When I was a little, my grandmother, who was my primary caretaker — passed on her love and knowledge of horses to both me and my sister. I was the rambunctious child, and my sister was overly shy and reserved; needless to say, we both needed structure and an outlet that would encourage us to build self-confidence and patience.
Getting involved with horses at a young age was the “stabilizing force” my sister and I both needed as children. Truth be told, I think horses are one of the best tools we can utilize to help foster well-adjusted and healthy kids; they definitely helped us navigate the bumpy road of transitioning into adulthood.
Interacting, bonding, caring for, and communicating with horses gives you a sense of purpose & belonging, a hobby, self-confidence, and a new best friend. You don’t have to own a horse for your children to reap the rewards of horse riding — you can take classes at reputable schools or ranches like ours — or you can lease them.
Taking this into consideration, we’ve outlined scientifically-backed reasons we think horse riding for kids is not only fun but therapeutic. We also have the answers to some of your most commonly asked questions about horse riding for kids; so with that in mind, let’s begin!
1. Wholesome Alternative to Electronics
In today’s digital world, screens are more portable and accessible than ever, and unfortunately, there are negative drawbacks when it comes to screen time exposure and a young child’s developing brain. In fact, studies are starting to show how too much screen time can lead to, or make existing mental health issues worse. This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parents start implementing the following guideline to help limit their children’s screen time exposure.
Not only that, but most children, especially those living in urban areas and metropolitan cities, spend most, if not all of their free time sitting in front of their television or smartphone. The good news is horses are a great antidote! Kids are naturally drawn to animals and horses in particular — which automatically makes them a better option over video games, trolling social media, or binge-watching Netflix all day.
The benefits of horse riding for kids allows them to connect with nature and exposes them to fresh air, sunlight, new friends, and encourages them to take on more responsibility and adopt healthier habits.
2. Provides Companionship
Much like dogs and cats, horses are starting to be recognized for their aptitude to emotionally help humans, and for their effectiveness as a companion pet. Surprisingly, horses have developed some pretty sophisticated communication skills to respond to and understand human emotional states during the 5,000 years since we first started domesticating them.
As a matter of fact, organizations are starting to pair horses up with people and children with special mental and physical needs via helping them develop self-esteem, strength, posture, and balance. Not only that, but science has discovered the motion of walking is similar in humans and horses, and horse riding has the power to stimulate and influence our nervous systems to duplicate the motion. This means riding a horse could potentially teach disabled people how to walk!
3. It’s Good For Mental and Physical health
Kids that head out to the ranch instead of plopping in front of the T.V or their phones are healthier both physically and psychologically. When you think about it, kids today are under a lot of pressure and stress. Keeping up with social media, their grades, and societal pressures like finding and keeping friends, or navigating massive changes like the Covid-19 pandemic can strain and even deplete their mental resources.
Like adults, horses can give kids of all ages a welcomed respite from their daily stressors by providing them with a sense of unconditional friendship, and the responsibility of taking care of another living creature is very mentally stabilizing. But don’t just take our word for it; Washington State University found kids that work with horses have lower levels of cortisol (primary human stress hormone) than kids who didn’t.
On a physical level, horse riding for children is a great isometric exercise that requires them to work their inner thighs, core, and pelvic muscles to stay balanced; it improves posture, flexibility, and muscle tone. Maintaining a squat position and frequently adjusting to the horse’s movements during a riding session burns a ton of calories, and the 2011 British Horse Society study found that riding for a minimum of 30 minutes, 3 times a week — qualifies as moderately intense exercise.
Moreover, cleaning horse stalls, lifting equipment, and grooming are all great muscle-building activities that further contribute towards the physical benefits horse riding offers for kids.
4. Horseback Riding Builds Character & Essential Life Skills
A 2006 American Youth Horse Council study found that consistent horse riding helps children cultivate life skills and develop a strong character, and one of the co-authors of the study Ann Swinker, PH.D. affirms that caring for, riding and handling horses instills several beneficial personality traits including self-discipline, empathy, kindness, accountability, responsibility, patience, and level-headedness.
Experts assert that children have a natural tendency to be self-centered, and learning how to care for the needs of another creature before their own allows them to understand a bigger life picture and helps them become more empathetic at an earlier age. This is why horse riding for kids is so strongly encouraged as a fun, extracurricular activity for kids of all ages.
5. It Boosts Confidence
The prospect of children teaming up to work with animals that are twice their size is undoubtedly daunting in the beginning. But, the more comfortable they get, and the more they nurture and grow the relationship between themselves and the horse — the more confident and empowered they’ll become in all aspects of life. According to a study conducted by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, horse riding boosts kids’ confidence levels by teaching them how to lead, and when kids give something their all, it gives them a huge sense of self-respect and accomplishment.
6. Enhances Cognitive Function
A study conducted by the Tokyo University of Agriculture took 106 primary school-aged kids to look at the impact of horse riding and discovered that their cognitive abilities improved while they were physically in the saddle. This is thought to be due to the vibrations created when riding a horse that somehow activates the sympathetic nervous system in the human brain. This influences the child’s memory and problem-solving abilities, which directly helps to improve overall academic performance.
Additionally, the focus and perseverance needed to become proficient at horse riding spill over into their studies. When kids (and adults for that matter) are conditioned to concentrate while riding, they’re much more likely to apply this cognitive ability to all facets of their lives — including their school work.
Equine therapy is one more way horses help children struggling with autism, social anxiety, depression, and even sensory and motor skills. They help build a trusting relationship with the child, and it is thought they help ease social anxiety by enhancing social interactions with other people.
Brushing and petting horses enhance motor and sensory skills and teaching kids how to provide for other living animal’s basic needs helps children with situational and emotional forms of therapy. It’s teaching them that they can make a difference by doing something they’re proud of.
Commonly Asked Questions
We wanted to take this opportunity to answer some of your most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding horse riding for toddlers and kids we thought you would find useful:
How old does my child have to be to start taking horse riding lessons?
Many kids start riding small horses and ponies around 2-3 years of age, and the sooner you can expose your child to horses the better. However, we only work with toddlers as young as 5 years old. This is to ensure they’re tall enough to sit safely on the horse and have had enough time to develop their sense of awareness — which is imperative for safety.
How do I get my child interested in horse riding?
Your kid(s) showing a natural affection towards animals is a good place to start as horses will naturally pique their interest — making it easy to encourage them to want to pursue horse riding. If you’re not sure, or if your child doesn’t seem interested in animals or horses, you can encourage them by checking out books, magazines, and movies with horses in it.
Taking them to the zoo, or an actual ranch could also whet their animal/ horse loving appetite. The more exposure they have, the more likely they’ll start becoming interested in horses.
What should I look for in a reputable horse riding ranch, camp, or school?
Like any other search you do, looking for a good school or academic program requires you to do your research and visit the grounds before enrolling. Make sure to ask relevant questions such as:
- Do they have and implement a set of safety procedures and guidelines?
- Are the school, ranch, or camp and all of its handlers and instructors properly certified, and allowed to work with children?
- How well does it take care of and treat its horses and employees?
- Are they responsive?
- Does it provide equipment and keep its facilities well-maintained?
- Are they well-reviewed?
Is horse riding expensive? How much does it cost?
While horse riding, in general, can cost you a pretty penny, several factors can impact the cost including qualifications of the trainers and facilities, location, and the quality of the horses.
Group lessons are always cheaper than one-on-one classes — but the typical price for a personalized lesson in the US and Western Europe ranges between $30-$50 per session. Keep in mind, some schools and ranches may require you to provide proof of health insurance to make sure they’re covered in case of an accident.
In terms of gear, you can rent basic equipment like a helmet and back protector until you’re sure this is something you want to enroll your kid(s) in. At the end of the day, it does come with a bit of a cost, but the short and long-term rewards and benefits it will have for your child make it worth every penny.
What horse breed is best for kids?
There isn’t a particular breed of horse that is better for kids, however, small ponies like the Shetland are more suitable for young kids and toddlers because of size. For older kids, the temperament of the horse is more important than breed, but the American Quarter Horse and the Arabian tend to have a calmer demeanor— making them more suitable for families and older children.
Ready to get your kid in the saddle?
At Colorado Trails Ranch, we treat all our guests like family. We invite you and your kids to come and take a tour of the ranch, meet our trainers and horses, and to learn about the wide array of activities included in our children’s programs including horseback riding, rafting, archery, hiking, fishing, swimming, and scavenger hunting!