Whether you’re considering learning to horseback ride yourself, or are thinking about your child learning you might be wondering what the best age to start learning is. As a riding instructor, this is something I’m often asked which is why I thought it would be a good idea to write an article about what the best age to learn to ride was.
When should you start learning to ride a horse? If you have your own horse, are able to give proper supervision, and your child is able to hold themselves up they can learn to ride a horse. Most riding schools won’t allow children under 6 to ride though.
There’s no question that the best time to learn to ride a horse is right now but if you’re planning ahead for a child or are worried that you’re too old then you might be wondering when you should begin lessons. If this is you then read on to find out when the best time to learn is as well as what else you need to take into consideration when thinking about learning to horseback ride.
What is the best age to learn to ride a horse?
We all know that our brains are like sponges and absorb much more when we’re younger (which is why you go to school when you’re young) but there’s more to horseback riding than just being able to learn to ride. Of course, it’s easier to pick up a new skill but while you need to have mental dexterity, you also need to have a good level of focus, be able to follow instructions, and have a good level of fitness.
While a 5 year old may have the ability to learn quickly they may not have the concentration and can get distracted easily. Conversely, while a teenager may be able to stay focused they may not be as fit. All of this goes to show that no two people are the same and that we all develop at different rates which makes it practically impossible to give a definitive age.
Now I know that sounds like I’m avoiding answering the question (believe me I’m not), it’s just not possible to pinpoint a single age. Instead, it’s better to say that it’s best to learn between the ages of 9 and 16. This is because your brain is still pliable enough to learn but you’re also more likely to have the focus and fitness needed.
Learning at this early stage of life also has the added bonus of giving you the opportunity to have a full life of horses, something that I’m extremely grateful for myself (I learned at the age of 5). And of course, if you do fall off you’ll be less likely to hurt yourself, especially if you’ve already learned how to fall safely.
Am I too old to learn to ride a horse?
Just because it might be easier to learn when we’re younger it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn to ride when you get into your 20s (or even your 30s, 40s, 50s, etc). As long as you have the mental capacity to learn, are fit enough to control the horse and maintain your balance, and can physically get on the horse (even if it’s only with a mounting block) then you can learn to ride a horse.
In fact, there are a few reasons why learning to horseback ride at an older age may actually be better. While a child will of course have better mobility, a total lack of fear, and better ‘bounce ability’, as an adult you’re a lot more mature which definitely has its advantages. It means that you’re more willing to learn, are honest about your ability, and are willing (and able) to learn from your mistakes which means you’re far more likely to learn quicker. You also understand that you can really benefit from watching others and then learn from them.
With all of this in mind, there’s no reason at all why you can’t learn to ride at the age of 70 or 80, as I say, so long as you can get on the horse. You might be worried that, if you learn at that age, you won’t be able to ride for very long but don’t worry. The late Queen Elizabeth II was riding right up until her death at the age of 96.
If you are worried about any health issues though please speak to your doctor before you start riding. They’ll be able to advise you on the best course of action for you.
Still worried you’re too old to learn? Why you’re NEVER too old to ride.
Is my child too young to learn to ride a horse?
Of course, a child can learn to horseback ride as soon as they’re able to hold themselves upright but that doesn’t mean they should be riding at such a young age as there are other factors you need to consider first.
If you have your own horse and are able to supervise your child properly then there’s no reason they couldn’t start riding at this age. In fact, the Nez Percé Indians would regularly strap toddlers into the saddle so they would learn from such a young age, even if they did fall asleep!
In order to be able to ride (or at least get the most out of riding lessons) a child would need to be able to concentrate for at least 30 minutes (I wouldn’t recommend a young child having longer lessons), and take instruction from an adult they don’t know. They should also be sensible enough to understand they can’t run around screaming when there are horses about.
Most people don’t have the luxury of owning their own horse so have to look for a riding school to teach their child which is where an age limit often comes into play. A lot of riding schools won’t even consider a child that’s younger than 5 or 6, in part due to physical ability and mental focus, but also due to the requirements of their liability insurance.
With this in mind, it’s important to say that your child can learn to ride at any age as long as they’re capable of learning and that the riding school will allow it.
TIP: When looking for a riding school that teaches young children look for one that offers summer camps, they often have horses and ponies that are more suitable for young children.
Do I need to be fit to learn to ride a horse?
There’s a common misconception that horseback riding is easy as the horse does all of the work but any rider will tell you that this simply isn’t true. Riding is far more demanding, physically, than you realize and you’ll find you’re using your entire body.
That doesn’t mean you need to be super fit to learn to ride but having even a basic level of fitness will help you get the most out of your lessons (and will reduce your tiredness after). Even if you are fit though horseback riding uses muscles that you don’t normally use so you’ll ache and be sore at first.
Horseback riding isn’t about brute strength though, it’s about your core strength which can easily be improved with a few simple exercises. If you want to know which exercise can help you improve your core strength, check out my recent article: 9 core exercises equestrians swear by.
Do I need my own horse before I learn to ride?
Having your own horse means that you can ride whenever you want to and that you’ll always ride the same horse but that doesn’t mean you need to have your own. Most (if not all) riding schools have their own horses that they use to teach new riders.
What to do if you do want to learn to ride a horse?
If you’ve decided that you or your child want to learn to horseback ride you’ll need to think about having some lessons. They may be expensive but having a good instructor will not only help you to get the most out of your time in the saddle but you’ll also learn quicker because you’ll be learning in the right way.
Not sure what to look for in an instructor? How to find the right instructor for you.
As well as finding a good riding instructor you’ll always want to think about if you want to learn on your own (in private lessons) or with others (in group lessons). I recently wrote an article about whether private or group lessons are better.
When you first start learning to ride you might want to kit yourself out fully in specialist clothing but this can be expensive and isn’t necessary immediately. You can find out what you need to wear in my beginner’s guide to horseback riding attire.
Are you wondering how long it takes to learn to ride? Don’t worry I’ve covered this in ‘How long does it take to learn to ride, from beginner to expert’.
If you’re not sure what sort of riding you want to do then you should check out my articles on the most popular disciplines as well as on the differences between Western and English riding.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉