Many kids dream of horseback riding. There’s a reason children’s literature features horses so prominently.
But not all horses are suitable for children. Researching which horses are right for your child can be challenging, so we compiled a list of the 11 best horse breeds for kids.
1. American Quarter Horse
One of the best horse breeds for kids to learn to ride is the American Quarter Horse.
They have a long history as ranch horses and are especially popular with Western-style riders. In addition, their affable, easy-going disposition makes them ideal for teaching children to ride. That’s because, while children can be highly-strung, the American Quarter Horse doesn’t ruffle easily.
These horses are also historically bred for speed, and if something punctures their unflappable nature, some will bolt. It’s unlikely to happen, but it’s why you want to consult closely with a teacher, breeder, or both before committing to a starter horse for your child.
2. Shetland Pony
Sometimes the best horse for kids is a pony.
Shetland ponies, affectionately dubbed ‘Shetties’ by their riders, are the perfect size for young riders. However, like the Scots that bred them, they can be notoriously stubborn when the spirit moves them. Consequently, it is useful to have an authoritative teacher on hand to help kids coax the Shetland through its paces.
They average between seven to 11 hands tall and are durable little ponies. And they counterbalance their stubbornness with an excellent sense of humor and willingness to play.
3. Pony of the Americas
Yet another instance where the best horse for kids is a pony is the Pony of the Americas. Breeders designed this horse with young children in mind.
It looks like a standard horse in photos but is the perfect size for kids to learn to ride on. They’re clever little ponies with excellent stamina. It’s the perfect combination because they won’t get bored of repetitive exercises while kids learn the basics of horse riding.
They have distinctive speckled coats, too. These ponies are never more than 14 hands tall, so while children can grow into them, they won’t overwhelm young riders.
4. Welsh Mountain Pony
There’s a reason the Welsh Mountain Pony is so popular with riding instructors. They come in four classifications, and depending on the class, there’s some variety in size and bone structure.
Broadly speaking, all that changes is whether or not the pony can comfortably support an adult.
The smaller classifications of Welsh Ponies are perfect for teaching kids to ride. They have strong, sturdy bodies and gentle dispositions. They stand between 11-14 hands tall, and their combination of elegance and athleticism makes them ideal for hunting classes especially.
But they are adaptable, and their placid disposition makes them good for trail rides and jumping.
5. Arabian Horse
Arabians aren’t the obvious best horse for kids. And when it comes to a point, it depends considerably on the temperament of the Arabian in question.
They’re reputably half-made, so not an obvious fit for children. That said, they are loyal and social animals that bond quickly with their young rider. In the hands of the right rider, they are intelligent and versatile horses prepared to take on many different tasks.
They’re more expensive than many horses discussed so far because of their bloodlines. But if you can find one with the right personality, they can make beautiful, loyal companions for children.
That said, they do better as horses for more experienced children. They need careful handling, and you’re more likely to get that from a child with some riding experience rather than a complete beginner.
6. Miniature Horse
If you have your heart set on a horse for your kids’ first horse experience, Miniature horses might be an excellent compromise.
They aren’t typically meant for riding, so children over 70 lbs need something bigger. But they make an excellent introduction to equestrian care, grooming, and bonding.
The other thing Miniature Horses do surprisingly well is guide the partially sighted. They offer more stability than the traditional guide dog and have no difficulty with stairs.
They’re also highly affordable. That’s ideal if you are worried your child might go off horses by this time next year.
7. Morgan Horse
Another option when investigating the best horse for kids is the Morgan. These make beautiful family horses. They stand 14-15 hands tall and have short heads. Their bodies are compact, and their manes and tails are thick.
They’re also social horses and love any opportunity to spend time with their humans. That, coupled with a willingness to please, makes them perfect beginner horses.
They are famous for cooperating, so won’t get bored if your child wants to dip their toe into competitive equine waters. Historically, these horses were used to pull logs in the 1790s, but not because they were natural loggers. Instead, it was because no other horse would move them.
Morgan horses come in many colors but are most often black, brown, or bay.
Appaloosa horses are often mistaken for a horse coat rather than a breed. That’s because they have a distinctive appearance. And while they’re known for their spotty coats, there’s more to the Appaloosa than that.
They have stocky, sturdy bodies meant to withstand inclement weather. In addition, they stand between 14.2 and 16 hands tall, so is an ideal horse for children to grow into.
They’re also one of the most flexible horses around. Their willingness to do everything from events riding to trail rides means your child grows with them rather than out of them.
Since they are so unflappable, they take kids’ antics in stride. They also don’t spook or bore easily, so you almost always see them in youth-based riding classes.
All that, and they’re incredibly loyal horses. Once they bond to their rider, they will try anything at least once if they think it will make you happy. That makes them one of the best horse choices for children there is.
9. Grade Horse
While Appaloosas are pretty to look at, there’s a lot to be said for the more modest Grade Horse, too.
Grade horses are horses with mixed pedigree or occasionally a purebred that was never registered. Papers are only important if your child wants to enter a breed circuit.
Grade horses are more affordable and can do everything other horses do, from gymkhanas to trail riding.
That said, no two Grade horses are the same. They all have slightly different personalities. Some may be more stubborn than others, and some less versatile. So talk extensively with the seller before buying a Grade Horse to ensure the one you buy suits your child’s needs.
10. Paint Horse
Paint horses are another mixed breed. But their lineage has a healthy dose of the American Quarter horse. That's partly what makes them one of the best horses for kids.
They have the quarter horses’ placidity and gentleness. In addition, they have a muscular build and deep chests, with good endurance. Like many mixed pedigree horses, they’re versatile and perfect for teaching children to ride.
They average 14-15 hands tall. That makes them a healthy size but ensures they won't dwarf young riders. Additionally, they are highly social and bond quickly and deeply with the human riding them. And since they are instinctively clever, they pick up new tricks fast. That makes training rewarding for the kids as well as the horses.
11. New Forest Pony
Finally, we’ll wrap up by discussing the New Forest Pony. Britain breeds placid, hardy ponies that are suitable for children, and the New Forest Pony is an excellent example.
Unlike some ponies, they have narrow bodies, which are perfect for diminutive riders. In addition, they have short backs and elegant, long necks. But they always average between 12-14 hands tall.
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They train beautifully because, in addition to being loyal ponies, they are eager to please, making them extra biddable. In addition, they’re sturdy animals and stand up to extensive training.
All told, they’re an excellent starter pony for a curious young rider.
When looking into the best horse breeds for kids, you quickly find you’re spoiled for choice. Of course, you can never go wrong with a pony, but a few true horses are versatile, gentle and make excellent starter horses, too.
The key is to talk extensively with the horse breeder or owner. Personality plays a significant role in determining whether a horse works well with children or not. So, do your research, and don’t hesitate to ask questions. Horses are a big responsibility, and it’s worth finding the perfect one for your child.
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