Every little girl and plenty of little boys want a pony. Why wouldn’t they? Horses are beautiful, affectionate and can provide some of the most thrilling childhood experiences out there – just look at the glow on a child’s face the first time they gallop a horse. If you’ve loved horses all of your life, then it’s a great feeling to discover that your son or daughter shares your interest in horses and horse riding. Even if you know nothing about equines, you might have some romantic notion of buying your child a pretty pet. Slow down. There is a worrying trend for the uneducated to think they can provide the specialist care these massive animals need, usually ending in severe welfare issues. A tiny tot in jodhpurs competing in a local lead rein class might be adorable, but is your 4 or 5 year old ready for her own horse or riding lessons? Probably not.
Horses require a lot of time and a lot of money. As a busy parent, do you really have so many extra hours in your day that you can take care of your child’s pony for them? Do you know enough about horses to do so? If your child is not old enough to catch, lead, tack up and ride a horse or pony by herself, you should wait until she’s older before thinking of signing her up for lessons, let alone buying her a mount. A child should be coordinated enough to steer and stop a pony, and avert potentially dangerous situations. Ponies may be cute, but they can also be naughty. There is no such thing as a bombproof horse; even the calmest animal can spook or bolt when startled.
Encourage your child to take lessons at a local riding centre. Most reputable barns require that children be around 6 or 7 years old before they start taking lessons, because this is when they are usually physically and mentally ready to ride a quiet horse or pony. Try to choose an equestrian centre with lots of children around the same age as yours, as one of the greatest boons of horse riding is making horsey friends. As well as teaching them how to ride, you need to know that their interest in riding isn’t a passing fancy but an enduring passion. Wait until your child has been riding for at least two years before considering buying them a pony, even though you’ll probably work out much more quickly whether they’re going to stick with it or not. Horse-crazy kids live, breathe and talk about horses incessantly. They want to ride all the time. If you have to drag your child to the barn, it’s time to switch to another sport.
Learn About Horses
Encourage your child to commit to learning about horses. If you’re not horsey yourself, then you need to learn too. Feeding alone is a complicated task; it’s not as simple as just chucking your pony out in a field and leaving them to it. You’ll need an in-depth knowledge of a horse’s nutritional requirements. Even then, you might want to consult a specialist such as Equiform Nutrition to make sure that you’re doing everything right. Then you have to know how to diagnose the most common ailments, when to call the vet, how often your horse needs to see the dentist and farrier (you might even need to learn what a farrier is). The encyclopaedic knowledge you need to learn and retain is not for the faint hearted, but if your child can commit to teaching it to themselves, then they’ll develop some brilliant life skills in the process: commitment; studiousness; and the ability to listen and learn from others.
If you’re still reading, your child obviously has a real interest in horses. There are lots of reasons why you should encourage them to ride and spend time around equines: it teaches a child responsibility, trust, open-mindedness, patience and sensitivity; builds confidence; requires self-discipline; is a great form of exercise; and most of all it’s fun and will help your child to make lifelong friends who share their passion. If you’re committed to a horsey future for your child, go about it the right way, for their sake and their horse’s.