Good Responsibility Lesson
Although kids usually don't need to be pushed into the barn to be around horses, horse care is a big responsibility. Obviously, being around horses poses inherent dangers for children, especially for the very young ones. That's why all children need to be well supervised around horses, when they're riding and when they're caring for the horse. If a child is a member of a horsy family that has a barn full of horses and makes a living or a hobby of some equine activity, caring for horses and knowing how to act around them probably comes naturally from observing their parents.
The important thing to keep in mind is that a horse in the backyard is a living, breathing domesticated animal with daily needs that can only be met by its human caretakers. Make sure both you and your children are ready for this immense responsibility.
For the kid who has never been around horses, the best option may be to board the horse, at least for a while. In this situation, the parent needs to become as educated about horses as the child. By boarding, the child and the parents are automatically surrounded by more knowledgeable, experienced people who can help them learn the basics.
Often, owning a horse is only financially feasible when the horse can be kept in the backyard. If the parents are not horse savvy, then the responsibility is on them to find out what they need to know and to get their child in contact with people who have experience with horses. Perhaps someone in the neighborhood who has horses can spend time with the child and parents, preferably before the horse comes home. If keeping the horse at home frees up a little extra money to let the child take riding lessons, get well acquainted with the riding instructor. The instructor can steer you toward horse clubs and people who can help you gain the knowledge you need. If there is a barn in the vicinity that will let your child clean stalls or groom horses in exchange for riding lessons, that's the best of both worlds — learning about riding and general horse care at the same time! Programs such as 4-H and Pony Club can also provide the novice child with lots of help and educational materials.
An all-too-common scenario is for a horse to end up at a rescue shelter when undesirable behaviors, left unchecked by well-meaning but inexperienced owners, end up making her dangerous. If you see behavior in your child's horse that concerns you — such as aggressiveness during feeding time, turning her rear end to you when you enter the stall, kicking when her feet are handled, or misbehaving under saddle — don't let these things continue to the point of becoming dangerous. Get help from an experienced trainer or horse person whom you can trust. Find out what to do to turn these behaviors around before your child or someone else gets hurt. In the hands of an inexperienced owner, it's easy for bad habits to develop before you realize what's happening. This is rarely ever the horse's fault, as the horse is merely acting on natural instinct. Horses are also smart enough to take advantage of poorly trained riders and get out of doing work when they would rather be grazing.