What is the right age for horseback riding lessons?

Attention span, balance and coordination

At our farm, we have an instructor who specializes in riding lessons - both English and Western - for all ages. Lately, we've received a number of calls/emails with requests for riding lessons for children anywhere from 2 to 5 years of age. Children growing up on farms with horses may indeed be riding that early (we know of one 5 yr old who was national champion walk-trot), but a general rule of thumb is a child needs to be 6 or 7 before embarking on riding lessons.

Riding a horse can be a dangerous sport, even on the most bomb-proof lesson horse and requires attention, concentration, agility, coordination and balance. Riding, especially at advanced levels, but even at beginning stages, requires the hands to be separate from the arms, lower arm separate from the upper arm, and upper arm separate from the shoulders. Legs, knees, and feet all operate independently as well.

Young children are easily distracted and often forget safety rules. On the ground, they need to be quiet and always remember not to run around horses, stand behind horses, or feed their fingers to the horses. In the saddle, they need to listen to the instructor so they will remember how to stop, start and turn. We've had a few over the years that didn't listen or couldn't pay attention long enough to get the basics in which case the horse does pretty much as he pleases and the child gleans nothing from the lesson or worse, gets frustrated and never wants to ride again. Also, if a child does not have adequate balance and coordination, they won't be able to master skills even if they do listen.

We've had parents insist their children were ready at 3 or 4. So we let them come visit and usually the children just want to pat the horse, sit on the horse and two minutes later play in the dirt. This is not what the parent had in mind. It's a waste of time and money.

If your child is begging for lessons and you are unsure of whether he/she is ready, a good test is whether or not they can ride a bike without training wheels - if so, they probably have the balance and coordination necessary to begin to ride. Likewise, if a child is able to concentrate in school all day or is able to concetrate on difficult tasks like music lessons or some sports, they are probably mentally ready to ride.

Mommy & Me Lessons?

We've also had quite a few requests for "Mommy & Me" riding lessons or classes as well. After some research, we're still not sure what the "Mommy&Me" class is supposed to be about. It seems that the non-horse savvy mom leads the very young child around (recipe for disaster) or perhaps they even ride double (again, there's the blind leading the blind, so to speak).  An internet search showed relatively few farms that do this and they seem to be mainly in  California (with the exception of one farm in Florida). None of the farms had any detailed information on this type of thing so we cannot honestly evaluate the safety or advisability of such lessons, especially if they are actually on the horse. If anyone has any information on such a thing, let us know and we'll look into it. But again, it just doesn't sound safe.

Comments 4 comments

Roz 6 years ago

What a great idea. We live in the city and my three year old loves animals. Perhaps we'll look around for mommy and me classes at a stable nearby.


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Anne Coyle 6 years ago from Bronxville, NY

Thank you for such a well written and well thought out treatise on such an important subject. While many other barns may have 'cashed in' on those parents, you opted to use it as a learning and teaching opportunity. It makes me wish I lived near your barn! One point you didn't mention, but that I believe should be added is that, for children that young, there often is not equestrian apparel or horse riding boots or helmets available in those sizes, putting those children at even further risk.


Michele Morring 6 years ago

I have recently started doing Mommy and Me lessons. Like you, I was really unsure about how I would go about a Mommy and Me session and stay safe. Basically what I am doing is including Mom in the lesson on the ground while the child is learning (within limits). Mom is learning all the safety guidelines and also managing the child and their child-like behaviors. Mom seems to be useful in helping explain difficult instructions to the child and also helps me discover the child's learning style and limits prior to frustration. I do not allow the mom to ride with the child. The mom can stand with the lead rope for a photo only. I also have x-small helmets that are available to the kids, x-small gloves and a "boot bag" with various boot sizes that the kids can "borrow" during their session.


Esme 5 years ago

I have recently bought a pony for my 5yr old daughter as she loves horses but after reading this article I'm ready to sell him again! Actually I'm not sure what to do now, is she ready to canter as she can hold on nicely and is a bit too fearless for my liking...

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