Let them grow up with horses and with good horse people, because it will teach them to be humble, and to be resilient, and to be brave.
Every so often, I get a call from a parent looking for help for their horse-crazy kid. If one or both of the parents are horsey themselves, they may have some idea of where to start, but if the “horse gene” skipped a generation or was a recessive gene that showed up in your kid, where do you begin?! It does not have to be complicated or expensive. Breed or type of riding likely does not matter to your kid; they simply know they are very interested in horses. Just because you start with one type of riding does not mean you have to stay with it if something different becomes of interest. English and Western riding are not that different. Once your kid learns the basics well, they will translate into different types of riding.
Maybe you have friends or neighbors who have horses. Most people who have horses are willing to share their passion with others. If they are open to it, arrange a time to go see them and their horse, bring some carrots for the horse and the person’s favorite beverage. Learn about what they do with their horse, why they picked that discipline, where they found their horse. If the horse is gentle for kids, maybe they will let you brush the horse, and watch them ride. If this is available to you, this is a great way to learn a little about a discipline and horses from someone you know. As a kid, this is how I found horses that I could be around. Some I could brush, some I could muck stalls for, some I could ride—it didn’t matter to me. I just wanted to be around them.
There are also individual trainers who specialize in teaching kids. The more holistic of them will encourage all aspects of horse care including brushing, feeding, cleaning up after, basic first aid, and groundwork, as well as riding. If you find a potential instructor, set up a time to observe a lesson first and see if they might be a good fit for your kiddo.
Look for public events to take your kid to. Horse shows of all kinds allow spectators, almost always for free. There are horse shows and events going on all over the Denver area, especially in the spring, summer and fall. Find a discipline you are interested in, internet search their calendar and go to a show. Many shows run by volunteer help, and if you want to get more involved, sign up to volunteer to get to see the inner workings.
In the winter months, the National Western Stock Show, January 6-21, 2024, is full of horse events and breeds. There are ticketed events such as Evening of Dancing Horses, Freestyle Reining, and the jumper events such as Gambler’s Choice and the Grand Prix, but there are also events to find on the calendar that are only the cost of admission. These shows include miniature horses, draft horses, mules, breed classes and more. The Rocky Mountain Horse Expo takes place March 15-17, 2024 and is full of horses, vendors, demonstrations from various trainers, disciplines and breeds. The RMHE is a great place to just wander around, observe, and ask questions.
Organizations such as the Westernaires in Golden offer a complete program that is known for its drill team, but also encompasses other disciplines. Learning about all aspects of horse care is an important part of this volunteer-led program for kids, with or without their own horse (a high percentage do not own a horse).
If you have a horse and are looking for other kids to ride and learn with, 4-H and Pony Club are an overall inexpensive way to have a structured learning system to follow and grow within. The 4-H Horse Program (co4h.colostate.edu) as well as the Pony Club of America (ponyclub.org) have several groups around the area. A horse that you own or lease is not always needed for these two groups. In 4-H, there is a “horse-less” 4-H Horse Project option. One area Pony Club has their own horses for kids without horses to work with. There are also general lesson programs at larger facilities that have lesson horses for beginners to learn about riding individually or in groups.
Summer day camps can be the perfect way to try an intensive introduction to horses. There is a lot more to horses than just riding, and being able to spend the day learning “all things horse” can be invaluable. There are a few of these in our area as well as in the Denver area, but know that they fill up quickly. If you want something for the whole family to participate in, try a vacation at a dude ranch! The Zapata Ranch in Mosca, Colorado, for example, has an incredible setting next to the Great Sand Dunes.
Not to worry… there is help for your horse-crazy kid! Get out, observe and ask questions. There are many free and inexpensive ways to be curious about different disciplines of riding and breeds of horses. Horses are an incredible way to learn about responsibility, taking care of an animal, growing confidence and self-esteem, spending lots of time outdoors, and coordinating your body and brain with that of a horse—not to mention being able to experience the unexplainable presence and connection that happens with horses.
At the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy, and your eyes sparkling.
As always, I am here to help with any questions you have to get your horse-crazy kid started! Email email@example.com.
Heather McWilliams © 2023