How To Start Horseback Riding (Cost, Age, & More)

How to Get Started With Horses

If you have ever dreamed of horseback riding, you may think that you missed the boat once childhood passed you by. This is not so. Many adults go into horseback riding with little or no experience, and many of those adults end up competing or purchasing their own horses. My mom didn’t start riding until she was about 45 years old, and now she has two horses of her own! It is never too late to learn how to ride, and I would love to help you figure out how.

So, how do you get started with horseback riding? Most people who make the decision to learn to ride will first find a local lesson barn. Depending on where you live, there may be several local barns – call around to find out who has openings and which one might be a good fit for you. Others decide to take the plunge and jump right into horse ownership – if this is you, you will want to reach out to an experienced horseperson who can come to your property or boarding facility to teach you how to ride.

Becoming a proficient rider can take years, but you will see progress right away if you put your heart into it. In this article, I’ll walk you through things to consider before getting started. Read on!

Are There Age Restrictions To Learning To Ride?

Almost anyone can learn to ride a horse – whether you are 6 years old or 76 years old. Your physical abilities and health are more important when it comes to riding than your age. However, there are some considerations that you will need to take into account if you are starting out very young, or significantly older.

Too Young To Ride?

Some barns may have age requirements to satisfy their liability insurance companies. Many barns will not take on children for lessons until they are 6, 7, or even 8 years old. Children must not only have the physical abilities necessary to ride a horse – the core strength to maintain their seat and the coordination required to give proper signals to the horse – but they also need to have the mental abilities necessary to set them up for success. Children need to have the maturity level to understand how to treat a horse with respect, and not as a toy to be ridden. While some children who grow up around horses may start riding at 4 or 5, most will not be ready until they are a bit older. 

Children also need the mental capacity to be able to follow instructions and take directions. Some young children are easily distracted or have a very short attention span – this is a normal, healthy developmental stage that a young child will go through. While there is nothing wrong with having a short attention span, it can make riding more difficult. A child will need to be able to remember to keep their heels down, how to hold the reins, how to stop a horse, and how to steer. This takes a lot of mental coordination and stamina.

Too Old To Ride?

There is really no such thing as being “too old to ride”, so long as you are healthy enough to do so. If you have concerns about your physical health, you will want to talk with your doctor before you sign up for riding lessons. For most adults, though, riding is a rewarding and therapeutic experience, no matter your age. I’ve seen 80-year-olds on hot-headed thoroughbreds running around a hunt field, so anything is possible!

One thing to keep in mind is your own size – horses can carry between 10% and 20% of their weight, so if you are a taller or larger adult, you’ll want to make sure that you have access to a horse that is big enough to comfortably carry you. Most lesson barns have a variety of horses, from ponies to larger, stockier horses. 

One advantage that children have over adults when it comes to learning to ride is their lack of fear. Adults are usually more cautious than children, and this fear will easily translate to the horse you are riding. If your horse senses you are afraid (and they will), they will assume you have something to fear and they may become afraid themselves. This is why it’s important to seek out a lesson program. Many lesson programs have horses that have carried many riders and are ready to help you face your fears!

Learning To Ride Through Lessons

Most beginners will learn to ride through lessons from a local barn. This is a wise choice, as you will be paired with an experienced instructor and an experienced lesson horse. What is so special about a lesson horse? Lesson horses are dead-broke and seasoned – they are used to being ridden by beginners and are very forgiving when a rider makes a mistake (and you will make a lot of mistakes). Learning to ride can be confusing – you are dividing your attention between trying to stay in the saddle, keeping your heels down, and giving the correct cues. You will likely be focusing on all of these things alongside your fear of falling off or being thrown. With so many things going through your mind, you will inevitably use conflicting cues or pull too tight on the reins – a lesson horse will usually be more forgiving than a typical horse and will roll with the punches. 

Another benefit to taking lessons at a barn is that you often have access to several lesson horses. Most instructors will have you ride different horses. This gives you an opportunity to learn how to manage horses with different temperaments and of different sizes. Becoming comfortable with several different horses will make you a more confident, well-balanced rider.

Learning To Ride On Your Own Horse

If you decide to go all-in and purchase a horse before knowing how to ride, you will still need lessons if you want to learn to ride. If you have your horse boarded, most facilities have instructors on-site that you can hire for lessons. If you have your horse on your property, or your boarding facility does not have instructors, you can hire an outside instructor to come to you. 

If you are really adventurous, you may be wondering if you can learn to ride without an instructor. After all, you can learn how to do almost anything through online tutorials – from cooking to dog training, to building a house. If you purchase your own horse, there is really nothing stopping you from attempting to learn on your own. However, this is really not recommended, and you run the risk of teaching both yourself and your horse bad habits that can interfere with progress and safety. 

It goes without saying that if you are a beginner rider, you will want to make sure you have someone experienced with you when you look at horses to purchase. An inexperienced rider will need to be paired with a seasoned horse – preferably one with an easy-going temperament and experience being ridden by beginner riders. 

To help you know what to look for when looking for a horse, visit my article Choosing the Right Horse: 10 Expert Tips.

Cost Of Horseback Riding Lessons

Whether you are hiring an instructor to come to your property or signing up for lessons at a local barn, you will want to know how much it will cost you. This number will vary greatly according to your location. In the United States, you can expect to pay between $30 and $100 for a one-hour lesson in most areas. Some barns only offer ½-hour lessons, and some barns offer both group and individual lessons. It is worth it to call several barns in your area to inquire about the cost.

What To Bring With You To Your First Riding Lesson

To get a complete rundown of what to bring to riding lessons, visit my article What to Wear to Horseback Riding Lessons: Complete Shopping List.

If you have signed up for a lesson at a barn, they should have all of the tack you will need. You will use their saddles, blankets, bridles, and halters. They will likely also have helmets that you can use, but you should double-check with them before arriving for your first lesson. If they do not have helmets, you should consider purchasing one for yourself – this will need to be an equestrian-specific helmet, not a bike helmet.

You will want to wear pants to your lessons for your own comfort, even if it is warm out – leggings or jeans should suffice. If you find yourself enjoying riding, you can purchase Summer-weight riding pants that will help to keep you cool in the warmer temperatures. 

You will also want heeled boots for safety reasons. Boots should have a heel of at least ½”, but preferably bigger. One of the first things you will learn when riding is to keep your heels down (toes up). Though this will be drilled into you by your instructor, you will often forget when you are first learning. Having heeled boots will prevent your foot from slipping through the stirrup, which can present a serious safety concern if you fall off of the horse.

Lastly, make sure to dress appropriately. If the weather is cool, bring a sweatshirt or jacket over a short-sleeved shirt. Though riding may look passive, it is anything but, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can work up a sweat.

Have Fun!

No matter your age or experience level, riding is incredibly rewarding. Though it can take years to become a confident rider, you will be able to track and see your growth at each lesson. Be patient with yourself – many riders turn into life-long equestrians, and it is important to take your time on the basics in order to set yourself up for long-term success.


While confidence may be something you gain overtime when it comes to riding, there are some things you can do now to help you feel braver in the saddle. To know more, check out my article Becoming a Confident Horseback Rider: Complete Guide.

P.S. Save this to your “Horseback Riding” board!

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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