We all remember the first time we met a real, live horse. For many kids, it’s a wish granted and a memory that stays ingrained with us forever. If handled in a positive manner, it can be enough to generate a lifetime with these amazing animals. Introducing a child to horses is a special moment, but it’s also important to make sure the introduction is done well.
Often times the best way to start your child in riding is to schedule a lesson with a qualified instructor. Both the trainer and their horse have most likely started many, many kids in riding and should know how to make it a positive experience without the pressure that parents can sometimes apply. Similarly, a qualified horse should be able to withstand just about anything a child can dish out. But even lesson horses have their limit of patience so make sure your child knows a horse can only handle so much.
However, if you're lucky enough to have your own horse or a friend who is willing to let you borrow their horse these tips may help you when introducing your child to riding.
Find a Trustworthy Horse or Pony
The key to a positive introduction to horses begins with a trustworthy horse or pony. Try to introduce your child to a horse or pony who does not nip or bite, even when presented with small fingers. Make sure the horse or pony has an excellent understanding of personal space, and that he or she does not kick. Make sure the horse/pony knows the basic cues for walk and whoa and is comfortable being tacked up and groomed.
Have a Safety Talk Beforehand
Before you get to the barn, talk with your child about basic safety rules around horses. It’s best to have this conversation ahead of time, since many children will be excited and distracted once you arrive at the barn. Talk with your child about how large horses can hurt us without even knowing it. Make sure to establish rules such as not running or screaming when at the barn, and how to never walk behind a horse.
Make sure your child is dressed for safety as well. While riding boots may not be necessary on the first visit, your child MUST wear a solid shoe, preferably with a heel. No sandals or tennis shoes should be allowed. Also make sure an appropriately sized and safety-certified helmet is a part of your child’s very first ride.
Have Adults Present to Help
Depending on your child’s age, you may want to have one or more adults present to help with the introduction. This is particularly important if you're giving your child a pony ride. One adult can focus on handling the horse while another adult works with your child. As an added bonus, another adult can help capture the moment with photos or videos.
If you’re planning to introduce your child to a horse at a busy barn, try to schedule the introduction for a time when the barn is relatively quiet so you won’t be in the way. If you’ll be giving your child a pony ride, conduct the ride in a quiet, enclosed riding arena to be extra safe.