If you've spent much time around any youth sports—from baseball to soccer to junior rodeo—you've seen it: Parents wanting their child to win more than that child does.
While that dilemma is problematic in any pursuit, in equine sports, it can be flat dangerous.
"For one, everybody wants to win," Casey Branquinho, our SafeStart expert and California cow-horse trainer, said. "I see parents over-mount their young kids because they want to be competitive, and the kid is hanging on for dear life with the horse just doing whatever it does. Unless you're a professional horse trainer or trying to make the NFR, this is supposed to be fun. If your kid is intimidated and cannot pull the horse to a stop, it's not fun. That goes for any age, really."
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Sure, there are kids who somehow gentle-down a sale-barn find that bucked off every previous owner, or youth who beat up on all the professionals at the big shows, but those are the exception, not the rule.
Overmounting kids can have lasting negative side effects, Branquinho said, but still many parents fall for this too-common trap.
The Problems with Overmounting
1. Injury. "Some people selling horses will tell parents 'Your kid can grow into this horse.' But that's rarely the case. Kids' horses should be slow, steady, and enjoyable. If a kid is intimidated by a horse, then it's too much horse. In every situation, the kid should be able to pull the horse to a stop safely. I've seen too many kids plow through crowds or other horses in warm up pens, and it's just flat dangerous."
2. Lost interest. "I've seen kids lose interest because they were too scared when put on a horse that was way too much for them time and time again. It's like Little League parents putting their kid in a division they're not ready for. They get hit with a line drive or a pitch and boom, they never want to play again."
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3. Setting the bar too high. "I've also seen junior rodeo parents spend everything they have for their kids in the 12-and-under division to have a $30,000 horse. That horse won't last forever, and now your kid is used to the best horse there is. Will you have $60,000 to move your child up to the next great horse at that point? Because it will be hard to lower their expectations when they're used to the best. Plus, those kids aren't learning how to ride one and make one early on. I'm not saying kids should be on broncs by any means, but there's something to be said for working at it on something that isn't 100% NFR caliber right off the bat."
The biggest rule to follow when looking for a kid's horse is making sure your child can stay in control at all times.
"That means tied to the trailer, in the warm-up pen, in the arena, on the trail, wherever they are," Branquinho said. "Just don't live through your kids by putting them on too much horse. This is supposed to be fun for everybody." H&R