Wednesday, October 19, 2016

How do you handle "can my kid come ride your horse"?

Every horse owner has had this conversation at some point.

"Oh, you have a horse, no way! Hey, little Jimmy really loves animals. Can he come and ride your horse?"

If you haven't had this conversation, you are either far luckier and/or more unapproachable than I am. Teach me your secrets, please.

I don't dislike kids. I don't have any myself, and unless my personality, lifestyle choices, and personal goals all change dramatically in the next few years, I probably won't have any.

I have a nephew that I adore, cousins, so on and so forth.

But the question of "can my kid ride your horse?" is a fraught one.

I don't have any media of kids on my horse for privacy reasons, so enjoy these throwbacks to last year's foliage ride through Groton State Forest.

First: it's in how it's framed. The best, most polite version of this that I've encountered takes into account my busy schedule, their kid's actual level of interest, and does not include the expectation that the child will be riding. Those people usually listen when I tell them that they have to sign the barn's release form, their kid has to wear appropriate footwear and a bike helmet, and that my rules and my instructions are absolute dictates.

The worst is some variation on "we're coming on Sunday! kiddo really wants to ride! don't disappoint us!" I've gotten that one too. That gets endless "Nope, sorry, too busy!"

For me, having kids on Tristan is fraught. It takes the place of one of my own riding days, because I don't have enough time to spend at the barn to do kid stuff and ride. I have to basically enter my professional persona, the part of my brain that assesses kids and their reaction and scales my teaching appropriately. And I have to worry - about the chaos that is small children around a barn, about annoying the other boarders, about the dumb things that often happen around horses happening to a friend and/or their child.

That being said: I've done it a number of times. I would and will do it again. I think it's important both for my own friendships (people are really weird about their kids) and to expose kids to horses, and to teach them how to interact appropriately with animals and to be in an agricultural environment.

Which is a long way of saying that a friend and his four year old visited the barn this week. He definitely falls into the former category, and I've know the boy for some time - he's brave, smart, and sweet, and his parents set good boundaries for him.

Plus, giving a pony ride is Tristan's favorite way to spend the day. He gets to amble along slowly and carefully. He is a rockstar. He can tell when people are a bit unbalanced on his back, and he thinks hard about where to put every single foot. Let me assure you that Tristan would love nothing better than to give pony rides to small children all day! (Well, nothing except sleeping in a field, but if he has to work for a living, doing as little work as possible is the idea.)

The visit went well. I established ground rules - no running, and inside voice only, because horses get scared easily - and had the boy help me brush him, then stand and watch while I picked Tristan's feet. It's important to me that I never present a tacked-up horse to a kid. I always make them wait and help to groom and then tack up.

The boy did great; I've had a lot of kids express interest in horses and then freak out once they get there, and refuse touch the horse, or refuse to ride once they've gotten close enough to touch. He was game to walk all around the ring, and even asked to go fast. (Nope, sorry, kiddo!) I put down a pole so he could feel Tristan picking up his feet a little bit. Then I got on and showed him a trot and a canter both ways, partially to get Tristan some semblance of exercise. Then we untacked and groomed him again. By then, the kid's brain had pretty much run out, but 40 minutes is a long time for a four year old to behave so well and do so many new things! I would have him back if it fit into the schedule.

So: have you done pony rides for friends' kids? How do you handle it? (I'm assuming that those of you who have kids of your own put them on a horse as soon as they can hold their own heads up.)


  1. I usually just refer them to a lesson barn I know nearby, I don't have kids and my horses are not used to them so I wouldn't feel safe allowing kids on/around my personal horses

  2. In general, I think most people are dissuaded by my horse's reputation as a wild racehorse haha. Plus I generally don't hang out with people who have kids a lot. So that helps. I actually have and will give pony rides on him, but only under very specific circumstances because the wild racehorse thing is very real and I don't want anyone getting hurt.

  3. I am totally happy to give pony rides to friends' (well-behaved) kids, and so is Dino. He thinks that being a leadline pony is the greatest thing ever. But I'm usually the first one to invite them over to the barn if the parent tells me that said child has an interest in horses. I have the quietest, most bombproof creature on the planet, he is AWESOME for introducing young'uns to riding! If someone invited themselves over to ride... that would be a different story. And I've had adult friends want to "come riding" and try to invite themselves out to the barn, which is also not cool. Mostly because Dino is not really big enough for an unbalanced adult beginner, and doesn't take kindly to people who want to yahoo around. So I just tell those people that D isn't suitable, and that's that. But little kids? Welcome anytime!

  4. I think that it really depends on the kid. There are some who I'd pop on them in a second--other's make me want to pull my hair out. But regardless, I do want to help foster that love, if it is there!

  5. Oh boy, I hate this question. I haven't had it as "Hey, can little Susie come ride you horse?", but I have had "I love horses! Can I come ride yours?!" many, many times, especially when I was in college. My answer used to be a flat, "No, I'm sorry. My horses aren't really good with inexperienced riders." That was sometimes met with "Oh, no, I've ridden before! I went on a trail ride on vacation!" which point I would let them come ride and snicker when Moe tried to take off.

    These days, I'm more willing to let people on the horses because they're used to being in a lesson program. They are older and calmer, and while the more advanced lesson kids are usually their riders, Moe and Gina will tool around the arena at a walk for almost anyone (e.g. my husband, my mother).

    I think it's incredibly rude when people invite themselves over and except that you'll just accommodate them. I hate that.

  6. I say sure, you can schedule a lesson, and this is how much I charge

    but after all I guess my job signs me up for that ;)

  7. Gave lessons until recently and then fired all but one because my horses were flipping me very subtle middle fingers about it all. I couldn't knowingly put them through it anymore. Nor could I risk the safety of the kids. Nor did I honestly have the time. It was SO STRESSFUL to do MY horse things AND accommodate other people. No more.

    The girl I kept is a SOLID rider who reminds me SO much of myself at that age. She does EVERYTHING I ever recommend or suggest or tell, she reads all the books and magazines I offer her, and she does her homework so far as exercises to be fitter. She's going to be getting a horse of her own in the spring that her parents and I are picking out (a MORGAN !!). It's generally a really good situation. That doesn't make me nervous at all -- even when she's fallen off both Q and Griffin!

    As for the future? I'm sure I'll entertain some friends kids periodically, but it won't be anything lasting and I'll definitely be very picky about who I allow!

  8. If I ever get a horse, I'd have to get a pretty bombproof creature for my own safety. I would be keeping him at home so barn time would be less of an issue, and I love giving lessons. That said, if anyone invited themselves over, it would be a solid no. That is plain disrespectful of me and my time, in any situation, horse or no horse.

    Also, I think if someone is serious about wanting to ride, they should prove it by showing up for the work as well. They should see at least a taste of how much goes into horse ownership, that it isn't just sitting in a saddle and walking around in circles.

  9. I haven't had to cross this bridge yet, most of my friend's kids are too young. I have awkwardly been side-stepping random people at work saying things like "when are you going to take me riding?"... "Uh...never."

  10. Back when I lived in PA I would let kids ride my horses (but she was a saint and PA had assumed liability. Here in PA, no one may ride my horses unless they're 18+. It actually makes it really easy because I don't have to do any explanation about why some kids can/can't or deal with any real upset. I just say my insurance doesn't cover it and that's it.

  11. Call me a 'helicopter parent'. but I am incredibly picky about who I let sit on Roger. I know we all think our horses are special flowers, but because Roger is only 6 years old, I a nervous to let any kind of beginner ride him, as well as any of my trainer's high school IEA riders that I don't know and haven't ever seen ride before. I'm just not comfortable with a random person sitting on my horse, even though Roger isn't spooky and isn't a complicated ride (for the most part). I've offered a few of my friends to come out and hop on Roger (see Olivia at Hellomylivia) because I'm comfortable with their skill set, but otherwise, I'm extremely picky. Call me paranoid and crazy if you want haha.

  12. I have let a few adults sit on Riva - at a walk with me lead lineing her. Fergie - one older child at a walk on the lead line. Have had the question many times...I normally give the 'my horses are not for beginners ' speech. And I have referred them to an area riding stable if they really want to ride!

  13. I just tell people it's an investment animal and too wild for kids. Which is not always true but yeah also I don't have that many friend's with kids.

  14. I dislike children and hate saying no so I almost always mutter some sort of in the future option and then never let it happen.


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