Inevitably, whenever I mention in conversation that I am in the equine industry I meet the parent with a horse crazy daughter. AS a mother of 4 horse crazy kids that now are old enough to have horse crazy kids of their own, let's just say I know a little bit about this subject :-)
It goes something like this....
"My 8 year old daughter is really bugging me for a horse. It’s all she talks about. We have the land and the budget but we know nothing about horses. What should we do?"
There are many ways to get started in the equine world and you should begin with a thorough investigation of the many opportunities that are offered for your family to learn more about horses. Having the necessary amount of land and money doesn’t even begin to address the most basic requirements and mandatory knowledge any horse owner should possess.
The first step I would suggest you take is to enroll your daughter in a summer camp. There are many great horse farms offering weekly or two week long programs. Try to pick a camp that offers both basic riding skills as well as stable management training if your ultimate goal is to have your horse at home. This week long immersion into the work involved in riding and taking care of a horse should give your daughter an idea of whether she wants to continue after camp. You will have to determine which riding discipline your daughter is interested in as most camps offer one style of riding.
If your daughter likes trail riding, or gymkhana type games she may want to try the Western style of riding. If she eventually might want to jump then she should try the English style. At first she won’t know where she will end up as the more she learns and tries, the more she may find she enjoys something other than what she started at.
There is basic riding equipment you will need to purchase before camp. Many tack shops offer “Camper Specials” which include a package of what you need at a discount price. At the very minimum you should buy a protective helmet and paddock boots. Riding pants are also nice because they will help your daughter avoid rubs on her inner calves.
After she “survives” camp and knows what style of riding she would like to start with I would suggest you enroll her in a regular riding lesson program. Begin with once a week and then try to increase it to twice per week. The lesson class should not have too many riders in it or your daughter will not get enough of the instructor’s attention to progress well. A class with no more than 4 students is best. If your budget allows, private lessons are great but I like the idea of young riders sharing the social aspect of riding. They actually learn a lot by watching the others in the class and by hearing the instructor’s comments to the other students.
Try to find a barn for your lesson program that has an indoor riding arena so that your daughter’s lessons don’t stop during the winter or bad weather. It is also a good way to see how dedicated she is to riding. Going to the barn for a lesson in 30 degree weather is hard enough, but going to your own backyard stable to feed, clean stalls and take care of your horse in the same weather is tough and takes commitment!
As your daughter progresses in her riding lessons you may want to talk to your instructor about leasing a horse so that your daughter can practice on the days that she does not have lessons. A horse crazy child will drive you crazy to get you to take them to the barn. They would live there if you would let them! If you lease a horse and you are the one suggesting that your daughter go ride, you have just saved yourself a big headache!
I would recommend you lease a horse for at least a year before you buy one. Leasing a horse is the best way to get hands-on practical experience without a huge investment of money. The lease will include all the equipment you need and the horse’s maintenance. If your daughter decides riding isn’t all she thought it was, you justwalk away. No horse or equipment to sell.
Throughout the lease period, enroll your daughter in any clinic you can find that teaches horse keeping skills. Check into Pony Club and 4-H, both are a wonderful way to meet other horse people and to learn. If your daughter seems interested in showing, encourage her to ask her instructor about trying this on one of the farm’s school horses first. A calm, well trained horse is always the best chance for a fun horse show experience!If after a year has passed and your daughter is still bugging you for her OWN horse. Talk to her instructor about the process of buying a horse. NEVER take this on without the advice of your trainer. Your trainer will know what to look for in a first horse. Your trainer has the experience to understand attributes that would not suit a beginning horse owner. Your daughter will LOVE every horse but do not let her sway you, your decision must be based on practical things not just looks.
If you find a horse that meets your trainer's approval and it also fits your budget, schedule a pre-purchase veterinarian exam. You might get disappointed a few times during this process when the vet reveals something that causes your trainer to reject the horse for your family. Don’t get discouraged, there are many wonderful horses out there.
When you finally find your daughter’s dream horse I suggest that you board it at your trainer’s farm until your daughter and the horse get well acquainted. During this time you will need to decide on whether you will be eventually be bringing the horse home to live.
As you can see, the conversation with the parent of a horse crazy kid can take awhile because what we have discussed so far is just the beginning! There is more to keeping your horse at home than meets the eye. Luckily, there is a lot of information about this topic.
Peace and good rides, til we meet again.