FAQ FOR New eq moms
Below is an overview of some Common questions we receive from new Equestrian Moms. Have a look, and as always, feel free to contact us if you still have questions!
AT WHAT AGE CAN A CHILD BEGIN RIDING?
There are several factors that go into the answer of this question. My daughter started at 4, but I have seen other 4 year olds who have not been successful and needed to wait until they were 6 or 7. I think some of the best ways to determine whether you child is old enough to ride are:
- Are your child's legs long enough to go down the side of the horse? This is a product of how fast they grow. The child's legs need to NOT stick out to the sides when on a horse but must be able to wrap around the horse's belly. This is called "contact". A rider must be able to have "contact" with the horse's sides in order to give the horse signals. If the child doesn't have the appropriate "contact" it's just a pony ride for the child and they will need to start over when their legs are a little longer.
- The child needs to be able to listen to the trainer and translate what they are hearing into action. This means, can the child take direction? This is usually a function of their ability to focus which doesn't happen at the same age for all kids. If your child is easily distracted, you probably should wait a couple of years.
- The child needs to know the difference between their right and left hand. I know, this sounds silly but when riding, the trainer will call out 'tighten the grip on your right hand,' and the child needs to understand which hand the trainer is referring.
- The trainer you choose must be willing to accept a student of your child's age. Many trainers do not want to work with younger kids BUT there are also plenty of trainers who specialize in working with younger kids. On this one, you will need to do your homework.
IS RIDING HORSES SAFE?
No sport is totally safe and equestrian sports are no exception. In recent years it has been recognized that participants in hockey, football and soccer, for example, run a very high risk of experiencing concussions. Other types of accidents happen all over the sports world even when a player is trying to be very careful and follow all of the safety rules. In fast moving activities that are very competitive and where participants are always testing the limits of their skills, accidents can, and do happen. Injuries in sports run the gamut of small cuts and sprained ankles to ones that can be truly life threatening.
The difference with equestrian sports is that each participant competes in a team of two; one member of the team is an animal. Horses have been domesticated for thousands of years. People have lived with, worked with and enjoyed horses as partners in every part of the world almost from the beginning of mankind. However, domesticated is very different from tame. Domesticated means that horses have come to be comfortable interacting with us in hundreds of different ways and comfortable depending on people for their sustenance. Tame refers to an animal that has lost its natural instincts, and this is not true of horses.
Horse accidents most often result from human error, or a horse acting upon instinct. Horse's instincts are demonstrated by behaviors such a shying away from a rock on the ground or a blowing leaf for absolutely no reason and without warning. Riders who don't understand this become complacent with their horses and treat their horses like lap dogs so that when a horse suddenly acts out because they are spooked, the rider (whether on the horse or on the ground around the horse) can get hurt.
One of the equestrian daughters has already had two serious concussions. One happened while she was mounted on her horse and the other while unloading a horse from a trailer. Both incidents were a result of a horse acting on instinct. The horses weren't being "bad", they were just being horses and they reacted unexpectedly: once throwing her to the ground and once when a stumble caused her to punch herself in the face.
By in large however, equestrian sports can be as safe as most other sports; but you need to stay alert at all times and never, ever take your horse's behavior for granted.
Other safety measures that also help to ensure a safe experience are:
1. Always ride with a correct fitting helmet 2. Wear closed toe shoes while riding or working in the barn 3. Use break away halters 4. Respect space between horses 5. Dont create loud or sudden noises around the horses
There are many more rules to follow to help further ensure safety around horses but these are the main ones to get you started. So, be alert around the horses, adhere consistently to the above rules, use common sense and you will find riding both enjoyable and safe.
WOULD A TEAM SPORT BE BETTER FOR MY CHILD?
We understand any parent's desire to have their child participate in team sports. Team sports are an ideal way to learn how to work together with other players, the benefits of dedication and hard work, learning how to win and lose gracefully, and, most importantly, the value of teamwork to accomplish goals. All of these skills will serve a child well throughout their life.
At first glance, riding a horse does not appear to be a team sport and in the normal sense of the term, it is not.
And yet it is. Riding horses is a great way to develop responsibility especially because part of riding is leaning how to care for your horse which means grooming, perhaps feeding and eventually mucking their stall. If your child rides their horse at home alone, they won’t get the benefits of teamwork which is why we recommend getting involved in 4H, Pony Club, or ride in a barn that has active teams and boarders. Participating in an equestrian sport in one of these clubs is comparable to participation in other team sports and provides the same opportunity. to learn the benefits of teamwork.
HOW DO I CHOOSE A BARN OR STABLE WHERE MY CHILD CAN TAKE THEIR FIRST LESSONS?
Choosing the first barn where your child will be taking lessons can be difficult and trust me, there is no easy way to go about it. By rough count, before my daughter started high school, she had taken lessons at between 8-12 different barns and stables in 4 different states. I think I got pretty good at how to go about it. I made a few bad choices, but overall, my daughter had good experiences at most all of the places where she took lessons.
Through trial and error, I developed a 5 step process to help me make barn selections. I share it with you to help get you comfortable in "barn shopping".
Step 1: Answer these questions for any barn you are considering. Can you afford to pay for lessons there? AND, How close is it to your home and will the distance be doable for weekly or bi weekly lessons? Once you have determined that the answer to both questions is "yes" then it's time to tour the barn without your child.
Step 2: Schedule a tour of the property with the trainer or owner. As you walk around the barn and paddocks, actively observe what you see and answer these questions to yourself: Does the facility look clean and well taken care of? Do the horses look happy and well cared for? Do the riders on the property look happy? Do they seem to be having fun? If any of these questions can not be immediately answered "yes" don't bother to continue researching this facility. It is probably not a place you want your child to learn how to ride.
Step 3: If the facility passes step 2, then start asking your tour guide about the ages of current students riding there. (A mostly adult facility will not be as fun and may be really intimidating to your inexperienced young rider. Generally kids like to ride where there are other kids.) Ask a little about the students who ride there. As the trainer or barn manager talks about his/her riders, listen carefully for references to riders not getting along, gossip among the group or if it sounds as though there many be "favorites" on the property whether they are people or horses. Also try to find out how serious the riders there seem to be about showing. A barn where riders are overly focused on the competitive aspect of riding, may be intimidating to your child. ( In virtually all barns, stables or ranches you will typically find some of these issues. The key for a beginning rider is to gauge whether any of these things reaches a level that will hinder your child's success as he/she begins to ride.)
Step 4: After the tour, if it is allowed, wander back around the facility and give it a gut check. Dont back away from what your gut is telling you even if you have heard only wonderful things about the operation. If you sense something is not right, just not what you thought it would be, or something just gives you a weird feeling, trust your gut. Dont start to second guess yourself because you don't know anything about horses. You may not be an expert on horses, but you are THE expert regarding your child. Any bad feeling, means this particular place is not for you or your child. Walk away. I cant emphasize this enough. The Mom gut check trumps all.
Step 5: Tour the property a second time, but this time include your child. (Do not have your child accompany you as you go through the 4 steps above. Doing so will only cause heartbreak and drama for both of you. Trust me, YOUR CHILD WILL LIKE EVERY BARN. So if you decide this particular barn is not the right place for your child to start riding, having to say "no honey, you aren't going to be able to take lessons here after all", will not go well). Take your child to visit only facilities that you have already determined meet the criteria of the first 4 steps. Ask your child for their input after the tour and make the final decision together.
Equestrian Moms, try not to let yourself become overwhelmed by having to make the choice of where your child should start their lessons. It is possible to change barns almost as easily as you can change your nail polish if that is what is necessary to find the right fit for your young rider. Don't feel locked in to any choice you make no matter what the trainer or barn owner may say. If you think it is not the right place for your child at any time, move to another facility. Trust your Equestrian Mom gut and change that nail polish! :)
SHOULD MY CHILD ATTEND SUMMER CAMP?
Summer camp is a great way to introduce your child to horses. If it's a riding camp, they will definitely get lots of good instruction and saddle time! If it's a day camp that offers horseback riding, they will get some exposure.
Both of these are great options because then you will know much more quickly if your child really wants to ride, or if it's a passing phase. We highly recommend! They can be great stepping stones.
DO KIDS RIDE OUTSIDE IN ALL KINDS OF WEATHER?
Yes! As long as it's not dangerous (i.e. lightning or blizzard/hurricane/tornado conditions), your child can be out riding.
If your child has a standing lesson, the instructor will expect your child to be at the lesson unless she or he has communicated otherwise.
It's great character building to ride in all kinds of weather! Plus, if your child is dreaming of showing, the show must go on, and they will be riding in the cold, the heat, the wind, and the rain. Sometimes even the snow!
Please do use common sense and dress your child (and your horse!) appropriately for the weather, and ALWAYS drink lots of water.
HOW DO I KNOW WHAT SIZE HELMET MY CHILD SHOULD WEAR?
We believe the best place to get fitted is your local tack store. It's best to have your child try on the different types. They might have an oval vs. round head, and they might not be able to tell you this without trying on the helmet. "Pinching" on the sides or the front of the head is common, and indicative that your child should be wearing a differently shaped helmet.
Nowadays, there are adjustable helmets so that your child can keep the same helmet for longer as they grow. Fancy and smart! Troxel, Ovation, and Tipperary are great brands to start out.
Make sure the helmet is ASTM/SEI certified for the best protection for your child's head.
Equestrian Moms supports the wearing of helmets for every ride on every horse!
HOW CAN I EDUCATE MYSELF WHEN IT COMES TO HORSES?
I certainly understand the feeling-and still to this day-even after being an Equestrian Mom for over 26 years, I often still feel "dumb" when is comes to Equestrian Sports.
The first place I started to educate myself was by talking with other moms of kids who were riding. More often than not, we would learn from each other and when that failed, we supported each other in our struggle to keep up with what our kids were learning. This feeling of inadequacy is actually the reason that I felt compelled to start Equestrian Moms. As an EM, we support our children, pay for their lessons, celebrate their successes and try to provide comfort to them when a lesson doesn't go well. But, if we are not riders ourselves, we can feel left behind as our children become more and more proficient in their sport.
Why do we as non riding Equestrian Moms feel- this way?
I have been watching football games with my husband for over 30 years. I enjoy watching the games (sometimes) and cheering for my team, but I actually know less about the rules and intricacies of football than I do about equestrian sports! It seems that I don't have to know every little detail about football to enjoy the games.
In high school, my son began playing the bass guitar. He played in a rock band and during his senior year was named All State in Bass Guitar. I loved watching him perform. I admired all of the time he spent taking lessons and practicing and I am delighted that he still plays in a band today. He now plays in a professors only band in Florida, and I am very proud of him. I still cant read music, and for some reason, I don't feel bad about that at all.
Would reading music enhance my enjoyment of his playing? I don't know. So why do those of us who are non riding EM feel so inadequate when we don't know every little detail about equestrian sports? Guilt? Our children expecting us to? Trainers seemingly talking down to us? It does seem silly though when compared to what I know about of football or music!
The other suggestion I have for learning the basics of horsemanship came from a friend. She advised to get a copy of "The United States Pony Club Manual of Horsemanship: Basics for Beginners - D Level (Book 1)" and read it. As it turned out, whether your child is a member of Pony Club or not, this manual is a trove of information for Equestrian Moms. I wish I would have discovered it a couple years earlier than I did. It is written to be an educational manual for beginning riders, and is written very clearly and goes through all of the basics of beginning Horsemanship: how to take care of a horse, what tack to use and why, safety rules, and a myriad of other information that soon you will be hearing your child talk about. The manual is only about $20 and can be ordered through the USPC website or on Amazon.
So, non riding Equestrian Moms, let's cut ourselves a little slack, get ourselves the Pony Club Manual and remember, we don't have to be able to read music to enjoy it!
PRICE TAG OF "MOMMY, CAN I HAVE A PONY?"
I have a friend who worked for a major bank advising high net worth clients. She always said that no matter how much money a client had, she would advise them to spend on anything but airplanes and horses. Yup, excellent advice for even those who have high net worth, or maybe even more important for the rest of us.
Horses cost money. Money is a barrier of entry into equestrian sports for most beginning riders unless you live on a farm and can board a horse. The cost makes sense, when you think about it, because equestrian sports require you to pay for the participation of 2 living beings unlike hockey, dance or basketball. This means that you have to buy "uniforms" for two, feed two, get equipment for two and the list goes on. The joke my equestrian mom friends and I regularly told each other was how other moms would complain about how much their kids' dance costumes were or how much it really cost to keep a son on a traveling hockey team. The equestrian moms would laugh out loud. Really? You don't have to feed, dress, train and house a hockey stick!
I want to tell you though, that there are ways to navigate the costs especially in the beginning so that as an equestrian mom you don't need to jeopardize your kids' college fund or your retirement. Stay tuned to get realistic advice on how to handle costs from fellow equestrian moms who have already navigated this issue.
HOW MUCH DO HORSES COST?
Horses range in price from free to millions of dollars for a winning racehorse. We realize this is not a very helpful answer so let's try to be more specific.
The price of a horse is determined by the following factors:
- Level of training
- Show record
Think about these factors when considering any horse purchase. For example, an Olympic horse may be $100,000 or more because the horse has a high degree of training, is in excellent health, has a winning show record and is of an age that the horse would be expected to be able to compete for a number of years. A $1,000 horse, on the other hand, might have no show record at all, be either very old or very young and have had a limited amount of training. These examples demonstrate the dilemma a new Equestrian Mom will have in purchasing their child a horse.
The horse that is healthy, and has a great deal of training so that it is both safe for a beginning rider AND can help teach the child how to ride is potentially $10,000-20,000 which typically is far too much money to spend on a first horse. The alternative is a young, green horse (a horse that has little or no training), OR an older, solid horse who potentially will have costly health problems. Neither alternative is ideal so, by default, too many Equestrian Moms end up buying a young, green horse for their child's first mount.
A young inexperienced rider on a young inexperienced horse is a recipe for problems. The horse doesn't know what they are supposed to be doing and neither does the rider. This combination is seen all too often and very often results in the child becoming frustrated, scared to ride or worse, hurt.
Our suggestion for a beginning rider is to take advantage of the school horses at the barn where they take lessons. There is no real need to buy a horse for your child as soon as they start taking lessons. There is lots to learn on horses that are used to being lesson horses, and they will be much more forgiving for a new rider. Dont rush to buy a horse until you have a very clear understanding of the kind of horse you want and what kind of riding you want to do with it. When the time does come to consider buying, ask for the opinions of your child's trainer and the other parents at the barn becasue it can be a tricky transaction and one you don't want to enter in without a lot of information from a variety of people.
HOW MUCH DO BEGINNING LESSONS COST?
In a previous answer, I spoke about how extremely expensive a horse hobby can be. Luckily, it is not particularly expensive for your child to get started. Beginning riding lessons can be taken as private lessons, just your child and the trainer, or group lessons which would include several children at the same riding ability.
Lessons are also usually 30 minutes to one hour. Taking these factors into account, a group lesson of 45-60 minutes will be the most cost effective and usually more fun for the beginning rider because they can ride with others their own age and make friends.
Depending on what part of the country you live, beginning group lessons will cost anywhere from $35-100 an hour. I usually paid about $35 a group lesson for my beginning rider. These typical prices would probably be for a once a week expenditure and fall into the ballpark of gymnastic/dance classes.
Beware: its easy to get talked into additional weekly lessons for your child and additional barn activities and parties, which all come with a price tag of their own. A lot of these extra activities are very beneficial to your young rider and provide excellent opportunities to socialize with the kids at the barn, but they will not be without cost. My suggestion is to try almost everything offered once, to learn which activities are worth participating in and which are not. Equestrian Moms, learn to say "no", it will serve you well throughout your child's riding career.
HOW QUICKLY DO COSTS ESCALATE?
Depending on your child the trainer costs can escalate fairly quickly. As your child starts to enjoy her lessons, she will want to take 2 per week, thus doubling your lesson costs.
The trainer may start suggesting that your child would benefit from buying or leasing a horse.
The kids start wanting to buy and wear fun-colored, riding outfits. Which is followed by buying matching their outfits to their horses tack colors.
Within 6 months of starting to ride, the trainer will suggest competing in a schooling show. This is a show that is not recognized by official horse organizations and is generally conducted at a barn or field, and done just for fun. Schooling shows are a wonderful way for your child to demonstrate their riding skills outside of a lesson and maybe even earn a ribbon too.
Watching your kids perform at shows is one of the most rewarding parts of being an Equestrian Mom. However, the experience doesn't come cheaply. Here is a run down of expenses you may encounter when participating in a schooling show:
- Trailering charges to get the horse your child is riding to the show location: $60-150
- Show entry fees: Vary greatly but in a very informal show can start at $5 a class to $25 or more
- Monies to contribute for food to feed the riders: $10-30 a parent
- Trainer fees: these are fees paid to your child's trainer to help coach your child at the show and can run from $50-300 depending on the length of the show and in how many classes your child is riding
Not every schooling show will have all of these charges and costs are estimates, but you get the idea.
As your young rider begins to become a confident horsewoman, she will undoubtedly want to step up her learning curve. This could mean 2-3 lessons a week, but at this stage the lessons would be private so that the rider gets exclusive training. The shows that she would be competing in would migrate from backyard schooling shows to recognized shows. Recognized shows are shows that are sanctioned and governed by the rules of a national horse organization such as USDF or USEF. These organizations exist for every riding discipline and competing in them is a usual goal for an upcoming rider. This is where the money gets big!
- Trailering charges would be longer and often charged at $1-2 a mile
- Show entry frees can be in the hundreds of dollars per class
- Participation in a recognized show requires purchasing a membership for both the rider AND the horse with approximate costs per membership around $200-300 annually
- Trainer fees increase to $500-1000 a day
- If the show is out of town it would also involve booking a hotel or camping, food, gas to get there and the list goes on
- The apparel that the rider is required to wear is often dictated by the discipline as is much of the horse tack. The expense for this is $0 to infinity.
- Some shows require vet checks, stabling fees for overnight boarding in a multi day show and grooming services such as braiding
Costs for shows escalate as your rider progresses through their discipline up to and including International events or the Olympics. In which case you would add expenses for both horse and rider to secure a passport and transportation for the horse could be across the country or by air across the world.
Don't worry, most of our young riders will never get to International events, but I hope I have summarized for you the progression of costs as your rider turns into a professional horsewoman. At the highest levels of competition, the expenses are virtually out of reach for an average middle-class family, but rest assured there are ways that costs can be reduced. That is a topic for another time.
CAN RIDING HORSES GET MY KID A COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIP?
This is a very unusual question to ask when you child is just starting to learn to ride, but the answer is YES!
There are many Division 1 Colleges and Universities that have Intercollegiate Riding Teams, and those schools are the ones who actively recruit rider athletes with full and partial scholarships. There are also a sizeable number of private schools that offer scholarships. The trick to getting a scholarship, as in any sport, is to be a "stand out" in your sport with a proven track record of success. This is as true in equestrian sports as in baseball or football. I have found that particularly private colleges are more likely to consider a wider range of students for scholarships based on academic performance and other elements that schools use to judge applicants. My daughter ended up receiving a $10,000 equestrian scholarship at Hollins University for example. The money did not cover tuition, but it made it possible for her to attend the university and participate in their riding program. One thing she ran into though was that the competitive riding team competed in Hunter Jumper shows. My daughter was an Eventor at that time and although she had a great deal of time in the saddle and was a member of the Riding Team she competed very little. It wasn't her particular discipline of riding.
So, Yes, Equestrian Scholarships are available and to riders of all disciplines from English to Western to Polo. A great website to consult for more information is: college scholarships.org. And, once your child starts riding, there are smaller scholarships that are given to riders from The United States Pony club and many of the breed organizations.
Getting a college scholarship, in my opinion, is not a great reason to start riding, BUT its a great reason to continue once you and your child are hooked on horses.