Receiving a horse as a gift can be an incredibly memorable and moving experience for both a horse-loving girl (or boy) and the gift-giver. In this article, we’ll talk about a few ways that you can make sure that this moment is the gateway to years of enjoyment, growth, and all the positive possibilities available for young riders. With a few easy tips to make the process of buying a surprise horse a little smoother, you can avoid the too-common result of souring the recipient’s interest in horses due to receiving a poorly matched horse as a gift.
A Note on Safety
NOTE: Before we even begin, let’s talk safety. When it comes to safety, inexperience = risk. Never gift a young or untrained horse to any horse-loving child, teen, or adult without professional training and support. Similarly, never gift a horse (even a very very well trained horse) to an inexperienced rider without professional instruction and support. Even if a horse is extremely well-trained, learning to handle horses safely is something that has to be learned. Please skip to the bottom to learn some ideas for thoughtful alternatives – or lead up gifts- to giving a horse outright.
Tips and Ideas for Giving a Horse as a Gift
The tips below on giving a horse is a gift assume that the gift recipient has some experience with horses and is ready to take on horse ownership.
Find someone who knows your rider to shop/buy the horse
A good way to buy a horse as a surprise gift is to enlist the help of a professional who will be on your side. I specify “on your side,” as many horse dealers will act as though they are recommending horses in your rider’s best interest, but- like dealing with any salesman- it’s important to get the opinion of a knowledgeable third-party that is on your side. In this case, your daughter’s riding instructor, 4-H leader, Pony Club leader, or even veterinarian can help prevent disaster by screening out horses that would be a poor match for your rider.
Many horse trainers and riding instructors will locate, visit, and evaluate a horse to confirm they’d be a safe, fun, appropriate fit for your rider for a standard 10% finder’s fee.
Let Your Daughter Test Ride a Horse “For Someone Else”
Even better than having someone you trust check out a horse, is having your rider check the horse out. Just because they’ve ridden the horse- doesn’t mean they’ll suspect the surprise! Have your daughter visit the horse and give it a test ride, under the rouse that they’ve been asked to “evaluate its suitability as a lesson horse for their riding stable,” or they are “riding it to test for someone else who might receive the horse as a surprise gift.”
If your child is already in riding lessons, you can even maintain the rouse until the big day (typically, Christmas or a birthday) by having the horse brought to your daughter’s riding stable- or even ridden in lessons- while maintaining it’s a new lesson horse for the stable. This has the potential to make the big day even more special, since the cherished gift isn’t just the long-dreamed-of horse, but a specific horse they’ve already bonded with that they never dreamed could become their very own.
Arrange Boarding if your child doesn’t know how to handle a horse
Even if you have land and facilities to keep a horse, there’s much to learn about care and handling. A great way to learn the basics is to have your new horse trailered to a nearby boarding stable- or if you live in an area where there are not boarding stables, a nearby horse trainer or 4-H farm.
Boarding ensures that there’s a community of knowledgeable horse people to support your rider in their first few weeks or months as a new horse owner, and the community of other horse owners boarding in a shared stable almost always makes the experience of horseback riding more fun for kids. Boarding also makes gift-giving easy, since there’s no horse to sneak around on Christmas morning- simply a surprise trip in the car.
Very very important tips on horse gift-giving:
Do not fail to provide your child with their resources to learn to enjoy their horse safely. Often the intent behind wanting to give your child a horse (wanting to create a cherished childhood memory of a good experience growing up with horses) can be better served through the gift of riding lessons. Riding lessons let a child experiment with the hobby, grow skills and confidence, and build friendships with other riding students. If you can’t afford support to help your child learn to safely handle a horse, you cannot afford a horse.
Compare it, for example, to learning a musical instrument: you would never buy your child a violin or a piano and not provide instruction. The same logic should without question be applied to a sport that can be extremely dangerous when practiced improperly.
Buy the Best Equipment you can Afford
I’ll say it again, you can buy smart, you can buy used, but do not, do not, do not buy cheap. Horseback riding is an expensive sport, and if something is a great deal, there is almost always a reason. Some tack stores are filled with imported, cheap equipment. Not only does this equipment not last as long in the long run, often it is such poor quality that it is dangerous. For example, if your saddle panels are stuffed with wood shavings instead of wool, this can create painful pressure points that best can cause a horse to misbehave and that, at worst, can debilitate your horse or cause a serious accident. Similarly, with reins or stirrup leathers made from cheaper leather, they might work great until the moment of pressure when they’re needed most, when brittle or thin leather can snap and cause an accident.
If you don’t have a trusted riding instructor you can trust to source equipment, you can still save money by buying used. Study websites of good tack stores and memorize higher-end brand names- good equipment last for decades and is easy to find used on eBay, local tack stores, or Craigslist