Horsin' around in the Hudson Valley

Sure it's fun, but here's the scoop on what kids gain from horseback riding

Benefits of horseback riding for kids

Horses are beautiful, powerful animals that often exude a spirit of gentleness and acceptance that children find irresistible. Riding can be a relaxing pastime or competitive sport, an individual activity or team experience. If your child is hooked on horses, here’s information to help you find the right place for her to start riding.

Kelly Pluchino of Pine Bush is almost as excited about her daughter’s riding lessons as Hailey is herself. Hailey is five years old; she started riding at age four. She takes one or two 30-minute private lessons twice a week. Kelly’s not a “horse person” but knew her daughter would love the experience.

“We took her to Mohonk and she did a pony ride there,” says Pluchino. “She loved it so much she kept telling us that she wanted to go riding again. I found a farm close to where we live that advertised a special introductory lesson package, and we went to try it out.”  When evaluating the facility and the instructor Pluchino says, “I took my cues from Hailey. She was totally comfortable there from the beginning.”

READ MORE: Best places to ride a horse in the Hudson Valley

Since Pluchino is an educator, her perspective on what her daughter is getting from her lessons is quite clear. She says the riding lessons “improve her balance and coordination.  She’s sharpening her ability to follow directions, and building awareness and focus.  Riding makes her use all her muscles and develops her decision-making skills. When her teacher tells her to do something, she has to apply everything she’s learned.”

Helen King, owner and head trainer of My Saddle Brook Farm in Walden, says, “Through riding, children learn self control. They learn how to be assertive without being violent. The horse teaches them responsibility because they experience the results of their actions immediately.”

Bill Denker, owner of Gardnertown Farm in Newburgh, says what kids get out of riding lessons varies, but, “Mostly I think they love the feeling of sitting on top of this big animal and the challenge of getting the horse to do what they’re asking. They find horses lovable; most kids aren’t afraid of them. Kids who go on to compete get the experience of mastery, really becoming one with the animal.”

Annette Mohr, co-owner and Head Trainer of Willow Hill Farm in Montgomery, adds that from riding children learn “compassion and discipline. They learn how to organize their time. Kids that have horses here with us do better in school. When they love riding, their passion helps them develop a great work ethic.”  So if you’ve got a toddler that lit up like a neon sign when he had his first pony ride, you may be wondering, when is he old enough to try a lesson?

“It’s certainly individual, but I have 3-year-olds who retain what they learn,” says King. Annette Mohr concurs that kids can start at “almost any age – 4, 5 and up in most cases as long as they have the desire and the ability to concentrate.”

At Gardnertown Farm, Bill Denker says, “We start them at age 3 or 4 with 15-minute walks, with an instructor leading.”

Mary Zak is a sometime freelance writer and a horseback riding trainer.