Even if your child is begging you to get them more involved with horses, there are some things you may want to do before you sign them up for riding lessons. Horseback riding is not something you jump right into, it is better to be prepared, than to be sorry.
The one requirement for horseback riding is a boot with a heel. Although some stables will allow a rider in running shoes these are very dangerous. A running shoe can go right through the stirrup. If thrown the riders foot may be caught whereas a boot with a heel is made to prevent this.
Riding helmets are also a good piece of safety equipment for any young rider. Riding helmets can be expensive but can be purchased used, or can sometimes be borrowed while a young rider tries to decide if riding is something they want to pursue more.
One of the first times that children have the opportunity to ride a horse is on a public trail ride. Each place that operates trail rides is different. Very young children can go on a pony ride where the pony is often led around by a handler. Older children can go on proper trail rides where the horses generally follow one another on a path. There is very little riding skill involved in going on a trail ride but it lets the parents know if the child actually does enjoy being up on a horse or not.
Children can get more involved with horses by taking riding lessons. These can be private, semi-private, or group lessons. One thing to consider is if the riding lessons also have a component on how to care for the horses or not. Another consideration is if the riding lessons are English or Western. Western saddles feel more secure, but English allows a child to be more “in tune” with their mount by providing a closer contact.
Of course no horseback riding starts without getting on. This is called mounting. Horses are large and can be intimidating, they should never be approached from behind. The child should be allowed to approach the horse from the side or ahead but just off to the side as horses cannot see well directly in front of them. Allow the child to pat the horse on its neck or side of head. They should only be allowed to pat the center of the horse's head if the child is slower moving, otherwise it may spook the horse, which in turn can scare the child.
The parent can then ask if the child is ready to get on, and either lift the child onto the horse, or have them mount correctly. The horse should be allowed to stand for a moment so the child feels secure and then when the child is ready the horse can be asked to walk ahead. If the child panics the horse can be stopped and the parent can wait to see how the child feels about continuing.
Inevitably there may come a time when the child does fall off. When this happens they should be encouraged to get back on if even only for a short time. They should at least continue for a short, easy walk, to regain their confidence.
If pushed too hard, or strong demands are made on a child, they will lose their enthusiasm for riding.