If you’re trying to decide whether your child is old enough for their first horse, you aren’t alone. Many parents of horse-crazy kids find themselves weighing whether how soon to buy their child a horse or pony.
This decision often centers on wondering if your child is old enough for their own horse. Buying a horse is a huge undertaking for anyone, and there are a lot of factors to consider before making the commitment.
For parents who find themselves curious if their child is old enough for a horse of their own, this article provides some questions to ask yourself and some suggestions for helping your child gain experience before you start scouring the sale ads.
4 Questions to ask before deciding your child is old enough for a horse
Do You Have Horse Experience or Professional Support?
One factor that will make a difference in deciding if your child is old enough for their first horse is whether or not you as the parent have experience owning a horse.
Like any pet, the younger your child is, the more of the responsibility for taking care of the horse will fall on the parents.
If you already have experience owning horses, you will be better suited to guide and teach them about horse care at a younger age. If you don’t have experience- that’s ok. However, you’ll need to plan for lots of support- like that provided by a good boarding stable.
How Old is your Child?
Generally, middle childhood and adolescence are the best times for a child to benefit developmentally from the experience of horseback riding. 1 However, these developmental phases don’t occur at the same age for every child. Read more about what each childhood phase looks like via this article on healthypeople.gov
How Long Has Your Child Been Riding?
Horses are just like any other pet. They take time and dedication, and owning one should not be taken lightly. Many parents give their child a horse as a gift after 2 or 3 months of riding and soon regret it when the child loses interest!
If your child has been riding for years and has shown responsibility and consistency during that time, they are likely ready to help care for a horse. A child that has only been riding for weeks or months (or has a tendency to lose interest easily) is not likely ready to help care for a horse. Riding lessons or leasing a horse may be better options.
Is Your Child Taking Riding Lessons Regularly?
Another thing to consider is if your child is taking lessons regularly. Fun riding lessons are the best first step for parenting horse-crazy kids. It gives them a safe place to learn how to ride and care for a horse.
Many kids also take instruction better from a person who isn’t their parent, and therefore will benefit from having a riding instructor to learn from. If your child has been taking lessons regularly and still has a strong desire for a horse of their own, then they may be old enough and ready for a horse. It is a good time to look into taking the next step with them (here’s a guide for non-horsey parents to navigate the horse buying process).
Also, having a horse that the child can ride and work with in between lessons can go a long way to increasing their skill level and helping them learn to ride a horse faster.
3 Things to Get Ready for Buying your Child a Horse when they are Old Enough:
Explore Leasing a Horse
Even if you do not have any experience, there are things you or your child are able to do to prepare for horse ownership. One option that can be used as a stepping stone to owning a horse, is leasing.
Leasing a horse allows you and your child to get accustomed to the ins and outs of caring for a horse on a regular basis. It is similar to owning a horse. You and your child will have access to one specific horse and be able to get extra rides and experience with them. Leasing is much less expensive than owning, and comes with less responsibility and commitment. It is a good way to get a taste of horse ownership- and a sense of whether your child is actually old enough to have a horse- before actually taking that leap.
Gain Experience at the Barn
If a lease doesn’t work for you, another option is having your child work or volunteer at a local barn to learn from those that already own and care for horses. This is a better option for older children who have been riding for a while and can handle more responsibility with less help.
Working around horses lets them gain knowledge and experience, and allows you to see how much responsibility they are willing and able to take on. It’s also a great experience for kids who think they want a job with horses when they grow up. A week in a horse barn in July might help them reassess their career goals!
Decide Where the Horse will Be Kept
If you choose to board your horse at a stable, then a lot of the day-to-day chores may be included in your board. This usually includes daily feeding, turnout, and stall cleaning. Some situations only offer a place for the horse to live, and the daily care will still be up to you. You will need to decide how much of the daily chores your child is capable of doing, and how much you are willing to take on, then find a place to board that fits these needs. There are pros and cons to boarding vs keeping a horse at home, click here to read a guide to this topic.
If you decide to keep the horse on your own property, then you and your family will be taking on the full daily responsibility of the horse’s care. The older your child is, the more of these daily chores they will be able to do themselves. Younger children are capable of helping with things like feeding and grooming, but they need constant supervision for their safety.
Owning a horse is a great way to teach your child about responsibility and caring for an animal, but it is a lot of work and not all kids are up for it.
The older your child gets, the more responsibility they will be able to take on with the horse. However, as an adult, you will be primarily responsible for any big decisions involving the horse, including veterinary care and emergency situations. Horses require a huge time and money commitment. Owning a horse is something the whole family will need to be prepared for, no matter how old your child is.
Research sources used for this article:
- MacKinnon, J. R., Noh, S., Laliberte, D., Allan, D. E., & Lariviere, J. (1995). Therapeutic horseback riding: A review of the literature. Physical & Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics, 15(1), 1-15. [↩]