So, you have a horse crazy child, and you are thinking about getting him or her that first horse. Whether you have experience with horses or not, finding the perfect horse for your child can be like finding a needle in the proverbial haystack. There is no shortage of horses and ponies that are advertised as “kid safe.” Unfortunately, the actual percentage of horses that are true “kid safe” is very small. Here are some tips on finding that perfect horse or pony that will become a member of your family and take care of your precious little one.
First of all, consider the age and skills of your child. For a very young child who hasn’t had lessons in horsemanship, an older “babysitter” horse is a must. Often there is a misconception that likes with puppies, young horses and children can grow up together.
A young horse needs the guidance and experience of a trainer or very experienced rider. It takes many months, even years of training to teach a horse his job, and this is something well beyond the scope of an inexperienced child. A “been there, done that” type of horse is much better suited to a young or inexperienced rider.
I initially look for several things when considering a safe, kid’s horse. First of all, the temperament of the horse is crucial. Will he stand tied quietly (for hours) without getting impatient, pulling back, or jumping around? Is he calm under pressure, like loud noises, sudden movements, and being touched all over? He should be easy and safe to saddle, bridle, attach to a horse and carriage and have his feet handled, easy to catch, and trailer load.
Then I look at his history. What has he been used for? A horse that has had a lot of miles on him may be a good bet. If he’s been sitting in a pasture for much of his life, he doesn’t have the exposure to the many situations that an old veteran may have. I also look at his age. Not that there can’t be a great kid’s horse that is younger than 6, but it would be much less common. I don’t discount the older horses at all, even the much older horses.
My daughters all learned to ride on horses that were 20 years old and older. These horses were worth their weight in gold, and they took care of my girls. In return, we gave them a loving home in their golden years with light work, good feed, and lots of love. We lost the last of these great horses at the ripe old age of 36. The criteria I mentioned before still apply to these older horses; you don’t want one that is highly spirited, and some are, even at 20+years.
Also of equal importance is the horse’s training. “Whoa” is much more important than “Go”. The horse should have a good handle, and he should be easy to stop and steer. A horse that is hard to control is not only frustrating for a child, but dangerous as well.
Then, I look at the overall condition of the horse. Does he have any lameness issues? Some very mild lameness in a kid’s horse wouldn’t necessarily be cause for me to rule him out.
A veterinary inspection should be done prior to purchase to rule out any serious health issues. Lastly, and probably most importantly, your child should be comfortable with the horse and you both should feel safe with him. If possible, a trial period of a week or two would be ideal. That way, you can determine if the horse or pony is a good match for your child. I always encourage horsemanship lessons because knowledge and safety are the key to a great relationship with horses. When you find the perfect kid’s horse for your child, you will be amazed at the partnership and bond they will form together, and the peace of mind you will have knowing that your child is being taken care of by his equine friend.