What do you look for in riding lessons for younger kids?

My son is 7. He took riding lessons for several months with my trainer (who does all levels). She has primarily full size horses. They are very well mannered, but it is tough for a 6 year old to handle a full size horse alone, so the lessons were on the leadline. As she got a few more small kids, sometimes they shared a horse for a lesson so they’d only ride half the time. I felt like he had sort of learned what he was going to learn on the leadline, and it was far away, and expensive, and he wanted to play soccer, so I decided to have him take a break for a while. Plus I was never sure how into it he was. He enjoyed the lessons and the other kids but he never really talked about it at other times. But he just asked me to start again, a month+ after his last lesson. So I want to think about it seriously.

That is a lot of rambling to ask - how much lessoning do you think is worthwhile for younger kids? What do you want to see in their lessons? And what do you think is a reasonable lesson cost?


I don’t think it’s the size of the horses that’s the problem, it’s the apparent lack of horses suitable for small beginner kids that’s the issue. I spent my early years taking lessons at a hunt club. Many of the lesson horses doubled as guest horses for hunting and most were fairly large, a few draft crosses. Some of the kids in my lessons were so tiny that their feet didn’t reach much below the saddle flap. This was never a problem, because the horses were suitable for their jobs.

If your trainer doesn’t have enough suitable horses to give proper lessons to small children, then you’re going to have to look elsewhere.

To answer your question, what I look for in riding lessons for younger kids is:

A good instructor who is good with kids and has lesson horses that are suitable for young, small children to learn on. This combination is pretty difficult to find. So difficult to find and so important that I wouldn’t get hung up on specific disciplines. If you find one of these trainers, it doesn’t matter whether they’re teaching western or some kind of English riding. Your son can get the basics and learn to feel comfortable in any kind of saddle.

Something that someone told me years ago was that the best way to check out potential riding programs was to go to a local horse show. Look for kids that are having fun, exhibiting good sportsmanship (cheering each other on, etc.), and riding horses and ponies that are suitable. Look for trainers who are interacting with their students in the way you would like them to interact with your child. Those are the barns you want to look at.

As far as your specific questions…

Cost is specific to your area.
Yes, lessons are worthwhile for younger kids as long as they’re having fun and genuinely interested in the lesson.


Thanks for picking up on the horse size thing. I started riding at 8 on an older Arabian, and was riding independently right away. I wasn’t sure what was typical, and thought maybe it made sense to just wait until he was a bit bigger. From what I know, there’s not a huge difference in riders who start at 6 vs 8 or even 10 after the later kids get some experience. But I do want him to enjoy horses, so I’ll try to facilitate that if I can.

I looked for more free range lessons for my kids. Lots of games and group lessons on older than dirt w/t retired show horses. I just wanted them to associate horses with fun and always felt that before 10ish they were so busy growing to worry about position and they didn’t have the want for serious showing.

That would have changed where I let them lesson at.


Safety is priority one - appropriate mounts, riding space, tack in good repair, child-size safety stirrups, stirrup bars open, etc. An instructor that pays attention and communicates clearly.

30 minute private lessons to start until the kid is safe enough to go, steer, and stop at the walk and trot. Within a few lessons, I’d want to see some of that time spent off the lead or lunge learning to steer. Then I like to see group lessons because it takes quite a while to develop the strength and feel to move on - and it gets boring to do that alone. Games played in a group make learning to hold your two-point or post without stirrups less like a chore.

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Yep, this.

My 17hh gelding was Mr-Perfect-Lesson-Horse for tiny tots of all sizes.

I always start, and prefer that kids and adult beginners alike are started, on the lunge-line, no matter the horse/pony. They can start learning to steer at the walk off the lunge, but I require that they learn how to appropriately ride the trot and canter on the lunge before try to add steering into the mix at the higher gaits.

How much lessoning is really kid-dependent. Many start at once per week. Some people think you can’t possibly progress with only one lesson a week. Depends on your definition of progress.

Typical lesson costs are highly location dependent, as well as barn type (small lesson barn vs big A-show barn, etc.). Anywhere from $25-100 can be considered pretty reasonable, depending.

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I was surprised at the lack of lunge line use when he started. The horses are very good, perhaps she keeps them on the line because it’s an unfenced outdoor.

But I’m getting from everyone’s helpful comments that I would like to see him challenged more. It’s not about shows for me, I just want him to have fun. But if we’re doing this, I want to see him getting better. He did improve his steering, but with a leader right there, the horse was mostly listening to them. And they did pretty minimal trot work - just down a long side a couple times a lesson, and not even every lesson.

That wouldn’t make me a happy parent if only barely trotting in a lesson. Does kid have balance issues or horse super bumpy?

I’d look for a place that has lots of kids and more appropriate lesson horses. Do a bunch of kids ride with this particular instructor? Does the instructor enjoy the littles?

No balance issues. He has a pretty good seat actually. He does tend to lean forward at the trot, but I think he just needs practice.

The instructor seems to enjoy the kids and has a good rapport with them. I’ve seen her lessons with slightly older kids who are able to ride independently and those seem like good lessons. And I like her as a horse trainer, which is why I started him with her. But I do think we should try someone new.

Our son grew up riding his pony, mostly bareback, but it’s hard to teach your own kid to ride. So, I signed him up for a week long horseback riding day camp. He loved it! Made friends with other kids that rode horses, learned (or relearned) horse care, parts of a horse, saddling, safety, etc… It stuck better with him when he heard someone else tell him how to do it. He rode the schooling horses and they played horseback games. It was a really good experience and one that I recommend for anyone’s kid. Fun with friends and horses is really the key. I don’t know if my kid will ever really be a competitive rider, but he had fun with horses and that helps a lot. Now, he has his own horse and more confidence. The camp is starting back up this summer. I’ll probably sign him up again.

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Something that makes it fun as they learn. Nothing as boring as going round and round the arena.

With summer coming up, this might be a way for OP and son to try a few places out with only a week’s commitment and find the best fit. (Provided there are barns in her area that hold day camps.) Most of the barns I’ve seen holding camps offer a shorter version, just a few hours per day, for the youngest kids.

Yeah, I’m thinking that too. If only I could get a barn to email me back…

Where are you located? Would you consider a vaulting program?

It’s how many start and is a super good basis for any riding program down the road. Plus, it’s an adrenalin sport so kids tend to really love it and it can get your kiddo going while you look for a more suitable riding program. Did I mention an adrenalin sport? (While being super safe!) Let me know if you want more info!

I’m in northern Virginia, in SE Fairfax County. I would consider vaulting. Not sure how my son would take it, he tends to be fairly cautious, but it could certainly be a good experience.

I’ve reached out to clubs in that area asking for recommendations!


What about polo? There’s a few kids’ classes that run out here in the Loudoun/Prince William area. Safe, safe horses & he’d get out with kids his age.

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You know, I never would have considered a polo barn for a beginner, but I just reached out to one, so maybe we’ll give it a try.

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Lol! I never would’ve either, until I asked on FB on behalf of a friend whose son rides. I’d assumed her then- 10 yo son would be too young. But people were posting pics of all these absolutely teeny tiny kids taking Saturday morning group lessons. And to be honest, it all looks safer & more organized than any kids’ group riding lesson I’ve ever seen. I’ve been told that mares are favored for polo because they’re more aggressive/passionate about the game. The ponies they use for teaching kids seem to be mostly older mares who are sane & sensible & ferociously protective of their charges.

If you have trouble, feel free to PM me & I’ll go dig through my FB to find the recommendations. There were several.

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Here is a Facebook link to Topaz Vaulters in your area… they have a competition this weekend at a Frying Pan park in Herndon.