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Start Horseback Riding off on the Right Hoof

Kids & Horses

The daughter of an equestrian and team roper -- and granddaughter of a 4-H horsemanship leader and farrier -- 3-year-old Payton was simply born into the horse world. Smiling ear-to-ear pictured upon her pony, Taco, with a blue ribbon on his bridle, it’s easy to see the family passion runs deep. She’s a horse girl through and through.

For parents with children who dream of getting a horse one day, or maybe already have horses and would like to help start their kids off on the right hoof with horseback riding, where does one begin?

Ashley Wheeler -- ranch rider, former collegiate equestrian, wife and mom of Payton -- explains three key factors that helped to encourage young Payton’s love for and involvement with horses.

1: It’s her decision.

“She loves her pony, Taco -- a little Palomino pony with stocking legs and blue eyes. She goes to horse shows with us, and she goes out with us when my husband ropes. She’s playing in the arena when we ride.

We make sure that it is her choice and her decision to be involved in horses. Of course, my husband and I want her to be involved in horses, but we know that it’s her choice, and it has to be a decision that she makes.

If she wants to ride when she gets home every day, she wants to. But if she says she doesn't want to ride today, then we're not going to force it. So, anytime she shows the interest, we support it fully, but we're never going to say, ‘Hey, we have to ride.’

I've seen kids that have been forced to ride, and as soon as they can stop, they do. We want to encourage them to be involved, whether it's showing or barrels -- whatever -- but it needs to be their idea. And while that's kind of frustrating, at the same time, it is awesome when you see her be excited about it.”

2: Horse care is a priority.

“We have a similar approach to my dad's, when I was a little kid. ‘We have these animals, and it's our job to take care of them.’ That's definitely something that was important to my parents [both horsemen] when growing up. Payton continues to get more and more involved in the horses as she gets older. She’s even started helping me clean stalls now. She understands that if it's hot outside, we need to go check the water for the horses, or that Taco is hungry, and we need to go feed him breakfast.”

3: She has a kid-safe pony or horse.  

“I see a lot of people wanting to get a young horse for their young kids, so they can ‘grow together.’ But I think there is nothing better than a ‘been there, done that’ safe, older horse for a kid. I believe these horses know it’s a reward for being good for their earlier parts in life. They get to be brushed on and have bows put into their mane.”

Find everything needed to support your young rider’s love for horses, including tack, horse riding helmets and more at

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