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.
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