How to Make a Wise Investment in Your Child
by Allison Trimble
I have trained a number of youth—kids and their horses—and recently became the lucky step mom to a little boy who loves horses. While that hasn’t changed my rather strong opinion about kid’s horses, it has made it even more relevant.
There are so many positive things that children gain from having a horse in their life. It offers endless opportunity for learning about responsibility, success, struggle, compassion, perseverance and trust. I try to always remind parents that they are not investing in the horse, they are investing in their child. Making that mindset shift is very important. Finding the right horse for your child is paramount. I see so many children improperly mounted and I always cringe. Safety of the child is the first consideration. Always. Not winning, not color, breed, gender, size, or show record of the horse. None of that matters if your child becomes scared, or worse, gets seriously injured. Having a horse that is not suited to be a kid’s horse is both dangerous and discouraging. Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a youth horse.
Buy a horse that has already been a successful mount for another child who has outgrown him. Do not make your child the test dummy on a horse. Shop for a horse that is an established youth horse. Not all horses will tolerate children, and you don’t want to test that on your precious child. I would also encourage buying a horse that is somehow known to you, or someone you know. It is better to know exactly what you are dealing with than take a chance on an unknown.
A good kid’s horse has to have been exposed to a lot of different experiences and environments. Just like with people, experience comes with age and seasoning. A commonly quoted equation says that the age of the child, plus the age of the horse, should equal no less than 20 years. So, a 6-year-old child should have a horse that is 14+ years experienced. There are many healthy, sound, great aged horses out there. I often hear parents say that they want a horse to “grow up” with the child. This is a very dangerous thought process. Horses are not dogs, they are powerful, flight-based animals. Find a horse that can be a teacher for your child, not another pupil.
Do not shop only a price on a horse; shop for the right horse. It is rare to find a really nice, seasoned, safe horse at a bargain price. Never bargain shop the safety of your child. If you can’t afford a suitable horse, then there are many great options for lesson programs where you do not have to own a horse. You can expose your child to many of the same experiences without risking their safety. A lot of parents who are horse shopping, are not horse people themselves. One common mistake I see is parents who overestimate the experience or knowledge of their child. Just because a child has a good seat, or rides a lesson horse well, does not mean that they are able to assess horses in general. I cannot tell you how many people call on 3-year-old horses I have for sale for their “very experienced” 11- year-old daughter. If you are not comfortable assessing a horse yourself, hire a trusted professional to help you in the process.
If you are looking at horses on your own, I want to emphasize a couple of points when you are shopping: Always watch the owner ride the horse first. If they are not willing to ride it, there is a reason. Do not put your child on any horse that you feel uncomfortable with. Have your child wear a helmet, even if this is not normal protocol. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Though I may sound a bit overprotective, there seems to be a magical bond between horses and children. Horses typically rise to the occasion and mold right to their child. Much of this happens because a child is confident and comfortable. The responsibility of being particular and protective falls on us as parents and professionals. Find the right horse for your child, and you will be giving your child an amazing opportunity.
Published October 2013 Issue