Helping Kids Jump Into the Horse World

Helping Kids Jump Into the Horse World

Depending on your location, riding lessons might be your first line of action. Many boarding stables retain a riding instructor and maintain a few lesson horses for students.


Bill Condie’s country roots make him happy that his son, 8-year-old Carson, loves horses. Yet living in town in Nampa, Idaho, limits Carson’s horse interactions to posters, magazines, and the occasional trip to the Idaho Horse Park to watch a rodeo or event. “He’s only been on a horse a handful of times, and those have been on pony rides where he’s been tethered to a carousel and walked in a circle,” Condie said. “He has never felt the thrill of being free to direct a horse with both speed and direction.”

Carson is like many young boys and girls who yearn for a horse—who read horse stories and dream about horses; who play with horse toys and watch horse movies. He surrounds himself with all things equine.

As a parent, your child might have contracted horse fever too. And, you might see promoting animal relationships as a healthy road to developing your child’s self-confidence, compassion, responsibility, and sportsmanship. But you might also be overwhelmed at the thought of how to get involved in a safe and productive manner. Here are a few youth programs that can ease you into the horse industry while educating you and your child on safe and humane care, riding skills, and activities.

When contacting organizations, ask these questions:

  • What are the fees involved?
  • What activities are offered?
  • When and where does the program meet?
  • What are the expectations for member and parents?

Local Lesson Programs

Depending on your location, riding lessons might be your first line of action. Many boarding stables retain a riding instructor and maintain a few lesson horses for students.

How to get involved: If you have any horse-owning friends, ask them for recommendations of good programs. If they don’t have the firsthand knowledge, they might know other horse owners who do. If you’re starting from square one and don’t know anyone in the horse industry, stop in at a few local stables and talk with several people for advice.

Cost: Price will vary depending on your location (property tax rates, feed costs, and other variables that the stable has to contend with), the type and frequency of lessons, and the instructor’s level of experience.

United States Pony Clubs (USPC)

A national nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization, the USPC provides a learning program for youths as well as volunteer adults. Using a series of certification levels, Pony Club teaches riding, mounted sports, and horse and pony care including health, nutrition, stable management, horse handling, and safety. Rallies (essentially horse-showlike gatherings) test skills and knowledge, and provide a social atmosphere of fun and sportsmanship. Many programs don’t require horse ownership.

How to get involved: Visit for an interactive map of participating clubs, centers, and groups, or call the national office in Lexington, Ky., at 859/254-7669.

Cost: Varies with each individual club, center, or group. USPC e-membership ($15 per year) includes electronic access to the Pony Club News magazine, blog, bookstore, sponsors’ special offers, and other educational opportunities.


Each county’s Cooperative Extension System offers a 4-H program for children ages 8-18, and some areas have special programs for younger kids as well. Areas of focus often extend beyond horse projects to household pets and livestock, in addition to non-animal interests such as cooking, crafts, and arts. If your child has an interest involving science, citizenship, or healthy living, 4-H probably has a matching program. And if not, you can volunteer as a leader and teach your child while learning more about his interests at the same time. 4-H also offers a Horseless Horse project for members who do not own or lease their own.

Generally, a 4-H club meets monthly with elected officers who learn and practice parliamentary procedure. Clubs are comprised of smaller special-interest groups that meet to work on projects throughout the year, often culminating in display and judging at the county fair.

In addition to hands-on instruction, the 4-H horse program uses an interactive curriculum of age-appropriate manuals that progress from introductory basics through health, care and management, riding skills, and activities that include showmanship, self-rating, goal selection, and sportsmanship.

How to get involved: Visit, or call your county’s Cooperative Extension office.

Cost: Minimal monthly dues and the cost of individual projects.

Youth Rodeo

The National Little Britches Association (NLBRA) offers rodeo events for kids ages 5-18 in 26 states. Likewise, many regular rodeos provide Pee Wee Rodeo to youngsters from toddler through junior high school ages. Youth rodeo offers supervised, family-oriented competition and can provide an avenue for you to gain horsey networking opportunities and new friends to show you the ropes.

Events include mutton busting (sheep riding) for 4- to 6-year-olds, progressing up in contestant age and stock size through riding calves, steers, and bulls in preparation for senior rodeos. Horseback events include breakaway calf roping, tie-down calf roping, team roping, barrel racing, pole bending, and goat tying.

How to get involved: Visit or search the Internet for Pee Wee Rodeo and your location for an association or event in your area.

Cost: Association-specific

Breed Programs

Finally, most breed associations offer youth programs to foster interest in their particular breed and to provide fun and educational outlets for youth participation, including scholarship opportunities.

Although not an exhaustive list, here are a few options to explore if your child’s interest is breed-specific. National associations can recommend regional breed groups as well.

Now that you're prepared, help your child can get a safe and educational start in the horse world.

About the Author

Diane E. Rice

Diane E. Rice earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Wisconsin, then melded her education and her lifelong passion for horses in an editorial position at Appaloosa Journal. She currently works as a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and photographer and has served on American Horse Publications’ board of directors. Rice spends her spare time gardening, reading, serving in her church, and with her daughters, grandchildren, and pets.

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