By Ken McNabb, originally published in Ride Magazine, reprinted here with permission from the author

It is very important to choose the right horse for your kids. Not only do you need to choose a mount that will keep them safe, you need to choose something that matches their personality and riding and training level so they will enjoy the time they spend in the saddle. There’s nothing worse than seeing a kid who has a horse that is way beyond their ability level and an unsafe mount. They won’t have any fun, and they are likely to get hurt. They may be so intimidated that they lose all their enjoyment of riding and quit entirely.

What makes a good kid’s horse? First and foremost, you need to focus on safety. Both you and your child should feel completely confident without hesitation that you could and would ride the horse anywhere. For young riders, you need to find a horse that is so good that no matter what your kid does, the horse won’t let them get into trouble. This probably won’t be the prettiest horse, and it won’t be the fastest horse, but it will be the horse with no buck, no spook, and no desire to run away. I want to stress that your kid needs to have 100% confidence in their mount. Just the fact that you think they should be able to ride a horse anywhere isn’t enough. They need to believe that, too.

As your kids get older, they may develop an appreciation for training and want a horse that will allow them to teach it some new things or compete at some level. Even as they move up to more advanced mounts, it is still most important that their horse is safe and well matched to their riding level. You still want them to have 100% confidence in their horse and feel that they could take them anywhere and do anything with them. If they want to move up to training a horse themselves, choose something that is a safe, gentle, broke horse with a good disposition, even if it doesn’t have a lot of fine tuning yet.

I never like to pair a green or young rider with a green horse. “Green on green makes black and blue!” Don’t get sucked into the romantic idea that your child and a young horse will grow and learn together. Some younger horses have a temperament and training that makes them a good match for a skilled younger rider, but be very careful if you are considering this route.

Now, I’m not saying your kids will never have challenges even with the best horse. You can buy a “perfect” horse, but each rider is going to need to convince even the best trained horse to listen to them and do what they ask. Some horses personalities will take a lot more convincing, some just don’t challenge or ask questions much. For a very young rider or someone without a lot of confidence, you will want to get a horse that isn’t going to challenge them a lot. Regardless of what horse personality fits your child’s personality, you need a mount that will never be dangerous even when they may be testing or challenging your child to learn and improve.

So, how do you find the right horse for your kids? You’ll need to do a lot of looking and a lot of driving. Test ride a lot of horses and get a feel for different personalities and training. And most importantly, don’t compromise. Keep looking until you find the right fit. Never buy a horse based on looks, color, or breeding. Many times they best horses aren’t the prettiest. Look beyond physical attributes and find the horse that will take care of your kids through thick and thin and allow them to build their confidence and progress safely in their riding.

Enjoy your horses with your family, and until next time may God bless the trails you ride.