of 170lbs for lessons.
Safety: There will be a waiver you need to fill out in case of injury. Most lesson barns require riding helmets, riding pants, riding boots. A safety vest is recommended sometimes.
Costs: Costs range from $25-$60 for a half-hour ride and $40-$120 for an hour ride. Riding clothes $150-$300.
4-H Horse Club
What To Expect: 4 H, in general, is not solely a horse club, they have a horse program as a part of the club. 4-H, is a club for kids, to learn many different things about making friends, being a leader, and being an upstanding citizen. This is an involved club for kids that teaches these things along with horsemanship.
Usually, you need to own or lease a horse to ride in the horse program or ride in a 4-H horse show. However, 4-H is still a great opportunity for learning about horses, horsemanship and safety around horses. For those who have a horse available to ride, they can choose to dowestern or english riding.
Each individual club depending on the location of the club has different opportunities, rules, and focuses.
The kids have regular projects they get to choose and work on. Some project choices are horse-related and some are not. It helps to know the schedule of the club and learn the focus of the individual club to see if it is a good fit and what you want for you and your kid.
Requirements: 5-7 years are for the clover bud programs which is like the pre-4 H club and 8-18 are accepted for the main 4 H program. The parents are a big part of 4 H and need to be involved as well, volunteering and helping out. If interested you will need to find and sign up for a membership to a 4 H club in your area.
Safety: If you want to lease or buy a horse you should first be educated about proper horse care and have solid basic riding skills. There will be a waiver you need to fill out if you are going to be working with horses or riding horses. 4-H does require helmets and proper riding attire if riding
- A yearly membership fee is around $25.
- Then for field trips and activities, the price varies depending on what and where.
- Projects also cost money for supplies needed which varies.
- Show clothes $350+
- 4-H horse competitions $15-$30 per class
- Leasing is $250-$1000 a month and lease agreements vary.
- Owning a horse has more expenses and ranges from $500-$1500 a month.
What To Expect: You need access to a horse whether from a pony club riding center or if you lease or buy a horse.
Pony club is all about safety and proper care of the horse. They are a bit strict with how you take care of the horses and equipment but it creates excellent disciplined horsemen/women.
Pony Club has different levels called ratings. This includes your horsemanship knowledge and skills, plain horse knowledge as well as riding skills. Pony clubbers are tested for each rating and if your child passes they get a certification for the rating level. There are 9 ratings in total with D1 level as the first beginning level and A level being the most advanced.
There are both mounted and unmounted meetings. Usually, one unmounted meeting a month and mounted meetings vary depending on the club.
If you do own a horse, you will need a truck and horse trailer to get to the mounted meeting location. But it also works if someone else can transport you or if someone from the pony club picks up your horse along the way.
Pony Club offers a way to make horse friends, and become a solid equestrian. Pony club standards are held in high regard in the equestrian community if your child one day wanted to work in the horse world.
There are many different disciplines of riding offered for pony club
- Show Jumping
- Show Jumping,
- Western Dressage
- Distance Driving
- Fox Hunting
- Hunt Seat Equitation
- Horse Management
Requirements: Pony club is now open to all ages. You must sign up and pay membership fees for national, regional and local club dues. You need access to a horse whether from a riding center, leasing or owning. You do not need to own a horse though. Proper safe riding attire including helmet, riding pants, riding boots.
Safety: Helmets are required. Proper footwear. Release forms will be required. Pony club is all about safety.
- There are national dues at $155-$200
- Regional & local membership dues vary depending on location.
- Cost of renting pony club center $25-$50
- Owning or leasing a horse $250-$1500 per month.
- Cost of mounted meetings $10-$25ea or $400 to $1000 for a package of lessons in a session
- Cost of pony club rallies which are basically horse shows $50-$200 ea.
- Show Clothes $350+
- Costs will vary based on a handful of factors
IEA- Interscholastic Equestrian Association
What To Expect: IEA are middle school and high school riding teams that compete against each other. Members can choose between hunt seat equitation, dressage or western reining. If your child’s school doesn’t have an IEA team to sign up for, your child can join a local team in your area.
Your child will take lessons from an IEA member coach on lesson horses and compete in IEA sanctioned horse shows on horses provided by the host team, or sometimes horses by other teams attending the show.
Riders draw names on the morning of the horse show to determine which horse they will ride in the competition.
Your child will learn more than just riding. They will also learn about horsemanship and caring for horses as well.
Requirements: Your child must be in grade 4-12. Your child doesn’t need a horse to join and any level rider accepted. Proper riding attire and show riding attire will be required.
Safety: Depending on the discipline riding helmets may or may not be required. But even in western riding helmets can be worn and are recommended. Waivers will need to be signed.
- Weekly lessons are required to be on an IEA team which range from $40-$60 per lesson.
- Yearly membership fee $55.
- Coaching Fee at Shows $30- $80.
- Competition Class Fees (usually two per show) $25-$50 per class.
- Team Logo clothing (if a new member) $100-$250.
- Show Clothes $350+
How Do I Decide Which Place I Want To Take My Kid Horse Riding
Each different type of place you decide to bring your kid to will offer something different. Whether it is the type of riding, amount of riding time, learning horsemanship skills and horse knowledge, will all depend on the place you go.
The first thing you need to do to narrow down where you want to bring your kid by deciding whether this is a one time deal, a regular activity, or a test to see if your kid likes riding first before you invest extra money and time.
There are different factors to consider when you are trying to figure out where you want to go and what commitment you want to make. But that first decision will make it easier.
To help you out I listed the different horse riding places by that first decision you make.
One Time Activity
- Riding lesson
- Trail Ride
- Pony Ride
- Dude Ranch
- Riding Lesson Program
- Pony Club
Testing The Waters Before Investing
- Horse Riding Camp
- Few Riding Lessons or a Package
- Trail Ride
- Dude Ranch
Now you have narrowed down what places might be a good idea for your child, but there are still some questions to ask yourself. The next question would be what can you afford?
As a one time option, a pony ride or trail ride would be the cheapest option. While riding lessons will be a little more expensive for a one time deal. Vacationing at a Dude Ranch would be a bunch of fun but definitely cost a lot more money.
If your kid is testing the waters you could add summer camp to the mix, because they will get a short real glimpse into the horse world and what it’s like to ride and care for horses. I think a horse riding camp can really help your kid decide if this is something they want to pursue.
When your child decides yes I love riding and want to keep doing it, your most affordable option is regular riding lessons. If your child wants to get further immersed in all aspects of horses and wants to compete, IEA, 4 H, and Pony Club are good options but the costs increase a good bit. IEA is slightly more affordable than 4-H or Pony Club.
Equestrian Tours and Vacations tend to be for 16 years and older depending on where and require the rider to at least have a solid foundation of the basics.
Other questions to help you choose where to go if this is more than a one-time thing:
- What experience does your child have with horses?
- How old is your child?
- What riding level is your child at?
- How much time do you have a week?
- How far are you willing to travel?
- Are you willing to be involved in the sport if your child was to be in a riding club or organization?
- Is competing in horse shows something your child might like to do down the road?
- Is riding something you want to do with your child?
Think about these questions and take the time to jot down some answers.
Looking at your answers you can get a basic idea from which places may be best for your child.
Write down the top three riding opportunities. Then think about the pros and cons of each one. Once you figure out which one you’re interested in the next step is to figure out places in your local area that you can check out.
How Do I Find Horse Riding Opportunities In My Local Area
There are different places you can look to find these horse businesses and organizations like bulletin boards at country coop stores and tack shops, classified ads in horse magazines and newsletters. But the best and easiest way to find them is to search around the internet.
Here are different websites you can use to help you find local options.
- Google Search
- Groupon & Living Social
- Other Search Options
Google Search & Maps
This is probably the easiest way to find what you are looking for. It is so simple and obvious that it seems too easy.
But really just search “pony rides near me” or “trail riding near me” or “riding lessons near me” or “equestrian summer camp near me”.
That’s all you have to do to come up with a big list of available places to check out in your area off of google maps. Some may be towns you never heard of. Just use google maps and figure out how far away it is from where you live.
Keep in mind Google doesn’t have all the available barns and riding opportunities in your area, but they do have a good amount
Facebook is another great resource you can use to help find a place to ride. To use Facebook for this purpose you have a few different options.
You will be using the search bar at the top. Type in for example “horse riding lessons nearby” and search. Then under the search bar, different options will pop up. Click on places. This will show different Facebook pages for farms in your area.
You can also search for horses and the region you live in. For example, I live in Massachusetts or the New England Region of the US. So I could search “horses Massachusetts” or “horses New England” and then press groups.
Groups are similar to classifieds so you can find opportunities for riding in your local equestrian groups.
On craigslist, you can find the region you are in for your country. Then search horse riding lessons, trail riding or whatever. You may be able to find other opportunities not on google search or on Facebook.
Groupon & Living Social
These are deal sites where you can buy products and services at a discount. If you put in your zip code it shows you deals in your area. I have always found riding lessons available, trail rides and even horse-drawn carriage rides.
This is a great opportunity for those wanting to test out horseback riding but not invest a lot of money into it.
Many equestrian organizations have a way to find opportunities to be a part of their organization in your area, whether it is to find a riding instructor or a local club. There are also other directory types of websites that can help you find a barn.
Here is a list of sites to help you find riding opportunities:
- United States Pony Club
- Yelp: Directory Of Everything
- Equine Now
- 4-H Club
- Thumbtack: Directory of Services
- American Riding Instructor Association: Instructor Directory
- CHA Instructor Directory
- Lessons.com: Directory for places you can take lessons at, not just riding horses.
- New Horse:
- Equitours: Equestrian Vacations Around The World
- 7 Dude Ranches On The East Coast USA
- Dude Ranch Listings
No matter where you decide to bring your kid horse riding to make sure they have an available ASTM/SEI approved riding helmet or else buy one for your child. Riding with a helmet helps to prevent serious head injuries in the event of a fall.
Aside from that riding is a bunch of fun and your child will more than likely have a really great experience. Watch out they may just catch the horse lovers bug.
What Age Can Kids Start Riding Horses? A 2 or 3-year-old can start riding a pony with supervision by an experienced horse person. Some riding barns have programs for kids as young as 2 years to become comfortable around them and on them. The average minimum age requirements for riding lessons is 7-8 years. Check out my post Can A 2-Year-Old Ride A Horse? The Best Age For Kids To Start Horse Riding for a more in-depth answer.
Is Horseback Riding Good For Kids? Horseback riding is great for kids. Riding provides many benefits to your child mentally and physically. But even more than that horseback riding helps to build your child’s character and self-esteem. Horse riding can make a positive impact in your child’s life.
Did you find this article helpful? Check out:
- Can A 2 Year Old Ride A Horse? The Best Age For Kids To Start Horse Riding
- 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?