I would talk to her family doctor first. At that age she may still be at high risk for "shaken baby syndrome". I would not encourage riding until that risk is past as it doesn't take much to cause serious damage to the underdeveloped brain.
In my area, lessons for a child that age would be leadline lessons only (as per insurance requirements) and often require a parent to lead the pony (which makes so sense to me as often the parents are clueless about handling horses), so that is also something to ask about.
I'm nowhere near you (NC) but, yes, she can begin riding lessons at the right place. We teach them at the walk, with 2 adults (VERY IMPORTANT until child gets balance/the hang of it) - one of my instructors leading the horse, and the instructor at the childs side, typically with a hand on their calf/knee just in case. We work on stretching excersises, up/downs(posting the walk), 2 point, and play games (red light/green light, hide and seek - "hide" the human, have child steer horse to hidden human, etc - you're basically teaching steering/guiding while having fun, so they don't notice theyre learning lol). It is important to find an instructor who can teach AND entertain a child. We only teach the kids as long time-wise as they want to ride - alot of times it's just 15-20 minutes at first until they gradually get to 30 minutes. But there is certainly nothing wrong with teaching that young, as the child gets older or more competant when riding, the restrictions start to come off (hand off calf, down to one instructor when child can steer, etc). I am a ARIA certified instructor, and one of the few facilities that teaches 3-5 y.o.'s in our area. We have about 15 of them, and they're a blast! Certainly look into it, find a good teacher, and enjoy!!!
Last edited by D1nOnlyRocketPony; Apr. 8, 2012 at 04:20 PM.
My coach's usual age to start lessons is 6, but she did once make an exception for a particular 4 year old. This little girl had 2 years of longing lessons (mostly W/T) untill she was allowed "real" lessons around age 6 or so.
At 3, it's pretty much a lead-line pony ride situation. It may be fun for the child and adults (and that's OK), but it's not really a time where the child will be developing any particular skill for riding.
I would be inclined to wait a couple of years, and instead put the child in a toddler gymnastics program, which will develop physical coordination and some instruction-taking in hopefully a fun communal way. Programs like that are especially wonderful in winter time when going outside is not one of the choices, and as a mom I very much looked forward to those classes! I could sit and watch while being absolved of supervision for a bit once she got to age 4-5 and the kids worked without parents.
If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket
I would not start a child with riding lessons until at least 6. Some studies I have read have shown that a children below the age of 8 have no advantage in starting riding lessons. That is, they do not learn muscle coordination, control or balance any quicker and younger than 8, it can actually take longer the younger the child is.
Anyway, since they are so little, so much is still developing and their attention span is so relatively short - I would not worry about lessons. Start with pony rides (which my niece loves, even though we walk around in a circle and she 'jumps' poles on the ground). If she keeps asking about horses into kindergarten, buy her some riding lessons and go from there. This is the plan with my niece.
I agree that 3 is a bit young for lessons. At that age ,all it is is a pony ride ,and she is not going to be able to gain skills and make progress for a very long time.It would also concern me that if the child should fall at that age ,she could be very badly hurt.Doing anything more than being led around with a spotter by her side would be pretty risky. Kids that age just do not have enough motor skills to be safely balanced,and they can not even manage to keep a hold of the reins to have any control whatsoever..If you can find someone with a suitable lunge line pony,then at 5 they may be able to start on the lunge. I personally do not like to start them before 7,although I did teach a 4 year old.She was on the lunge for many months ,and we got a suitable small pony that she was able to walk and trot on her own.The mother got angry with me ,as she was paying for Horseback riding lessons,not pony riding lessons ,and demanded her daughter ride a horse. When I demonstrated to her that her tiny daughter could not manage a horse on her own,and she was making more progress on the pony,actually riding and controlling it ,the mother and daughter went elsewhere.But I digress.
The point it that she is probably not going to get much out of formal lessons for a few more years.
I used to teach a 4 year old boy. He had begged his parents to ride a horse ever since he could move his lips. haha. I seriously think that he was the most excited student that I have ever had. His eyes lit up whenever he saw the horses.
It was always a lead line situation. He rode once a week for half an hour. Mostly walking. Fortunately I was a preschool teacher so we did a lot of counting steps/things in the ring and he would steer the horses into different letters and shapes. He would do tiny bits of trotting but it was with me holding his leg and it would be on a smaller pony with a smooth trot.
I WAS a proud member of the *I'm In My 20's and Hope to Be a Good Rider Someday* clique..but now I am 30!!!!!!!!!!!
My new blog about my Finger Lakes Finest: She Ain't No Small Potato!
At three LMEqT was just led around when she wanted to be. No pressure, nothing else. She did that for a year. I thought I would die of boredom and anticipation! So if you can delay... It might be best.
"Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
--- The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.
Having taught a LOT of kids to ride, back in the day.....
You can't do real lessons with a child this young. You can do leadline pony ride type outings. I had a test that I would do to see if a child was ready to really follow instructions. I would talk with the parents and the child, and find something to hand the child - a hoofpick or brush, something small and easy to hold. I'd keep on talking to the parents, then look at the child, SMILE, and say, "Drop it, please." Some kids would drop the hoof pick right away. Others would look confused, then reluctantly put the thing down - not drop - but place it on the floor. The kids I would turn down were the ones who would look very worried, look at me, their parents, the hoof pick, me, their parents, the hoof pick, all the while getting more and more worried and upset because they didn't understand, and would not do as I said until they understood.
You will get a lot more bang for your buck if you take her to someone who has good lunge line lesson horses, and she is lunged until she can post, drop and recover one stirrup, etc. One develops muscle memory so mush faster on the lunge line. Lessons like this can alternate with play lessons, where she rides off the lead or lunge line at a walk on a horse that turns easily, and she can snake her way down a line of cones or walk over a row of poles.
At that age I would not do lessons. I would introduce the child to horses and let them have a chance to learn to like them first, pony rides, brushing, etc. Not that you would ever let them wander alone but teach them some safety rules. Children that age have short attention spans so don't burn them out on horses before their brains can handle the physical and mental challanges. Letting them learn a little balance and a few very simple steering skills while on a lead is probably enough challange in an ever growing body.
I let my daughter start "formal" lessons at four. I say "let" because she begged and pleaded and wanted nothing else but to ride, and at the time I did not have a horse at all, let alone a suitable pony.
It was difficult finding a place for her to start, as everyone said she was too young and "wouldn't learn anything". Also, the "glorified pony rides" concept came up. But this was a girl who wanted nothing else. I finally found the BEST riding teacher for her, and yes there was a leadline on her pony for about six months but she learned a lot and most important she had FUN, which is what we sometimes forget about. She also learned about being around horses, grooming (mostly legs at that point), taking care of tack, etc. She looked forward to her weekly lessons and I don't regret for one minute starting her out at four! I'll add that the lessons were 1/2 hour and the instructor mixed things up a lot for her, added in 'fun' things. She didn't try to turn her into an instant W/T superstar ready for the show ring. I think that was important at that age.
I started my own daughter when she just turned 4. That said, if I could go back, I'd definitely do things differently. It's kind of like taking piano lessons. Sure, a 3 year old can start piano lessons, but things that take an average 8 year old a few hours to learn can take an average 3 year old several weeks to learn because their brains just aren't ready for it.
At 3 or 4, time on horseback should be limited to about 20 minutes tops. Most of the time should be spent on just getting used to horses and learning about them and enjoying their company. A 3 year old isn't ready for equitation or rein management or anything that goes along with solo riding. A 3 year old should only be led and then gradually work up to a lunge line.
For that reason, I wish I'd saved the $$. I spent lots of money on lessons for my 4 year old--and it took her an entire year of riding before she was ready to even attempt a trot. I could have saved that money and it wouldn't have set her back in terms of riding skills at all.
And be sure you find an instructor with experience with very young children. It is a very different thing to teach a young child...takes different vocabulary and creative thinking. And after the first few lessons, children get very bored very easily if the instructor doesn't add a lot of variety to the lessons. My instructor learned this from my children.
We teach leadline lessons for Culpeper Co. Parks and Rec for kids starting at age 4. We have had a few 3 year olds sneak in. It's really a matter of attention span for them. 30 minutes is a long time on a horse.
Our kids do well.... they learn the concept of steering, jumping position, halting, and what a trot feels like (it's done in hand with a side walker). We play lots of games. It's a sweet class to have and we like the little ones.