Horseback Riding Lessons for Kids: A Guide to Getting Started
Western, English, How-Tos

How to Get Your Kids Started in Horseback Riding Lessons

Teaching a child to ride horses includes everything from horsemanship and ground handling to tacking up and riding position. Children learn discipline and life skills through this enriching sport that leads to a lifelong passion for many riders.

Horseback Riding Lessons for Kids: A Guide to Getting Started

Horseback riding for kids lays a foundation for a lifetime of excitement. The process begins with selecting a discipline and gearing up in appropriate attire. With hyper-specific industry terms and the sheer diversity of available programs, learning how to start horseback riding can feel overwhelming, but it needn’t be. Start by understanding your options for riding styles and youth riding lessons. When you’re ready to gear up, Ariat has riding clothing for kids that will stand up to the rigors of the sport.

The Benefits of Horseback Riding Lessons for Kids

Horseback riding is a rewarding sport with benefits that quickly become apparent. Young riders care for and understand their horses, developing compassion and empathy. They’ll learn how to groom and saddle their horse, in addition to foundational riding skills, like the proper position and balance in the tack, steering, halting and applying their aids. As they navigate the inevitable success and failures of that process, they build confidence, independence and strength, while spending lots of time outdoors.

For teens who embrace horseback riding through local horse riding lessons and want to continue, many colleges have equestrian teams and offer scholarships to riders, as well as equestrian majors like equine science, equine business management and animal science. Professional options in the industry include trades like becoming a farrier, equine dentist, therapeutic body worker or equine chiropractor, as well as a trainer, barn manager, groom or rider. There are also opportunities for “working students” who work for a barn or trainer, learning skills and doing barn chores like pulling manes, body clipping, feeding and exercising horses.

Barriers to the sport do exist, and families should consider all factors before committing to lessons or getting involved with riding for kids. Horseback riding is expensive, from specialized gear to lessons to horse shows and the purchase, upkeep and board for a horse. Like most sports, riding does include the risk of injury from a fall. Consider these factors carefully before deciding if horseback riding is the right fit for you and your family.

What Young Riders Should Wear

Riding involves specialized gear, but many young riders can manage with just the basics. Safe kids riding apparel and footwear is critical, and close-toed and heeled shoes or boots will be required both while mounted and while working around and near horses. For beginning Western riders, kids cowboy boots are the best choice, while beginning English riders will find kids paddock boots and half chaps to be a good fit.

No matter the discipline, participants should wear fitted long pants or jeans and a helmet while taking part in horseback riding lessons for kids. Speak to the barn where your child is riding for recommendations on helmet fit and sizing. Some programs may require riders to provide their own helmets or may offer riders helmets to borrow. It’s generally best to have your own properly fitted helmet.

Finding a Program

It’s common for kids to begin pony rides as young as two or three years old, but most lessons barns will require children to be five-to-six years old to begin lessons. Reach out to your local park district or equestrian governing body, like Pony Club or the United States Equestrian Federation, to see if there are recommended programs, local trainers, or barn partnerships in your area.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, audit a lesson, take a barn tour or change programs if your child is not enjoying their lessons or making progress. It’s normal to feel a little uneasy around horses until you learn to understand their behavior, but you should also feel confident that the program you’ve selected provides a safe, educational and fun environment for both you and your children.

Setting Expectations

Consider your motives and goals for enrolling your child in horseback riding lessons. Perhaps your child loves horses and has asked for the opportunity. Maybe you rode as a child and wanted to share the experience with your son or daughter. Or are you looking for a new, active hobby to fill up the long stretch of summer vacation days? Your motive should drive you to select a lesson program that can meet your needs and help your child work toward their goals.

Programs vary, so decide what kind of structure and support you want to invest in. Some well-developed lesson barns offer programs with reporting structures, where students regularly receive written evaluations and feedback from their trainers. Other programs, especially those of independent trainers, take a more laidback approach.

Committing to the Lesson

Consistency and practice are key to improving and learning the skill of horseback riding. Most programs offer lessons at least on a weekly basis. Programs typically offer lessons as a group or private, one-on-one sessions.

Group lessons usually last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, and are a great way for children to meet and connect with other kids learning the sport. While horseback riding is not always viewed as a team sport, there is a huge amount of camaraderie in a barn. As with any other sport, fostering connections is an important anchor for developing a lifelong passion. Other young riders can provide encouragement for new riders as they share in their successes and challenges while learning to ride. On the other hand, group riding lessons may not be able to offer the same degree of personalization or individual attention that a young rider may receive from private instruction.

Private or semi-private lessons are usually anywhere from half an hour to an hour long and are more expensive than group lessons. However, a rider will have more access to the instructor and is likely to improve at a faster rate.

In lessons of either type, parents are generally encouraged to stay and watch their children ride. Large barns can offer amenities to make this a comfortable experience, like a viewing room with a window into the arena, climate control and even coffee or snacks. Small barns may just invite parents to watch from the rail of the arena.

No matter which option you choose, getting your child enrolled in horseback riding lessons is a fulfilling move that comes with benefits like sportsmanship, patience, responsibility through caretaking for horses and respect for peers in competition. Horseback riding will gift you and your child with treasured memories for years to come. To learn more about the types of riding your child can pursue, read about the various disciplines of both English riding and Western riding