It's more than riding lessons and barn chores: Riding together is just one of the ways parents can help their kids have fun with horses. | Photo by Darrell Dodds
Is your child horse-crazy? Would you like to enhance the fun he or she has with horses? The options for doing so are limited only by your imagination and creativity. Here are a few suggestions, starting with those most appropriate for young children, to get you started:
Grooming play. Many youngsters, especially girls, love the "fussing over" aspect of grooming. Enhance the experience by providing her with her own set of child-sized grooming tools (they now come in bright, kid-friendly colors), and just-for-fun add-ons, such as glitter for manes/tails, coats and hooves.
The book Fun With Ponies And Horses, by Debby Sly (Hylas Publishing, 2003), also has terrific how-to's for braiding and "decorating" equines with ribbons, bows and quarter marks (those cute designs to comb or clip into the hair coat on a horse's hindquarters).
Dress-up. Costume play--supervised as appropriate, of course--is fun as an informal activity to celebrate a holiday or birthday, or as part of a special class at a show. Suggest a "Pony Parade" of costumed riders and mounts at your child's trainer's barn, or help your child prepare her horse at home for, say, a special Halloween photo.
Pony sleepovers. If you're an experienced horse person with the appropriate set-up at home, invite one of your child's horse-owning friends and her horse or pony over for a sleepover. Let the kids make breakfast bran mashes the next morning for their charges, then help them decorate or costume their four-legged friends (see above). Older children might prefer a picnic trail ride (supervised, as appropriate).
Games. There are countless mounted games that are not only fun, but also skill-building. Suggest a "games day" at your child's trainer's barn, or supervise one at home with your child's riding friends.
Find great suggestions as well as safety precautions in Games on Horseback, by Betty Bennett-Talbot and Steve Bennett (www.EquineNetworkStore.com or 1-800-952-5813).
Riding camps. These combine the fun of a summer-camp experience with the joys of riding. As with choosing a riding instructor, you should select a camp on the basis of safety standards and curriculum as well as on cost and location.
For tips on encouraging a child's love of horses, see "The Riding Family" column in the April 2006 issue of Horse & Rider. For more on all young equestrian topics, pick up a copy of Primedia's Growing Up With Horses: Parents' Handbook & Resource Guide, available wherever equestrian magazines are sold and through the online order form.
What are some of your childhood memories with horses? Do you have tips for parents who want to help their kids enjoy their horses? Come tell us about them in the Horse & Rider forum.