Trusting your childs life and limbs to a large animal, can be a horrifying experience for a parent with litlle equine experience. Having 25 years experience with horses, and children of my own who ride, I can provide you with a few tips and things to look for when it comes to choosing a compatible horse or pony companion for your child, or for yourself!
First things first, make sure your child has a genuine interest in horse ownership and you are ready to meet the financial burden of taking on a horse as part of your family. The best way to do this is to enroll your child in riding school. Find a local stable with good references. Make sure the stable employs trainers which also come highly recommended and have had lots of experience training beginners and children. Ask which school horse they plan on putting your child on. They should be open to you stopping by unnanouced any time during the hours they give lessons to observe. The ideal situation would be to observe a class in which they are using the horse your child will ride. Next, make sure horse care is part of the curriculum. They should be required to groom the horse, (this means brush, comb and clean out the animals hooves) before and after the lesson. They should be required to “tack the horse up” (this means put the bridle, saddle pad, saddle, and any other equipment that horse requires to be ridden) and take off the tack,clean the tack and store the tack at each session. They should also be required to muck the horses stall(scoop the poop!) and sometimes even feed the horse. Give this routine a good year. If you child is still passionate about horses, and is showing responsibility and ownership towards her school horse she’s probably ready for a horse of her own!
Lets assume your child has remained with the same riding school for a year, you and your child should have a good relationship with the stable owner and the trainer. Many times the stables school horses are for sale and you can purchase a good horse from someone you trust and knows your childs riding level. This is the best way to purchase a horse! School horses can be pricey but they are usually wel mannered and well trained with a lot of tolerance for mistakes. Another perk, after your child outgrows the horse in ability, many times the stable is willing to buy the horse back!
Ok, so buying a school horse is not an option. Again, rely on your contacts at your riding school. Most trainers are happy to share their knowledge and experience, and by now know love your little angel enough to want the best for them! Well maybe I took that one a little too far, but seriously, horse people love to help other horse people, especially people with little experience. I have never met a group so willing to help each other and share knowledge. So with that said, collect references from your trainer, your stable owner, and other more experienced students about places you may look for horses in your area or information of specific horses they know are for sale. Decide what you want to spend, find out how much it will cost to prepare your property for a horse, or how much it will cost to board your horse. Research particular breeds you are looking for and find out what kind of “keeper a certain breed is. The term keeper means, what type of care does it take to maintain the horses health and weight.
Certain breeds like the Quarter horse take less maintainance than say a thoughrobred, a breed notorious for being hard to keep wieght on. After you have determined what you are looking for, call and make appointments to see these animals. You should take your child with you to see how the horse relates (on the ground please!) to your child. Is the horse curious and kind? Does the horse show indifference to people? Is the horse aggressive, ears pinned, or attempting to bite? If you think you are interested in the horse and your child makes a positive connection with the horse, ask the owner to tack the horse and ride the horse for you. Always ask the owner to ride the horse for you before you put yourself or your child on the horse!
Observe the following: Does the horse pin it’s ears or stomp while being tacked up? Does the horse stand still for the rider while she mounts? Does the horse maintain a kind relaxed expression while the owner mounts? Does the horse appear to enjoy being ridden? Ask the seller to demonstrate the walk, trot, and canter in both directions. Does the horse transition to the next gate easily? Does the horse move from a trot to a walk smoothly? Does the horse pull on the reins, toss it’s head, or appear difficult to slow down or stop? If the horse passes all of these tests, the next step is to ask your childs trainer to look at the horse. The seller should not object to having the horse either transported to your riding stable for your trainer to ride, or having the trainer ride the horse at he sellers property. Having the horse transported in preferable. You will be able to see how the horse loads and unloads from a trailer, you will also see how the horse performs and acts away from home. After your trainer has ridden the horse and deems the animal safe for your child to get on, have your child take a routine lesson on the horse. This should include, grooming, tacking up, and riding! If the horse passes all of the tests make sure to arrange a vet to check the horses overall health. Many vets have a routine “vetting” procedure they follow, with specific tests and blood work. They also check the legs for lameness or future lameness. You need to be aware that you should pay your trainer for any time they invest in finding a horse for your child.
Horses take a lot of time and care. Horse ownership takes a person with passion for the animal. It is very time consuming and very expensive. Do yourself a favor and make sure your child is ready for a very long commitment and lots of hard work. The best way to do this is to make sure they gain experience, and routinely help to care for an animal for a long period of time. Make sure they have the confidence it takes to handle a large animal prior to ownership. There is nothing more rewarding for someone who loves horses to have one for a best friend. They are loyal and respond by returning love and trust. My best memories are of my time spent with the gentle horses who helped to raise me and the difficult horses who taught me patience and perserverance. It is a magical way to spend your childhood.