The natural progression for any horse-crazy kid who loves horses is to want one of their very own. Horse ownership is a lot of responsibility with a large time commitment. This is a huge undertaking for the whole family, yet it is so worthwhile if done right.
In this article, you’ll learn our tips, as former horse crazy-kids and current horse professionals, for navigating the process of buying a horse for your child.
Start with Riding Lessons
A lot of children claim they want a pony, but before making that investment you should make sure their desire is real and that they actually want to learn to ride and care for the horse.
The first step is to get them into riding lessons. This will benefit both of you, especially if you are also new to horses. Lessons will allow your child to learn how to ride and take care of a horse safely, and you can learn right along with them by watching, asking questions, and even taking some lessons yourself.
Keep in mind, the younger your child is, the more responsibility and horse care will fall on you, so it is best to learn as much as you can along with your child.
Consider Leasing a Horse First
Instead of jumping right into horse ownership, a good in-between step is to look into leasing a horse for a while. Some barns will even offer leases on lesson horses. A lease will provide a glimpse into what owning a horse entails. It will also allow your child to get extra rides on the horse in addition to lessons, which will only help to improve their riding. It is much cheaper than owning a horse outright, and has less responsibility.
If leasing a lesson horse is not an option, there may be a horse boarded at the barn or somewhere else close by that is in need of a lease. Sometimes owners don’t have as much time to ride as they would like to, or perhaps they are unable to ride but do not want to sell the horse. In these cases, they may want to lease their horse out so the horse still gets regular exercise.
Depending on the situation, there may be more costs and responsibilities involved in this case, particularly if it is a full lease. Lease types vary, and a full lease could require you to take on full care of the horse despite not being the owner. Regardless of lease type, they are great practice for horse ownership.
RELATED: my guide to leasing a horse
Set a Horse Budget
One of the most important parts of deciding to buy a horse is figuring out your budget. You will not only need to decide how much you can and are willing to spend to buy the horse, but also the costs involved with keeping the horse (hint, use our horse budgeting printable) If you keep the horse on your own property, there needs to be adequate space, proper fencing, and a shelter for them. If you are keeping them at a local barn, consider the cost of boarding them (and know how to recognize the signs of a bad horse boarding barn). Then there are the costs of feed, bedding, supplies, and veterinary visits.
Decide What You Are Looking for in a Horse
The next most important part is deciding exactly what you are looking for in a horse. Keep in mind that the less experience the rider has, the more experienced the horse needs to be. It is important to find the balance of a horse that fits your child’s riding level now, yet one they can still grow into a bit so you aren’t back on the horse search in a year or two.
Key factors to consider are the age, size, and temperament of the horse. A middle-age to older horse (about 15 years and up) is generally great for beginner riders. Small children are sometimes more comfortable on smaller horses and ponies, but these types can be quickly outgrown. Temperament is really the biggest factor of the three to consider. Even some older horses can be too much of a handful for young riders, and some six-year old horses can be the perfect fit.
It is also important to take into account what type of riding your child wants to do. It is possible they don’t know yet, or change their mind every other week. This is fine. It just means you’ll want to find a versatile horse that can do many different types of riding so they can experiment.
If they do know exactly what they want to focus on, then it narrows down what type of horse you are looking for. For example, if they want to focus on jumping, it’s pretty safe to rule out most western pleasure horses.
Ask Around for Any Known Horses for Sale
It may be a good idea to ask your child’s instructor if they know of any horses for sale that would be a good fit. If another student is preparing to move on to a more challenging horse and needs to sell their current one, it could be a good opportunity for you to check out a horse that is already familiar to you.
Another good idea is to ask around the local tack/feed store to see if they know of any possible horses that would be a good fit. While you can always look online or in newspapers/magazines, oftentimes word of mouth is even better.
Take an Experienced Rider with You to Try Out the Horse
If you are relatively new to horses, it is always a good idea to bring someone else along with you to look at a potential horse. Most people selling their horses are honest and want the best for the horse and their new owner. However, there are some people out there who will take advantage of novices and oversell a horse while knowing they are not a good fit for the rider.
Having a second set of eyes to check out a horse never hurts. Ideally, the current owner should test ride the horse first, then either you or whomever you brought with you should ride before letting your child try them out. You want to make sure the horse is safe for them first.
Ask About Taking the Horse Home for a Trial
A really great option for trying out a horse is to see if the current owner is open to letting you take the horse home, or to where they will be boarded, on a trial basis. This could be for a few days or a couple of weeks. It will give you and your child an opportunity to get to know the horse better and ensure they are a good fit for each other. It will allow you to see how the horse does in new environments, what their personality is like, and how they behave when they get to know their rider better.
Buying a horse is not a decision you want to rush into, and a trial is a great way to know that you have found the right horse.
The most important part of buying a horse for your child is making sure that you have found the right horse for them. Matching the temperament, size, and skills of the horse to what your child needs now, and will need in the future, will set them up for success. This horse will be their best friend and teacher for years to come, and they will make countless memories together.