Finding the First Horse

A child’s relationship with his or her first horse can make or break the rest of their equine careers. Finding a safe, enjoyable mount that’ll serve the needs of a young, inexperienced rider is a tall task, though. Just how broke does a kid’s horse need to be, what type of training should he have, and what degree of soundness issues can you manage?
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Charlie Cole, of Highpoint Performance Horses in Pilot Point, Texas, is an American Quarter Horse Association Professional Horseman. He’s helped hundreds of riders get their start in the arena, and he knows a thing or two about gentle horses. Here are the elements he demands in a kid’s first horse.

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Young girl riding a white horse.

The relationship that a child has with their first horse is critical to building confidence in his or her horsemanship skills.

Safety First
When I’m looking for the first horse for a kid—whether that kid wants to eventually compete or not—I’m looking for safety first. A good, old gelding is really the best bet. I want a horse that’s been there and done that and isn’t easily excitable.

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Whoa
Above all else, I want a kid’s horse to stop. As long as he stops, we’ll be fine. If a kid pulls or says whoa, he has to stop. That’s a key safety issue.

Handle
I want a kid’s horse to guide pretty well. I don’t want him dragging a kid around the arena doing whatever he wants, but I’m also not looking for a horse that’s too quick to respond to the reins, either.

On the Ground
You want a gentle gamer, so that means you want a horse that’s gentle on the ground, too. Most importantly, a kid’s horse can’t be sensitive at all on his rear end or sensitive to the touch. I want to be able to grab his tail or hock without him reacting.

Soundness
There’s a fine line when it comes to soundness issues in been-there, done-that horses for kids. I’m most concerned with whether or not the horse is sure-footed. You can have some soundness issues and have a really good horse for a kid. I want a horse I know or have a really good history on, preferably one that’s been ridden by other kids. If the horse has a proven record as a safe kid’s horse, I don’t worry about what the x-rays say.

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Where to Look
Because having a history on a kid’s horse is so important, finding a horse through friends, family, or a trusted mentor is important. You don’t want anyone to unload a bronc on you for your kid, and you really don’t want something from a stranger sight unseen. This could be the most important horse you ever buy, so be sure to buy from someone who understands what your kid means to you. 

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