Where and when can my little girl ride a horse?
January 25, 2011 1:00 PM   Subscribe

My five year old daughter loves horses. Are there any good stables or horse farms near Vernon Hills, Il (Lake County, northern Chicago suburbs) for her get some riding lessons?

She's been up on a horse before at a stable near Galena, Il, which offered "lead-line" rides where an instructor leads the horse. Is five old enough to start riding? If not, how old do you think is old enough?

Even if you don't think she's old enough to ride I'd appreciate some recommendations for when the time comes, and also places where we could at least go and visit the horses and maybe feed them some carrots.
posted by Reverend John to Pets & Animals (11 answers total)
There are stables on St. Mary's Road south of Townline and on Riverwoods between Townline and Half Day. I don't drive that way much now that 94 is in good shape, but I seem to recall signs advertising lessons.
posted by indyz at 1:15 PM on January 25, 2011

There are several places in Libertyville and Mundelein. I took lessons at one of the stables in that area when I was about 9. I can't remember the name of the place (my enthusiasm waned quickly), but I know there are multiple stables that offer riding lessons, so perhaps you could call around and see which ones cater to younger riders. I just googled "horse loc: Libertyville IL" and several results have a category of "riding school."
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:19 PM on January 25, 2011

If you'd just like to visit, look for a rescue farm. They usually welcome visitors. There might even be some volunteer opportunities there that you could do together. And by together, I mean mostly you :)

And be careful what you ask for when it involves horses and daughters. My daughter wanted to ride a horse for her 7th birthday. 8 years later, we own a horse, trailer, and plan our weekends spring, summer, and fall around the horse show schedule.

Most farms around here (VA) try to avoid getting into regular lessons with kids until they are 7 or 8. They really don't have the muscle control prior to that to have any chance of staying on the pony if it spooks or jumps. And they all spook or jump eventually. I'd be concerned that anybody offering lessons to a 5 year old is more interested in the cash than your daughter's well being. The 5 and 6 year olds doing lead line at horse shows are usually the kids and siblings of other riders.

Another data point - 4H won't let her join a horse club until she is 8. For the 5-7 set, 4-H has the Cloverbud program.
posted by COD at 1:21 PM on January 25, 2011

I took lessons in that area (something out on 22, but I couldn't remember the name if you put a gun to my head) and they were... ok. Not good, but ok. Part of the problem was that the quality of instruction was absolute shit, but my dad had no earthly way to judge, and I was just so thrilled to get to interact with horses that I wouldn't have complained under any circumstances.

In hindsight, what would have been more useful and also fun was learning about the care of horses rather than just being plopped on a pony's back and led around in circles. (I did learn to jump, which is exciting, but it kinda wasn't the point.) I would have loved to get to groom a pony, learn about its tack, behavior, health, and that sort of thing, but for $50 per half hour I just got to sit on one. It wasn't as awesome as it could have been, is all I'm saying.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:46 PM on January 25, 2011

Following up on restless_nomad, when you do get to lessons, the lessons should encompass how to be a horse person, of which riding is really a fairly minor component. Even at my daughter's very first lesson, she had to learn how to clean the pony's shoes and groom it properly, and had to help tack up, as best a 7 year old could. Then she got to get on the pony.
posted by COD at 2:04 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Closer in to the city, is Freedom Woods in Morton Grove. My daughter took lessons there and loved it. And COD mentioned, she had to learn to tack and groom the horse before she rode.
posted by timsteil at 2:23 PM on January 25, 2011

I would agree that 8 is about right, maybe older if she is small. If you want some made-up-on-the-spot guidelines, she needs to be able to:

Lift and carry a ~twelve pound saddle.

Respond to some basic body position directions, "shoulders back", "sit up straight", "heels down". (Not that she needs to maintain it, but she needs to have enough awareness of what her body is doing that she can at least try to.)

And mentally she needs to be able to cope if her foot gets stepped on, or if she gets thrown, or if the pony is just being a stubborn little sod.

(Sorry I can't offer any local recommendations.)
posted by anaelith at 2:55 PM on January 25, 2011

Another thing along those lines - the stable I went to taught English riding (two hands on the reins, post when you trot, lots of jumping.) A friend went somewhere else in the area that taught Western (one hand on the reins, no jumping, but a much heavier focus on trail riding and barrel-racing type agility.) This only really became relevant because we both when to overnight camp - my camp also taught English, hers taught Western.

Probably the best thing you can do right now is continue to educate yourself - and maybe see if you can visit some stables and bring her, because I bet she'd love it - so that in a couple years when she's big enough you can make an informed choice and really be able to tell if you're getting your money's worth.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:02 PM on January 25, 2011

I came in to suggest what indyz said, the stable on the corner of 60 and St. Marys. The heavily wooded area around there is part of the Des Plaines river trail, and I remember seeing horses on the trail when I was biking, which seemed like quite a nice place to ride a horse.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:11 PM on January 25, 2011

There are two places that I know of .. there is a place on Riverwoods, between Route 22 and Everett Road, right by North Park in Lincolnshire. They offer both regular riding lessons and therapeutic riding lessons. I can't remember the name of it even though I drove past it just about every day for 4 years. (That is so pathetic of me).

You could also check out the Equestrian Connection in Lake Forest. It is a therapeutic riding facility but in the warm weather they often have horses outside in the pastures and with permission she could certainly watch them and probably pet them. It's on Bradley Rd. just north of Route 60.

I don't know if 5 is too young .. my son did therapeutic riding beginning at age 3 and did very well. He had a 2 year old friend there who also rode and enjoyed it very much.
posted by Kangaroo at 3:36 PM on January 25, 2011

Whatever else you do, never borrow a riding helmet. Make sure her (ASTM) helmet is properly fitted, has never taken an impact, and is less than 4 years old. Never, ever buy a helmet for her "to grow into"; the head grows slowly, and she needs a helmet that fits properly when she is astride, not in three years. The helmet slows head impacts to prevent brain injury, but the impact protection inside deteriorates over time; the shiny/stiff exterior doesn't show when the interior isn't safe any more. Similarly, a helmet that's taken an impact has had damage to the impact protection layers inside, but the stiff exterior layer will disguise it. (And don't drop it, throw it, or bang it into anything! Or rather, don't let her do so. Kids often fiddle with whatever they happen to be holding.)

Happily, helmets are much cheaper than when I was a kid, and can now be bought for about $25. Always use a helmet that you, personally, know is safe. Don't borrow, don't buy used, don't grab one out of the communal shelves at the stable.

Any honest horseperson will tell you that everyone falls, from time to time. There's even a saying: it takes 7 falls to make a real rider. Happily, many riders can do their "requisite" occasional falling without serious injury; the helmet definitely contributes to this.
posted by galadriel at 5:58 PM on January 25, 2011

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