Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.
Is Your Child Ready for a Horse?
Every child that has taken lessons and catches the horse bug at some point begs their parents for a horse of their own. If you are a horse person yourself, you probably feel more than qualified to make the decision of whether or not your child is ready.
But for a lot of parents, their child’s desire to ride is what got them into horses, and they might not feel confident in knowing how to tell when their child is ready for a horse of their own.
Let’s assume your child has been taking lessons and you already have a relationship with an instructor. The first thing you want to do is discuss with your instructor what their thoughts are. I know it may be hard to hear if they say your child is not ready. Just remember, a good instructor wants to see their student be safe and succeed. If they say no, they are just looking out for your child’s best interest.
Instructors everywhere have stories of enthusiastic families buying a horse for their child too soon. These are usually not good stories. Finding out after you bought the horse that you are in over your head is a recipe to ruin your child’s confidence.
For the die-hards, they work through the challenge and learn from it. For the timid at heart, finally owning a horse of your own and not being successful with it could be the end of your child's riding career.
A child owning their first horse should be almost a right of passage. We want them to be proud and dedicated. Most importantly, we want the horse to help them grow in their riding careers.
Once you have made the decision that you are ready to take the leap, finding the right horse will be the next step. That is another article for another day. For now, I want to help you take the first step, which is determining whether or not your child is ready. I’m going to try and break it down as simply as I can!
Six Questions to Ask Before Buying a Horse
Ask yourself or your child’s instructor the following questions:
1. Is my child a confident or timid rider?
If the answer is timid, leasing a horse first, or just giving them more time on the lesson horses is probably a safer bet for now.
Remember: If you have been in a lesson barn situation, if you buy a horse, this will be the first time your child will be without someone always there to help them handle things. Obviously, we wouldn’t want your child to ever ride without someone else there for safety reasons. Instructors are there to teach whoever is paying them at the time; they aren’t babysitters.
If your child is confident to work through things on their own, that is a good indication they are ready to own a horse.
If they are timid and unsure, they probably aren’t ready yet.
2. Is my child able to catch, groom, and tack up on their own?
If you have been in a lesson program, there is a good chance that your child has always had help with doing these things. If you purchase a horse, they will most likely be on their own at least some of the time.
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Catching a horse that is turned out in the field or bridling a stubborn horse are the types of scenarios that could occur. Not that you can’t ever ask for help, but when you own a horse, these are things that you should be able to handle on your own.
3. Can my child ride a variety of horses?
Horse shopping requires riding new horses, so by the time you get to the point of deciding to buy one, you want to make sure that your child is confident on more than just one school horse.
4. Does my child know what their riding goals are?
Before making the decision to buy, you will need to know what your child wants to do with the horse. Otherwise, you won’t know what you are looking for. Having an idea of what direction they want to go is a big help, that way, you can buy the most appropriate horse for the job.
5. Does my child have an interest in all-around horsemanship?
Once you buy a horse, it is your responsibility to make sure it is healthy. If your child is only interested in riding but doesn’t show an interest in learning about the nature of the horse and how to care for the horse, they shouldn’t own one. You can never know all there is to know about horses, but if you are going to buy a horse, your child should want to learn as much as possible.
6. Does your child have the time to dedicate?
If your child is only a once-a-week rider and has commitments on all the other days, you probably should not buy a horse.
The most well-behaved horse on earth will quickly become not so perfect if they aren’t ridden to reinforce their training. Not to mention, your horse will need exercise to keep it physically fit, and bored horses can pick up bad habits.
More Questions to Ask Before Buying a Horse
If you discuss these topics with your instructor and they confirm your child is ready to be a horse owner, congratulations! Here are a few more things you now need to consider and ask yourself:
- What is your budget? Your instructor won’t be able to help find your child’s dream horse if they don’t know the price range.
- Consider boarding options. Ideally, you would like to be at your instructor's barn—do they have openings? What is the cost, and what are the options for boarding they offer? What other options are in the area, and would they be a good fit for you?
- Can you afford it? Between boarding, farrier bills, dentist, and any other professional service your horse might need, it is a big financial commitment.
- Can you afford lessons, too? In order to be successful, your child will still need to continue taking lessons. Can you still afford that on top of all the other expenses associated with owning a horse?
Do you have the time to get your child to the barn to ride on a regular basis? If you normally don’t stay with them, you need to find out what your barn’s policy is as far as minors being there without supervision. Some barns are okay with it as long as there are other people there. Others require the parent to stay and supervise.
Honestly, if you are thinking about getting as involved as owning a horse, you should want to stay and be there with your child, at least as often as you can.
- Do you have your own tack? If not, did you consider that cost into your horse budget?
Is the Answer Is "No"? Here's Your Plan B
As sad as it will make your child if you ask their instructor and he or she says they are not ready for their own horse, remember they have their best interest in mind. Here are some things you can do to help build your child’s skill set, to get them ready for horse ownership in the future.
- Take more lessons: Take multiple lessons each week to help your child progress more quickly, and hopefully give them a chance to ride a variety of horses. Now that your instructor knows that ownership is your goal, they will probably be more than happy to put you on a variety of horses.
- Lease a horse: You could lease one of the lesson horses that your child is familiar with. It is sort of like taking horse ownership for a test drive. It is really a natural progression to go from weekly lessons to multiple lessons each week, to leasing. I recommend that to all my clients.
- Go to camps and clinics: Have your child attend riding camp or participate in any clinics that your instructor might offer.
- Volunteer: Have your child volunteer at the farm if there are opportunities, the more time they spend in the barn with their hands on the horses, the better!
- Read and learn: Read horse books and magazines! Learn as much as you possibly can, the more you learn now before you own a horse the better. This will hopefully prevent you or your child from having to learn some horsemanship lessons the hard way.
I have heard many parents say that buying their child a horse was the best decision they ever made. It gives them something to focus on and keeps them busy enough to keep them out of trouble.
Owning a horse will teach your child responsibility, dedication and give them a great sense of pride. If you work hard as a family you will get there, and being prepared will be well worth the wait!
This article should not be used in place of getting advice from someone who knows you and your child. These are generalized suggestions I have gathered during my career with kids and horses.