Got a horse-crazy kid? Here’s what you need to know before saddling up

Riding a horse is a thrilling experience for many children. It’s an invigorating way to be active, get fresh air, and feel good

As a child, I was always more interested in my Barbie’s horse than the actual doll, and dog-eared my copies of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series as I read them again and again. Our yard usually had an odd assortment of jumps made out of lawn chairs and broom poles, where my friends and I would “canter” around, short legs leaping over the obstacles.

It was probably no surprise to my parents that by age 10 I was begging them for horseback-riding lessons, and at eleven I was saving up my dollars from my newspaper delivery job and squirreling it away in my “horse fund.”

Those early years of daydreaming about horses became a reality and I joyfully learned to ride. I mucked out stalls and swept barns, and eventually become an instructor myself, teaching eager summer camp kids, college students, and adults who used their time at the barn to de-stress from work.

Riding was not only my hobby but my primary sport, and I experienced its benefits first-hand as a child, and right into my 40s.

According to Equestrian Canada-certified coach Allison Dean, who has taught hundreds of children and adults over the past 20 years, the benefits of riding go beyond the obvious physical benefits, such as improving coordination, balance, strength, and cardiovascular fitness. It’s also a great way to make new friends, learn many different physical skills, and enjoy time outdoors

“What is unique about riding is that it combines the physical aspect with the care of an animal. This promotes responsibility, empathy, and partnership with another living creature,” she said. “In a day and age where kids’ activities are primarily indoors and focused on computers and phones, horseback riding gets them outside and connected to nature.”

Here are five reasons why it’s worth giving the sport a try:

Horseback riding is great exercise

A 2011 study [PDF] found that just 45 minutes in the saddle can burn hundreds of calories, and more vigorous movements such as trotting increase that number. Associated activities such as grooming and mucking out stalls can even further enhance riding’s health benefits. So grab the wheelbarrow and start shoveling!

It builds strong muscles

Every riding discipline, from jumping to vaulting, is an excellent core workout. Maintaining proper riding position on the back of a moving horse requires using your abdominal and lower back muscles, as well as your adductors (inner thighs), pelvic, arm and shoulder muscles. Glutes get a great workout too!

It improves coordination and balance

Guiding both of you through a jump course, flying around barrels, or travelling around an arena develops hand-eye coordination and builds quick reflexes.

It brightens your mood and reduces stress

Riding and interacting with horses gets kids outside and into fresh air. As a result, they experience the many mental health benefits of being outdoors.

It’s good for your brain

Children who horseback ride can improve their cognitive abilities, which can lead to enhanced learning, memory, and problem-solving.


Related read: The confidence formula


If you have a horse-loving child, Equestrian Canada’s website is where you’ll find information on different programs available for new riders, including Equestrian Ontario’s introductory Rookie Riders program, and Horse Council British Columbia’s free Pony Tails Kids Club.

Once they’re ready for lessons, a certified coach or instructor through Equestrian Canada’s provincial/territorial partners will be able to ensure that riding is safe and fun!

Questions to ask before scheduling the first lesson:

  • Are children taught how to groom, tack, and untack?
  • Is there an indoor riding arena so your child can take lessons during winter/bad weather?
  • Is the outdoor riding area fenced?
  • Are the lesson horses suitable for beginners? 
  • Is there a minimum age for children to take lessons?

Basic equipment you’ll need:

  • A correctly fitted, new ASTM/SEI approved equestrian helmet.
  • A chest protector (if required).
  • Sturdy footwear with a ½” to 1” heel.
  • Long pants.

Now, get out there and saddle up!

16 responses to “Got a horse-crazy kid? Here’s what you need to know before saddling up

  1. Hi. My daughter is 8y0 and has started lessons. She is very confident and of course I am a nervous mom who tries to show confidence.

    We are looking to buy a horse. The current owners say the horse is a jumping pony. Will this be suitable to get for my girl?

  2. I am not sure if this is the he place for this question or not. If not, hopefully some direction on where I can go.

    My 15-year-old daughter has been riding for a few years now, in a program multiple times a week. We are on a trial with the hopes of purchasing her first horse starting today.
    I have not ridden since I was her age, The fear I felt today watching her with this young six-year-old mare….Took me by complete surprise. I was uncontrollably shaking, I felt like I was going to be sick and almost in tears.
    She has not even ridden her yet. To be honest I’m terrified and I’m regretting it.

    I understand a lot of my fears are coming from lack of knowledge and I am reading and watching as many books & videos as I can, but unfortunately it’s making my fears even bigger.

    The horse we are on a trail with is a goofy six-year-old mare. My daughter feels confident, yet a tad nervous but in a healthy way.

    How do I stay strong and confident for her?

    1. Many parents struggle to manage their fear when their children engage in activities that include a component of risk. It’s great that you are facing this challenge head-on and making such an effort. While it’s not about riding specifically, Professor Mariana Brussoni has released a new online tool to help parents assess risk and manage their fear at https://outsideplay.ca/ that may help.

      Brussoni studies child injury prevention and outside play, and is an advocate for risky play. If you search our website for her name (https://activeforlife.com/?s=brussoni) you’ll find many articles that reference her work, along with practical guidance for parents. You may also enjoy listening to our podcast interview with her: https://activeforlife.com/podcast-risky-play/

  3. My cousin has been thinking about buying a horse, so that she can ride in the competitions. She would really like to get some help from a professional to board her horse. I liked what you said about how she can build muscles in her pelvic, arms, shoulder, lower back muscles, and adductors.

  4. My daughter loves horses. And every night she asks if we are going to have lessons soon. And she always says stuff about Dressage? I don’t even know what that is! I still don’t know if I should give her lessons…

    1. You should give her lessons because then she will be very happy, but after that she will be asking for a horse of her own.
      By the way dressage is a type of horseback riding that you do fancy feet work and other types of things.

  5. Thank you!! We love horseback lessons for our 9yo child. After 2 months of lessons and learning to tack/untack, guide, trot/post, lessons have started to include prep for jumping. As parents, it looks fairly dangerous for a new rider. They are not jumping anything raised off the ground, but I wonder if you can provide a general timeline of the progression of skill development in riding for a 9yo child? Our instructor is absolutely wonderful – skilled and qualified – we are just new to the sport and are unsure what is a “normal” progression in (1) skills taught and the (2) corresponding (general) timeline. Thanks!!

    1. Hi JD,

      I passed your question on to Allison Dean, the Equestrian Canada-certified coach who is mentioned in the article, and here’s her answer:

      “I would say that anyone should be able to canter comfortably (in a two-point position) before they think about jumping.”
      She also mentioned that a timeline (that may or may not change since everyone is different!) is a great question to ask the instructor.

      You could also ask if your stable offers The Equestrian Canada (EC) Learn to Ride/Drive Program which has a step-by-step program that ensures a safe experience. The program is administered by each Provincial or Territorial Sport Organizations that you can find at this link:
      https://www.equestrian.ca/programs-services/learn-to-ride

      Hope this helps!

    2. I started riding when I was 7. At about 8 yrs I learned to “jump” at the trot…it was raised off the ground but the horse kind of stepped over it rather than jumped. This was a really good way to introduce me to jumping and I definitely recommend asking your instructor about this.

  6. Do you have any input, whether equestrian vaulting or horseback riding classes would be better suited for a 5 year old beginner? My daughter loves horses but I read that young kids should not ride regularly because their spinal cord has not fully formed yet.

    1. I have not heard that about spinal cords, so it could be a good question to ask your pediatrician before starting any horseback riding lessons.

      Riding is generally very good for the core muscles around the spine, and can be used as a therapy tool for children to help develop muscle strength, balance, and coordination.

      As for which discipline to start with, I would check with a few accredited riding schools near you, ask about their programs, and what they suggest. Some schools have age restrictions and may only take 8 and over.

      *I* would probably start with regular horseback riding classes to begin with, and then go from there.

      Whichever you choose, have fun!

      1. Vaulting lessons are a fantastic way to start a youngster on the road to riding. They can start as young as 5 and it truly develops balance, strength and confidence! ???? and is the safest discipline in horse sport.

    2. Vaulting is an awesome way to start riding. I always start beginners of all ages with vaulting. It’s a huge confidence builder and a lot of fun

    3. Hi Daniela,

      Your daughter should do hoseback riding lessons first because she needs to learn how to ride then when she has learnt to canter and is very confident she could start to do vaulting

  7. I was a horse lover in my childhood and youth and it taught me many things and took me many places. I can remember my much older siblings being shocked at my strength as a young teen. That came from riding every day but also from mucking out stalls and helping out over the haying season and more. It was before the “screen age” but I sure didn’t have much time for TV back then.

    Riding was my sport and I became a more independent kid through caring for my horse in a supportive setting (boarding stable) and developed leadership skills in my local Pony Club. My social life was enriched with many horsey friends, not to mention the close bond and emotional support I felt from my horse.

    I too became an instructor and spent summers instructing kids and adults. The highlight for me was representing Canada at the Inter-Pacific Pony Club Rally in Perth, Australia. That was quite a trip and it included a month in Australia with a bunch of kids from many countries.

    My interest in horses provided many wonderful things as I grew up and I look back upon those experiences with great fondness. Team sports are not the answer for every kid. This individual sport and all that it entailed was the perfect fit for me.

    1. Love hearing your story! Working with horses and riding is definitely a life changing experience for many, and can become a lifelong sport.
      Some of my fondest memories were of sweaty summers working multiple horses, teaching, cleaning stalls, and polishing tack. Then biking the hour home, and doing it all again the next day :)

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