kids and horses

Have you ever noticed how horses tend to adore children, and seem to get along with them so well? Here’s why, along with some fun exercises to enhance your own kids’ relationship with equines.

It’s natural for kids to be natural with horses. Humans are natural until they are 12, but then they turn into adults. My definition of an adult is a human being who practices making simple things difficult. My definition of horsemanship is the perpetual and progressive series of habits and skills both horses and humans need to become partners.

Now, at Parelli we have a program that helps people learn those habits and skills, but a program is all it is. The application of habits and skills to anything we want to do with our horses — whether it be a trail ride, having fun at home, or going to a competition, either English or western – is up to us. And while we adults may not like to admit it, the fact that kids have an easier time learning how to be natural with horses than we do is a very real one.

When it comes to working with horses, all we ever have to remember is that humans are predators and horses are prey animals, and they are motivated by opposite things. We want their recognition of material things, and they want safety, comfort and play. The other thing to remember is that horses are very perceptive to danger, people, places and changes, and that’s why a child can usually catch the horse dad can’t. The horse perceives dad as the predator. Kids usually help horses feel safe and comfortable – they are smaller, more non-threatening, and typically act more naturally. Now, the big secret I like to get people to understand is that horses love to have fun and play — so if we can get kids to learn how to play little games with their horses, the magic starts!

Two fun exercises for kids

kids and horses

Here are a couple of really good exercises you can encourage your child to try:

  • Learn how to back your horse into the stall. Then play the YoYo Game in and out of the stall. Do this every day for a week until can get your horse to back into the stall from 20 feet away. You’ll see the horse start to get it – turn, face away from the stall, back in, halter comes off – kids and horses love this game.
  • Another great game is to teach the horse how to sidepass up to the fence – this is handy for mounting, as the horse will learn to “pick you up” off an obstacle. An easy way to start the game is to get up on the back of a pickup (with the tailgate down) or flatbed truck. Put a carrot stick over his back and ask him to take a step or two towards you. Then rub him with the carrot stick. Pretty soon you can use a mounting block, fence or rock, but when you start with the stability of a tailgate it makes it really easy and fun for the kids.

Encourage your child to play good horsemanship games with her horse or pony, and they will develop a fun-filled lifelong partnership!

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Pat Parelli was born in California's Bay Area and was obsessed with horses from an early age. When he was just 13, a horseman and trapper named Freddi Ferrera recognized Pat's talents with horses and took him under his wing. During the summers he would teach Pat valuable lessons about how to be more natural with horses, dogs, cattle, and nature itself. A career in training horses seemed logical and he started a business that concentrated on starting colts. Being an intense student of horses and horsemanship, Pat had begun to develop his own style of teaching and expanding these principles. He discovered he had a natural talent in finding the right words to explain what he understood about horses. So he turned his attention to helping people instead of training. He began to give "lessons" but had no idea that one day he would be able to help people on a much larger scale.


  1. My nephew adores horses and he’s always at the farm with them. It was explained here that horses can be taught tricks that will enable them to play with children. Moreover, there are great kids books about horses for children to understand them better.