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Toddler’s Horseback Riding: A Parent’s Guide For Getting Your Toddler Started

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Unearth the passion for horseback riding in your toddler! Explore methods on how to engage your child's interest in horses and how to monitor their reactions around these magnificent beasts. Ready to embark on this exciting journey? Let's ride!

If you want to get your kid started with horses early as a toddler you are not alone. However, there are considerations and precautions you should take if this is something you want to do.

I myself have a toddler who shows interest in horses . Though I have taught many students as an instructor I have only come in contact with toddlers on horses in therapeutic riding situations as a side walker or on pony rides you see at petting zoos and fairs. 

I decided to research ways to start toddlers and young kids horseback riding so I could make a plan for starting my little one. After researching, I now have a good idea of the best course of action to take and thought I would make a guide for parents of toddlers in the same situation.

The best-case scenario is that that as the toddler’s parent you know horses and are an experienced horse person.

Before we dive into this post I am excited to announce that this blog has made it into the top 100 equestrian blogs on feedspot.com. Yay!

Keeping Safety In Mind With Toddlers And Horses

The most important consideration when introducing toddlers to horses and riding is the safety factor. 

In general, toddlers as you probably know have a reputation for constantly getting themselves into trouble. It often seems like toddlers have no sense of self-preservation and just do as they please unaware of the dangers surrounding them. 

So, parents, you must be on guard, cautious, and carefully keeping watch to make sure your toddler stays safe around horses. 

Toddlers are more likely to get seriously injured than older children, who are more physically developed, able to follow instructions, pay attention, able to understand safety rules and have more respect for keeping oneself safe.

The risk of head injury or death is higher in toddlers riding because they are more likely to fall due to the weight of their head in proportion to their body which contributes to their already lack of balance. 

Along with their lack of balance if your toddler is on a full grown horse and falls off landing on their head, there could be serious consequences.

The most critical factor [for a toddler riding] is that it is at least one-on-one and for children under five, there should be at least a two-to-one ratio of adults to child. At its best, riding is risky and for toddlers and children under six, it is even riskier because of their size and vulnerability and lack of coordination and judgment.

Julie Goodnight from CHA

There are other safety risks aside from falling off like getting bitten, stepped on, kicked, knocked over, bopped by the horses head, and run over. 

I’m not saying all horses will do this or that this will even happen, but these are possibilities you as a parent need to be aware of and do your very best to prevent from happening. That starts with knowing horse behavior, body language, and the horses around your toddler.

There are many safety considerations for your toddler working with and riding horses that I will go over in this guide as well as alternatives for toddlers not yet ready to ride.

Toddlers will have different safety guidelines than older children. This article I found on Equisearch talks about safety protocols with kids around horses. This article is good for those of you parents to check out that aren’t super experienced working with horses. This article won’t tell you exactly what to do with toddlers but it gives you a general idea about staying safe around horses for yourself and older capable children.

Testing Your Toddlers Interest Level With Horses

Before you invest in getting your toddler started with horses you want to make sure horses are something your toddler is actually interested in. 

Toddlers have short attention spans even when they are interested or enjoy what they are doing. 

If horses or riding will not hold their interest they will stop paying attention very quickly, become easily distracted and probably get fussy. Acting out and having tantrums around horses may cause them to spook and could create a dangerous situation.

Another problem you may encounter is your toddler being afraid of horses because of their size, being up high up off the ground on the horses back, and being an animal they don’t have much experience with.

If your toddler wants nothing to do with horses you will have a struggle on your hands every time you go to the barn. Not only could forcing your toddler to ride or work with horses create a safety hazard but it may make them resent horses and riding for the rest of their life.

Whereas if you wait for your toddler to start showing a desire to be around horses when your child gets started, it will be a much more pleasant, safer experience for everyone, including your child. Who knows… they might even develop a lifelong passion. 

It is much better to wait until your toddler wants to be around horses and ride. If that means waiting until they are older then wait. If that day never comes that’s okay there are other things in life they can enjoy.

If you want your child to love horses because you do, I understand. But it is unfair to force your desires on your child, just like it may have been unfair if your parents had done that to you.

 If you love horses and your child doesn’t… keep loving horses, let your child develop a passion for something they like and support them, so one day they can do the same for their kids.

Some Ways You Can Gauge Your Toddler’s Interest Level In Horses

  • Does your toddler get excited or point when they see pictures or videos of horses?
  • Can your toddler say “horse” or do they ask about horses?
  • Does your toddler enjoy watching shows about horses?
  • Does your toddler have a rocking horse they like to sit on and play with?
  • Does your toddler constantly try to ride you like a horse when you get down on the ground to play with them?
  • Does your toddler have horse models or toys they like to play with?
  • Find some barns you can visit that have horses . When you go pay attention to your toddler. Are they excited to see the horses? Are they afraid? Are they more interested in the farm equipment and vehicles?
  • Do they like to pet the horses or do they turn their head away and show disinterest or fear?
  • If you are able to groom a pony or horse with your toddler. The best scenario would be a small pony or miniature horse. Otherwise, you should hold your toddler for brushing to keep them from getting bumped, stepped on, or kicked. Is your toddler engaged and brushing the horse or at least trying? Or are they walking away, trying to get down, getting frustrated?
  • Try a pony ride. Some lesson barns will do pony rides. Usually, you see pony rides at petting zoos and fairs. See your toddler’s reaction. Are they having fun? Are they scared? Are they trying to get off? One thing I don’t like about pony rides at zoos and fairs is that most of them don’t have riding helmets for the kids, which I think is so important. 

These questions and experiences will help you gauge your child’s interest level in horses. You want your child to seem excited and happy about horses. Feel free to comment to us all if you are not sure or have questions about your toddlers interest level. 

How Young Can A Toddler Start Horseback Riding?

I have a blog post that covers this more thoroughly. Can A 2-Year-Old Ride A Horse? The Best Age For Kids To Start Horse Riding

More important than age is whether your toddler is personally ready to start riding. Every kid is developing at different speeds. One 2 year old may be ready while another 3 year old may not be ready. 

What you should be asking yourself is not what age your toddler can start but what milestones should your toddler develop before starting to ride horses. These milestones are physical, mental and emotional.

Is Your Toddler Physically Ready To Ride?

  • They have enough muscle strength to maintain an upright riding position.
  • Their neck muscles are strong enough to support a properly fitted riding helmet.
  • They have enough balance to stay on the pony in motion at least at the walk.
  • Their arms are strong enough to hold onto a grab strap if needed.

Is Your Toddler Mentally and Emotionally Ready To Ride?

  • They have the ability to understand and follow directions.
  • They have a long enough attention span to listen to instructions.
  • Their emotions are fairly stable for a toddler.
  • They do not have tantrums when given instructions or on a regular basis.

Alternative Options Instead Of Having Your Toddler Take Horse Riding Lessons

Some toddlers won’t be ready for riding lessons, even lead line lessons because they are not physically, mentally or emotionally ready to ride.

Lead line riding lessons are when the child is on the horse but has a handler on the ground leading the horse or pony. 

When your child does start taking riding lessons you will want them to be in private riding lessons where the riding instructor can solely focus on your child and help them get to a level where they will be safe in group lessons. 

There are pros and cons to both private riding lessons and group riding lessons. Most young children are not ready to begin regular riding lessons in a group until they are about 7 years old.

If your toddler is not ready to ride for one reason or another there are other ways to get them started with horses that will be safe and a fun introduction to the world of horses.

At the beginning of this article, I talked about testing your toddler to see what their interest level is in horses. Now I am going to reiterate the activities I mentioned and go into a bit more detail about them. They can be a great way to ease your toddler into learning and getting used to horses.

TV Shows And Movies With Horses

There are a number of TV shows out there now about horses

They may not always be totally accurate but your child is a toddler they won’t mind. 

They will get to see the people and characters riding the horses, taking care of them, and making being friends with the horses. 

This can introduce the concept of what they can do with horses. Of course, don’t take horsemanship tips from TV and movies, so it is laughable and downright dangerous in real life.

This may just help to peak your little one’s interest. You may find that your toddler would rather watch Octonauts or Mickey Mouse Club House. That’s okay they may not be interested or at least not yet.

Some TV Shows With Horses You Could Try

  • Horseland
  • Wendy
  • The Saddle Club
  • Spirit Riding Free
  • The Pony Sitters Club
  • My Little Pony

Visiting Stables

 If you don’t own a horse or pony of your own, that’s okay. There are barns open for the public to come and visit. The best practice would be to call first and make sure it is okay to come and visit. 

Make sure you don’t feed the horses treats such as apples or carrots unless the owner of the horse or the barn manager/owner says that it is okay to do so. 

Visiting a barn can give your toddler the chance to see horses up close and in person. 

Let them watch the horses in the stalls or out in the paddock. If a horse comes up to say hi, keep an eye on the horse’s body language. 

If the horse starts to pin their ears back away just in case the horse may be threatening to bite. Sometimes horses can be mouthy because they think you have treats or they are being playful but that could mean your toddler’s hand can get bit. 

It is best to ask if you can pet a horse before you do just to make sure the horse is friendly enough to let your toddler pet it. 

Still keep an eye and be cautious, especially if the horse is out in a paddock with other horses. The horse may swing their head quickly to turn away if a more dominant horse comes over and drives them away. 

Never go into the paddock or stall with the horse unless the owner or riding instructor is with you and gives permission and even then make sure you use good judgement. 

This is where it is so important to be able to read horses and understand their behavior and what to expect with horses in general but especially with a toddler around that could get more seriously hurt than you.

All in all bringing your toddler to the barn to see the horses, pet them, and give them hay or treats… with permission of course, is a good way to introduce your toddler to horses and get used to being around them.

Brushing Horses

If you don’t have your own horse see if you can set up a grooming session at one of the stables you have been visiting or ride at. This is not typically a service most lesson barns do. 

Usually learning to groom is incorporated into the riding lesson. But it doesn’t hurt to ask and expect to pay a fee for the horse’s time and the instructors time, or whoever is with you.

Ideally a small pony like a Shetland or a miniature horse would be the best size for your toddler to brush. If the horse is bigger it is best you hold your toddler to keep them safe and so they can reach where they need to when they brush.

Your toddler is most likely going to get bored brushing rather quickly, keep this in mind when setting up a grooming session. It might be best for the first couple to be just 5 minutes  and 10 minutes at most. 

If your toddler wants to keep brushing that is a good indicator they are really enjoying being around the horses. 

But don’t be surprised if they are trying to wander off after a couple minutes. That may just mean they are not ready for grooming sessions or are not really interested at this time. Try again at a later time, you want them to enjoy it and not have the experience be forced.

Model Toy Horses They Can Play With

If your toddler seems to like horses they see on tv and in pictures try getting them some horse toys. Set up a barn and paddocks and show them how the horses move around and jump things, go in the stalls and out in the paddocks.

There is a lot of fun horse toys out there. My favorites are the Schleicher model horses and barn sets (look at on Amazon) because they look decently realistic and won’t break easily if your toddler bangs the horse models on the floor. 

You can have fun playing along with your toddler, and setting up a horsey toy area.

This is something I definitely want to do with my son. When I was a young girl and even into my teens I loved Breyer horses. But Breyers can break easily and they are more expensive so they are not the best model horse toys for toddlers.

Pony Rides

There may be lesson barns that do pony rides for small kids. You will want a horse handler and a side walker. 

The horse handler leads and controls the horse, while the side walker is next to your toddler making sure they stay on and keep their balance. The side walker position may end up being you. 

So make sure you are wearing proper footwear in case your foot gets accidentally stepped on.

Pony rides are a lot shorter than riding lessons. A pony ride may only be a lap up to a few laps around the arena. 

It is best to keep it short and sweet so your toddler has a good experience and they end on a good note before they lose focus or get bored. 

Toy Horse Your Toddler Can Ride

If your toddler is enjoying their pony rides and time brushing horses.

They may enjoy a horse riding toy. Yes there are horse toys out now that your child can ride that actually move.

The one that I am thinking about getting in the future is the Smart Gear Pony Cycle (You can check it out on Amazon).

They can pretend with the horse, have fun riding it around and be working on their balance.

Horse Books

Does your toddler like it when you read books to them. Finding some books your toddler may like with horses can be another way to introduce horses to your child. 

Here are a few horse books your toddler may like:

Benefits Of Having Your Child Involved With Horses

To help answer this question I wrote an article called 50 Benefits of Horseback Riding For Kids .

Horseback riding and owning a horse is not cheap, but there are many benefits for kids as well as for the whole family.

  • Horseback riding and caring for horses is active and healthy. 
  • Riding can be done as a family, alone, in a group, or as a team.
  • Horses and riding can become a lifelong passion.
  • Kids are drawn to horses and the challenge of horseback riding.
  • Riding and caring for horses teaches kindness, patience, responsibility, and how to persevere. 
  • Taking riding lessons and working with other kids can help create self-discipline, good sportsmanship, and self-esteem.
  • These character traits aren’t built from lessons and owning a horse by itself, they require guidance leadership, and ideally the family being involved.
  • Sharing the joys, work, growth, and challenges of riding is a great way to bring kids and families together. 
  • Riding gives kids a healthy positive outlet for their time and energy.
  •  For some kids riding might even become a career.
  • Competition for some is important while others simply enjoy the fun hobby that puts us in touch with nature and an awesome willing animal.

Keys To Finding A Good Horseback Riding Program For Your Toddler

Find Prospective Barns Online

You should be able to find barns in your area if you search on google. Figure out how far you are willing to travel and write down a list of barns within your travel distance. 

Call And Ask Questions

Your first task in narrowing down the search will be to call and ask questions. 

  • How young do they accept students? 
  • Do they have small ponies available? 
  • Do they do leadline lessons? 
  • Do they do grooming lessons? 
  • Can you come to visit and check out the barn? 
  • Are you allowed to be a side-walker at first? 
  • Do they do pony rides? 
  • Do they do a toddler program? 
  • What are the fees for lessons pony rides and grooming lessons? 

Feel free to add in and create your own questions. Write down the answers to these questions when you call the barns on your list. 

Looking at all the answers to the questions you asked choose the barns that seem like they could be a good fit. 

Visit The Barn And Check It Out

The next phase for whittling down your barn choices is to go and visit the barns that are still on your list. 

Create a checklist in your mind as you walk around each barn. 

  • How do the horses look? Healthy? Underweight? Happy? Unhappy? 
  • How is the barn kept? Messy? Hazardous? Neat and tidy? 
  • Do the people at the barn seem friendly? Happy? Unfriendly? Unhappy? 
  • Watch some lessons. 
  • Do the students seem to enjoy their lessons or do they seem stressed? 
  • Is the instructor paying attention? Is the instructor yelling a lot? What is the instructor’s feedback like? Does the instructor seem enthusiastic or burnt out? 
  • Do the horses seem happy in the lesson? Or is the horse’s tail swishing a lot? Pinning ears? Kicking out? Tilting head? Biting the air? 
  • Does safety seem to be a priority?

After visiting the remaining barns on your list make sure you take notes about each of them. The pros and cons of each. So you can compare and help make sure you have a better idea of each! 

Have Your Toddler At Least Take A Couple Riding Lessons 

Time for your toddler to take some lessons which will basically be like glorified pony rides. However, make sure you don’t choose a barn yet. Hopefully, you have about 2 to 3 barns remaining. 

Set up a lesson with each of them.

Was your child put on a suitable pony? Ideally, a small pony would be your toddlers mount, in the event of a fall they would be closer to the ground, which means less impact when they hit the ground. I hate mentioning about falling because its not fun for the rider especially for a parent to see but it is a reality that it could happen.

Did the instructor seem patient and able to click with your child? At this point your toddler won’t be getting too much instruction. It is more about enjoying being on the horse and having fun, getting comfortable and working on balance. But you don’t want an instructor that gets easily frustrated by small kids.

After having the two to three lessons, one at each barn. Choose the barn that you feel is the best fit for you and your toddler. 

Important Factors To Keep In Mind 

  • Do not push your child to progress too fast. Let them go at their own pace even if it is only walking for 2 years. 
  • Riding can be scary for them and if pressed beyond what they are okay with they may feel shame, not want to ride anymore, and begin to dread riding. 
  • Make sure they have properly fitted helmets and boots at the least. I suggest a vest too for added protection. 

Horseback Riding Gear For Toddlers

There are a few difficulties when it comes to finding riding gear for your toddler. Not all companies make toddler sizes, there are less choices for quality products, and toddlers will grow out of their gear throughout childhood and their teen years.

You may be able to size up on certain items but make sure the riding helmet and body protector are the correct size or they will not provide adequate protection.

I will list here the riding gear products I recommend for toddlers based on the quality I have experienced with certain brands.

I will update this section as I buy riding gear for my son. He is 1 ½ years right now so I am not rushing into buying him this gear yet. He is just enjoying being at the barn and visiting the horses.

Toddler Horse Riding Helmet

Tipperary Sportage 8500 Toddler Riding Helmet (take a look at this helmet on horse.com). 

I like this helmet because it is a quality brand and my Tipperary helmet was one of my favorite schooling helmets. This helmet can have foam padding added to make a tighter fit, but it does not have a dial system in the back to make it tighter.

 I feel like this helmet gives more protection in the back than most helmets as it covers more in the back. Of course you want to make sure that the helmet properly fits your toddler. 

Check out my helmet page which is under Recommended Gear. On this page I talk about what to look for in a helmet, explain how to measure for a riding helmet and make sure it fits, tips for caring for the helmet as well as helmets I recommend.

Toddler Horse Riding Boots

TuffRider Childs Zebra Zip Paddock and TuffRider Children’s Starter Zip Paddock

(take a look at these boots on horse.com

Most children’s riding boots are not in toddler sizes. These boots are in toddler sizes, but the smallest size is an 8. 

TuffRider is a brand I have used before, though they aren’t the best brand I have used before they are a decent brand for riding boots.

 I actually had a cheap pair of synthetic tall boots from Tuffrider and they lasted a couple of years. They had Spanish tops and complimented my legs pretty well which is hard to do. 

These paddock boots are not real leather either and can be cleaned easily with a damp cloth. 

If you want to get your child western boots instead I don’t have as much experience with those kinds of boots but I found that horse.com has a selection of toddler-sized cowboy boots

It may be worthwhile to buy a size or 2 bigger and double up on socks or use thick socks, just so they will have the boots longer. Make sure you get new pairs as soon as they are getting too small to prevent discomfort.

If you are not sure what to look for in a safe riding boot check out my page on riding boots from the recommended gear section. I talk about finding the right size, making sure they fit, what you want to look for in boots so that they are safe for riding, and tips for taking care of the boots. 

The page is about English riding boots however most of it can apply to western boots as well. I also have a blog post about both English and western boots if you want to check it out. What Kind Of Shoes To Wear Horse Riding: A Beginner Rider’s Guide

Toddler Horse Riding Protective Vest

I don’t have much experience with protective vests for small children but I think it is an excellent idea for kids to wear them. I have used riding body protectors myself and you can feel the difference when you fall. 

Wearing them when I have fallen in the past I noticed less soreness, bumps and bruises where the vest protected me and I also noticed that I don’t get the air knocked out of me.

I am not sure if body protectors come in toddler sizes because I haven’t done the measurements for my son yet. But there are some vests that come in children’s sizes. 

Check out my body protector page that shows how to measure and fit a body vest. You want an ASTM/SEI approved vest like a helmet.

 But I think even if the vest has been standardized and tested it is still better than not wearing one, you just won’t know if your child is getting the same protection as a protector that has been tested.

I like the Racesafe Provent 3.0 (Take a look at Amazon) and it comes in child sizes but I am not sure if they are small enough for a toddler. You will have to do the measurements on your toddler and check the sizing chart.

Toddler Horse Riding Half Chaps

Half chaps are for english riding paddock boots. At this point your toddler doesn’t need half chaps if they are going to be mostly just walking while on the horse. It gives extra grip and helps to prevent rubs and sores on the calves from the stirrup leathers rubbing.

I highly doubt that there are any half chaps in a toddlers size anyway.

Also most kids for english riding wear garters which are leather straps that go under the knee to help the jodhpurs from riding up. But they are mostly used for riding in shows.

Toddler Horse Riding Pants

I haven’t seen any toddler-sized riding pants. You want the pants to be stretchy so they can move there around easily and not be restricted.

Long enough so when they bend their knees their legs stay covered and fitted enough that they don’t rub and cause sores from moving in the saddle.

I would say for a toddler, leggings, stretchy jeans, maybe certain sweatpants that fit the bill would be okay.

Toddler Horse Riding Gloves

Don’t worry about riding gloves at this point because your toddler is not going to be doing much with the reins for a while. 

Riding gloves are more for grip on the reins to help keep them from sliding through your fingers as well as to protect fingers from rubs and blisters.

Right now the only reason for gloves would be to keep your toddler’s hands warm.

FAQs About Toddlers Horseback Riding

Is horse riding safe for children?

Horse riding can be dangerous and is typically more dangerous for young children due to their small size, the height of a fall, or damage from blunt trauma. 

However, there are precautions that can be taken to make riding a lot safer for children. 

Wearing a helmet is huge in keeping your child protected and safer.

What ages are pony rides for?

Typically pony rides are for children who are able to sit in the saddle and hold onto the horn.

There is a weight limit or height limit depending on the size of the pony.

Some businesses may have a minimum age. You will need to ask. 

How do you teach a toddler to ride a horse?

  1. You want to keep rides pretty short to accommodate your toddler’s short attention span. 
  2. Rides should be focused more on fun and games as a way of learning as opposed to a solely instructional lesson. 
  3. Safety needs to be the main priority. 
  4. A toddler should be working on their balanced just sitting on the pony and staying balanced as the pony moves.
  5. A toddler should have a leader and side walker helping with balance until the child is older and has solid balance and muscle tone.

Why do kids love horses?

Kids tend to love animals and be curious about them. Horses are big, powerful, beautiful, soft and fluffy, friendly, fun and you can ride them.

Why wouldn’t a kid love horses? Aside from that, they are intimidating at the same time. 

Can you ride a horse with a baby?

It sounds like it could work in theory but this is a very dangerous thing to do. Whether a baby or a child riding double poses a huge risk to the small person.

There have been incidents where both child and adult fall off and the adult falls on top of the child killing them.

It’s so terribly sad to go from having a good time riding with a child and ending with the child being killed by an accident that could have been avoided.

Cheers, Kacey

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Disclaimer Notice: Please be aware that horseback riding and related equestrian activities carry inherent risks. The advice and experiences shared on this blog are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional training or advice. Ensure your safety and that of your horse by wearing appropriate gear, practicing safe horse handling, and consulting with certified equestrian professionals. Remember, each horse is unique, and techniques may vary accordingly. Always prioritize safety, respect, and patience in your equestrian endeavors.

Kacey Cleary Administrator
Kacey has been an equestrian since 1998. She was a working student at several eventing and dressage barns. She has owned horses, leased horses, and trained horses. Kacey received an A.S. in Equine Industries from UMass Amherst, where she rode on the dressage team. She was certified with the ARIA and is licensed to teach riding in MA. She has been a barn manager and has run her own horse farm.
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