Having owned horsess, I’ve heard my share of children of friends and family members say, “I want a horse.”
My first response, being a lifelong horse lover, is great! I have always thought horses to be a great activity for kids – especially in teaching them the responsibility of owning an animal and the confidence it can bring in handling them and possibly showing in 4-H and at horse shows.
However, in my spiel of the benefits of horse ownership, I also am quick to tell parents that the horse thing can be a passing fancy, and because of the big investment involved in owning and caring for a horse, that there are several things they should do first, before actually buying a horse.
Not everyone will do what my Dad did to me to make sure that my “I want a horse” wasn’t just a phase. Living on a farm, and a farm that had formerly had livestock, I couldn’t understand why a pony wasn’t under the Christmas tree when I was five and had asked for a horse. From age five to eight I tortured my parents as much as possible by having to point out every horse we passed while driving down the road. I took it as far as to even point out clouds in the sky that I thought looked likes horses. I also wore out five stick horses loping endlessly around the driveway.
“When I was five, I imagined that there was such a thing as a unicorn. And this was before I had even heard of one, or seen one. I just drew a picture, of a horse, that could fly over rainbows, and a had a huge spike in its head. I was five! Five-years-old. Couldn’t even talk yet.” Michael Scott, The Office, Season 4: Local Ad
By age eight I had read every horse book more than once in the library at my grade school and could identify every part of the horse on an anatomy chart. I toted around copies of Western Horseman while other girls my ages were reading Teen Beat and Nancy Drew mysteries.
My parents finally enrolled me in 4-H Horse Project, which you can take even if you don’t own a horse. While involved in the horse project that year I made the horse quiz bowl team, which helped to make me a walking library of information, and completed a horse science notebook for spring achievement and fair.
The next year my Dad bought 200 rusty fence posts at a farm auction. He told me that when I had all of them wire brushed and painted with a coat of Rusteolium, and then with a coat of green paint, he would look for a horse for me. I worked on them every afternoon after school for the next two months. And when they were finally finished my parents got me my first horse, a nine-year-old Quarter Horse mare named Woodwind’s Pride.
Here are my suggestions when you child says, “I want a horse”:
Educate your child on horse ownership and 4-H is one of the best ways to provide a foundation for horse ownership. Both local and state activities for children include local clubs, county fairs, and state competitions. Contact your 4-H Youth Program for more information.
There are numerous national horse magazines and many regional publications devoted to horses and horse ownership:
- Go to American Horse Publications and click on the membership directory to find horse publications.
- Young Rider Magazine is a good national magazine devoted to horses and horse-related topics for children and teens.
- Books and websites devoted to horses and horse ownership are also a great source of information.
- Check out The Parents Guide to Horseback Riding by Jessica Jahiel, Young Rider’s Guide for a Horse or Pony by Leslie Ward, and Learning To Ride by Toni Webber.
- And go to www.allabouthorses.com and The Horse Lover’s Corral.
Here are some ways to expose your child to horses before buying one:
- Sign up for riding lessons: Lessons start around $25 and average around $35 for a one-hour group lesson. Private lessons are higher, as are lessons that focus on a specific riding discipline like dressage or jumping. Find out what is included in the lesson – does the child just ride or are they taught how to groom and tack the horse up? Most instructors require that children have appropriate footwear (a boot with a heel), long pants, and a helmet. Some stables have helmets available for use.
- Send them to summer riding camps: Nearly every community has at least one or two riding facilities that offer week-long summer riding camps or programs. Volunteer at area therapeutic riding programs: Volunteers often groom horses and serve as side walkers for therapeutic riders.
- Go to horse shows, and equine expos, county fairs: All of these events are great ways to observe horses and see different breeds and riding disciplines. Lease or share a horse before buying one. There are many opportunities to lease a horse or to share a horse with another rider in a lease. This gives the opportunity to try a horse before buying it. Leases usually include that the lessee pays for the horse monthly board and blacksmith and veterinary care.