Horse Riding for Kids: Benefits & Tips on How to Get Started
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Growing up in a household where both parents adore animals certainly has its perks. As a toddler, where many of my friends would have to beg their parents for a kitten or a puppy, my house was already filled with (domesticated) animals to the point that some of our neighbors would lovingly refer to it as a ‘mini zoo’.
I also lucked out with the fact that despite my dad spent pretty much his entire career working for a bank, to this day, he believes that he’s a farmer at heart. Because of this, when I was about 2 years old, he decided to buy land in the suburbs with the intention of turning it into a full-blown farm – and that he did.
So, why exactly do I consider myself lucky? Well, the land happens to be located on the outskirts of Salatiga, an area in Central Java, Indonesia renowned for its lush land and (local) horses. And on my 3rd birthday, my parents surprised me with my very own pretty horse named ‘Pony’! (coming up with creative names was clearly not my strong suit).
I adored Pony and my horse riding sessions were what I looked forward to the most whenever we visited the farm. Though it’s been quite a while since I last rode a horse, as an adult, I would often look back fondly on my childhood memories spent with her.
Pony & I on a ride to the town’s square (© Lystia Putranto)
Whether it’s through taking classes in a local horse riding school or a nearby ranch or better yet, by signing them up for a horse riding camp for kids, here are some of the many awesome reasons why I believe children should learn to ride horses:
It benefits their health
Though it may appear that the horse is ‘doing all the work’, horseback riding is actually a fun and effective way to get your kids to become more physically active.
A great isometric exercise, it requires the body to fully utilize the core muscles as well as the inner thighs and pelvic muscles to keep balance on the horse. This helps to improve the posture of the rider as well as maintain a good level of muscle tone & flexibility.
More advanced riders are also likely to burn off a good amount of calories from maintaining a squat-like position while constantly adjusting to the movement of the horse during their riding sessions.
It cultivates character & valuable life skills
A 2006 study sponsored by the American Youth Horse Council found that participating in consistent equestrian or horse riding activities can help to develop a strong character as well as cultivate priceless life skills in children.
You’d be interested to know that the findings show that there is not only a correlation between horsemanship skills & life skills, but it showed a significant positive relationship between the two.
Ann Swinker, Ph.D., one of the study’s co-authors, a professor of Animal Science at Penn State University eloquently summarized the results of the study “Handling, riding, and caring for a horse or pony can develop a host of positive traits in a child, including responsibility, accountability, patience, level-headedness, empathy, kindness, and self-discipline.”
It offers wholesome fun
In this digital age, it’s hardly uncommon for kids, especially those who reside in metropolitan cities, to spend most of their free time indoors and glued to a screen.
The great news is that horseback riding offers a great alternative to stationary activities such as TV-watching or surfing the internet. It allows them to connect to nature, get plenty of fresh air, instill a healthy habit, and make new friends all at the same time!
As a bonus, the love for horses and horse riding is enduring and often leads to a lifelong hobby that your children will treasure and appreciate even as they grow well into adulthood.
It’s a confidence booster
Partnering up and learning to ‘work’ with an animal that is at least twice their size may be daunting for many kids at first. However, as they learn to persist and successfully establish chemistry with the horse, it can actually be quite empowering and enables them to feel as if they can tackle anything they set their mind to.
It can enhance their scholastic achievements
A study on the effects of horse riding involving 106 primary school children by scientists from The Tokyo University of Agriculture found that while in the saddle, a child’s cognitive ability is likely to be improved. The scientists found that the vibrations produced by a horse while being ridden have the ability to activate the human brain’s sympathetic nervous system.
But how will this increased cognitive ability affect your child’s scholastic achievements? It essentially means that children are likely to have improved memory as well as enhanced problem solving and learning abilities that can help them to tackle academic-related tasks more easily and do better in school!
The perseverance and focus needed to excel at horse riding can also spill over to their school work. As kids are ‘forced’ to concentrate and not let their mind wander when they’re riding, they are likely to apply this heightened level of focus in other aspects of their lives – including their studies.
Interested in signing your child up for horse riding lessons? To get you started, below are some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and answers that you may find useful:
At what age can I enroll my child for horse riding lessons?
As I mentioned earlier, I started riding my Pony at 3 years of age. In general, with proper supervision, kids can start riding a (smaller) horse or a pony as young as 2-3 years old. Some schools do offer courses for toddlers as the earlier a child gets introduced to a horse, the easier it becomes to be comfortable around them.
That said, note that most horse riding schools or camps usually cater to kids aged 6 and up. This is because at this age, in addition to the fact they’re likely to have reached the height to be seated safely on a full-sized horse, they will also have developed a sense of awareness and would be able to recognize the potential hazards of working with a large animal.
What’s the best way of getting my child to get started in horse riding?
Feeding a pony (© Jesus Alvarez
If your child is already showing an affinity for animals, it’s usually quite easy to pique their interest in horse riding. If you’re unsure, you can begin by watching out movies that include horse riding scenes or check out books on horses with your child that can help you gauge their interest.
Once you’re more certain that your child would be more than happy to try horse riding, you can:
- Visit a horse riding school or camp and sign them up for a trial lesson.
- Go on a family horse riding holiday where you and your child can begin to learn to ride horses and have plenty of fun together.
What should I be looking out for when choosing a horse riding school/ camp?
Similar to what you would do when searching for a new (academic) school to enroll your kids, it’s always best to do your due diligence before you make your decision. First and foremost, be sure to visit the school(s) you’re interested in and find out the answers to pertinent questions such as:
- Is the school and instructors (properly) certified?
- Are the horses trained & well-taken care of?
- How well do the trainers respond to their students and vice versa?
- Does it offer quality equipment and well-maintained facilities?
- Do they have (and implement) adequate safety precautions?
I heard horse riding is an expensive hobby, how much will it cost me?
Though it’s true that horse riding sessions can set you back quite a pretty penny – the cost will highly depend on various factors such as the location, the qualifications of the trainer, the quality of the horses, as well as the school’s facilities.
In Western Europe and the US, private horse riding lessons (as opposed to group lessons which are cheaper) usually come with a price tag of US$30 – S$50 per lesson. Note that since horse riding can be dangerous, and as a requirement, some schools will also request that your child has the appropriate health insurance in case of riding related accidents.
When it comes to horse riding gear, you can easily rent basic equipment such as a back protector and a helmet from the school – that is until your child decides that he or she would like to take up the hobby for the long haul.
What is the best horse breed for kids?
You may find the answer surprising and perhaps a bit disappointing but there actually isn’t any particular breed of horse that is best for children.
That said, there are those that are safer for kids. For toddlers, pony breeds, such as the Shetland pony, are suitable as their size won’t be so intimidating and they are easier to mount. Also, due to their miniature size, when your child does fall, it won’t be such a far way down and they are less likely to sustain injuries.
For larger or older kids, calmer and less temperamental breeds like the American Quarter Horse make a good fit. For this reason, they also make great family horses and an ideal breed for beginner riders.
Curious to find out whether your children would enjoy taking up horse riding as a hobby? Find out for yourself during a family horse riding weekend!