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A Guide to Horseback Riding for Beginners

Do horses keep coming up in conversation with your kids? When you’re in the car, when you’re making dinner, when you’re on the way to school…the questioning is relentless. Your kid has riding on the mind and probably won’t stop asking about it until they are able to try it. Horseback riding is really one of those sports that everyone should at least try once in their lifetime, no matter what age, even if its just a fun trail ride because it such a unique experience building a bond with an animal that you can’t really get from any other sport. Before you let your mind get carried away with costs and other worries, let me help you get started.

Horseback Riding Camp

Start by choosing a day camp or a horseback riding camp. Camps are an amazing opportunity to be introduced into everything from barn work, to horse prep to riding with other like-minded kids. It’s important to look for a camp program that will give your child this type of experience because it will not only be more interactive, but it will make them a better rider and more responsible in the long run. Year after year, I see kids’ confidences and passions flourish over just a few weeks of camp, and they really start taking pride in all of the work they are doing, whether it be the stall they cleaned or the trot they perfected. Riding at camp will leave your child with a memorable experience. If your kid leaves camp wanting more or you are more interested in a solo starting experience for them, private lessons are another great starting point.

Find horseback riding camps near me>>

Private Horseback Riding Lessons

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Training programs will vary by barn and by trainer, so there are a few things to consider when looking for both of these things. If you are in completely unfamiliar territory, don’t panic. Start by asking around to friends and family to see if any of them know of farms in the area with good reviews or trainers that teach introductory lessons. Not every farm has lesson horses, so it’s just a matter of asking questions once you find them. Another great way to get information is by going into your local tack shop. Often times, the people that work there are riders themselves and know of contacts in the area. They also have bulletin boards with trainers and information about their riding programs. If you prefer to work online, you can also do a search for barns and trainers in your area and then check out their websites to find your best match. You can also do a search for local associations based on the type of riding you are pursuing, ie Dressage Associations, Hunter Jumper Associations, Western Associations etc, and find barns and trainers advertising on there.

Once you’ve found a barn and a trainer, you can decide on a program. I recommend starting with private lessons, at least for a few months. Like I mentioned before, every barn has a different way they set up with lesson programs. So when you’re making your decision of where to start, compare every program. It’s ideal for kids to be able to build a relationship with their trainer and build up their confidence on a horse in a one on one environment without being overwhelmed. Then once they are solid in the saddle and trust their trainer you can add in group lessons, which are a great way to start integrating your kid into the barn group. They will get to know the other kids, learn with them, and have fun. Private lessons are a great way to teach and refine, and then they can hone those skills in a group setting where they are really asked to focus despite the added distractions. Together, private and group lessons create a solid training program.

Dressing the Part

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Hopefully, you feel more comfortable about how to get your kid started in the world of horses. The next challenge is to get them physically ready. There are so many things that your kid could use, but when they are first starting out, just go with the basics and get what they absolutely need because otherwise it adds up too quickly. So what are the basics? The most important items to focus on are the helmet and boots. It’s essential for these to fit properly for the safety of your child and horse.

Always buy a helmet new. You will probably see some that are on consignment, but it isn’t safe because you don’t know if any falls occurred in them or other problems. Stop by your local tack shop to try on different styles and get the perfect fit. You can also measure on your own and order online, but know that every style will fit differently so it may take a few tries before finding the best one. For beginners, the IRH Equi-Lite Helmet is a great choice and it comes in a variety of colors and sizes. Remember though, helmets are not one brand fits all. If you are not familiar with fitting helmets, definitely go into a store and ask for help. Just so you know what they are looking for, the rule of thumb for fitting a helmet is finding one that provides even pressure all around your head. It should lie about 1 inch above your child’s eyebrows and not wobble around when they move their head or shake. The nice part is that many helmets come with adjustable pads that will help you perfect the fit, once you find the model that works best.

After you have found the helmet, you want to make sure they have a pair of good paddock boots, also known as short boots, which are perfect for beginners. You can look for a nice pair on consignment or purchase them new. My personal favorite brand for paddock boots is Ariat. Lastly, get your kid a pair of gloves and riding breeches and they will be set to go! It’s always a safe bet to start with less and then add to the wardrobe once they get more involved in the sport.

However you choose to get you kid started in the saddle, the most important part is that they like the barn and the trainer. Everything from there will fall into place and they will quickly fall in love with the sport.

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Horseback Riding Sports

Should You Buy or Lease a Horse?

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So your kid loves horseback riding lessons and now they want a horse of their very own, right? Should you buy or lease a horse? In this article, I’m going to help you with that decision by giving you some pros and cons. It’s a big move I know. Go ahead and take a moment to digest it. To be honest, the answer is different for every family and is dependent on where your child wants to go with their riding. Are they on the path to competing, have they physically outgrown the pony they are on, or are they just looking to have the responsibility of their own horse? Before jumping on the horse owner train, let me give you some tips from someone who has been there before…a few times.

Leasing A Horse

Going from taking weekly lessons to owning your own horse is a huge step. Instead of throwing yourself into something before you and your child are completely ready, why not consider leasing. I’ve been in this sport for 14 years now, and I’ve watched more people go through horses than you can imagine because they rushed into buying something before finding the right match. If you aren’t completely ready for the commitment of buying a horse, talk to your trainer about starting a leasing program. This gives you the opportunity to find a horse that your child is compatible with and can grow with. Leasing gives your child the responsibility and consistency they are looking for but keeps some of the pressures and financial burdens off of your plate. In addition, leasing doesn’t have to be a permanent decision. When your child wants to move up to higher levels or is looking for a new experience, you can start a new lease with a new horse. Once you and your child have the experience of temporary ownership that leasing allows, you might feel ready to own your own horse; maybe even purchase the horse that you are leasing.

Owning A Horse

Having a horse of your own is a very large responsibility, but it’s also an amazing experience. It’s completely different from taking lessons or even leasing because you now have full decision-making capabilities. With that though comes vet bills, boarding, shoeing, tack, etc. which can get overwhelming very quickly. If that is something you are ready to take on, then absolutely go for it. Now is the time for you to sit down with the trainer and go over what everyone thinks is the best plan. I recommend not only looking for a horse that your child likes, but also one that they can grow with, in size and performance. You will be spending a lot of money, so it’s a smarter investment to get a horse that will be able to advance with your child, instead of one that will need to be sold within a year or so. If your childs horse skills increase, you could even sell the horse at an even higher value than you purchased it. I’m getting ahead of myself here but the point is, look beyond just the present when you are making your purchase. If you make a plan and organize your finances, it will not be as extreme of a change like picking any old horse would be.. Also, make sure you do a thorough vet check so you are fully aware of your horses health. People are not always upfront and truthful with problems their horse may have, so make sure your trainer and vet are involved in all steps of this process. Once everything passes, it’s time to have fun!

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Affordable Ways to Horseback Ride

If you and your child are not in the financial position to pay for a lease or purchase a horse, have your child start offering their riding services to other boarders in the barn, when they themselves can’t come up and ride their own horses. Sometimes this can even be done for money. It may not give them the consistency of riding the same horse all of the time, but it will make them a very good rider. Being able to adjust to different horses on the spot is a very unique skill to have, and believe me, not everyone can do it. Only the best riders know how to use their skills across the barn, not just on their own horse. It’s a great way to learn and advance, without having the financial pressures of owning.

Whether you’re leasing or buying a horse for the first time, my biggest piece of advice is just being patient and taking your time. It’s a big move and commitment, so it has to feel right. Work with your child’s trainer, have your child try a lot of different horses, and do a full check-up before finalizing anything. And have fun with it!

Check out some of these horseback riding camps!

Neophyte Farms Horseback Riding – Simi Valley, CA

Almaden Equestrian Center – San Jose, CA

Redwood Ranch Stables – Oakland, CA