Horse-Crazy Kids – Help Make Their Equine Dreams Come True


“I want a pony!” You may have heard this classic refrain from your own child recently. Many children go through an obsessive horse phase. As a horse-loving eight-year-old, I lavished our Welsh pony, and my herd of plastic horse figurines, with attention. I incessantly read books about horses and wrote illustrated stories about them. I also enthusiastically rode and showed horses in 4-H. I had horse fever then and still do … and now I’m thrilled to be sharing horses with my children.

My son Austin was eighteen months old when he first met our friend’s gentle horse Magic. Austin’s eyes were wide with awe at the enormous four-legged creature before him. I helped Austin extend his hand for Magic to blow and sniff, the horse version of a hand shake.

Once in the saddle Austin moved back and forth saying “Go!” His face was quite serious as he spoke, and he broke into a wide grin once Magic began walking. He’s been wild about horses ever since … whenever Austin sees a horse he asks to ride in an urgent voice.

So, what to do about horse-crazy kids? Fortunately, a number of North State organizations and businesses offer equine lessons, camps, trail rides, birthday parties and volunteer opportunities in Butte, Shasta, Siskiyou and Tehama Counties.

In Anderson, Alicia Ryan operates NorCal Trail Rides and NorCal Riding Stables. Her clientele ranges from 2 to 70 years old, and includes grandmothers who take lessons with their granddaughters. Lessons are available year-round in an indoor or outdoor arena. A budget-friendly option is to book a one-hour private lesson and split the instruction time with a friend. Visitors are welcome to make an appointment to visit the riding stables and watch a lesson.

Shasta Wilderness Horse Adventures in Grenada, ten miles south of Yreka, also offers riding lessons. Owner Jaime Risner shares her passion for horses with her children, who continue the tradition through competing in horse shows and accompanying her on trail rides. Jaime says, “A lot of my joy comes from watching kids have fun and build confidence as they learn to ride.” She instructs riders of all ages.

Jaime’s friend Laura Maddy offers carriage rides, lessons, trail rides and more for all levels of riders at her family- run Rockin’ Maddy Ranch in Yreka.

art-0913-horses2Almond Country Farms Equestrian Center in Durham, five miles south of Chico, offers group and private riding lessons with seven horses available to ride, and ponies for younger children. Owner and instructor Robyn Stearns teaches both English and Western riding styles.

All the stables mentioned host birthday parties. At Almond Country Farms, all ages are welcome, and kids ages 7 and up ride their own horse at the party. Robyn explains, “Depending on ability, we do things like Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, relay races and balancing games.”

Equestrian camps are a great introduction to the handling and care of horses. They are perfect for beginners to learn about horse safety, how to read a horse’s body language, and to properly groom, tack and lead a horse. NorCal Riding Stables Rides has summer and school holiday camps over Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Their camps teach the basics of horse care “as if you owned your own horse,” Alicia says. “It’s how you would care for your horse each day.” Shasta Wilderness Horse Adventures offers camps in spring and summer. Almond Country Farms Equestrian Center also offers summer camps.

Get your whole family on horseback by riding a trail together. Shasta Wilderness Horse Adventures will meet you at any riding location within Siskiyou County; Jaime often meets people at Lake Siskiyou for a trail ride. Rides are geared for ages 7 and up, although she has made exceptions for more mature or experienced younger children.

Families can visit horses for free at a sanctuary or rescue ranch. The Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown is open to the public for viewing on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Safe Haven Horse Rescue in Cottonwood has volunteer opportunities for families, including volunteer workdays on 2nd Saturdays monthly from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Home at Last Sanctuary in Yankee Hill of Butte County has volunteer opportunities on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Your family can learn about the care and responsibility of horse ownership, without the cost, by helping muck a stall, groom a horse, give out treats, organize and clean tack, or help with special projects. Most sanctuaries additionally offer horse sponsorship opportunities.

Other ways you can nourish your child’s enthusiasm for horses include books, photographs, videos, figurines, art projects and story writing. Plan a horse field trip to your library and see what books catch your child’s attention. Attend a local horse show or county fair. On car rides see how many horse-related things you and your child can spy – horses seem to be everywhere when we look for them!

Encourage your child’s imagination and “visit” a horse without leaving your home. Get comfortable together by lying down and closing your eyes. Imagine going on a trail ride together and seeing animals and friends along the way.  Young children will enjoy having you describe their horse and surroundings to them. Older children can visualize and describe their horse to you. End the visualization by bringing your horses back to a pasture or barn and saying goodbye. Afterwards, draw, paint or collage the images with your child, and hang your art.

Kids are magnetized toward horses for many reasons. Nurturing this relationship can develop positive physical and emotional skills. Learning to ride and care for a horse develops balance, coordination, strength and flexibility. Self-confidence, empathy, and awareness of boundaries are some emotional benefits of bonding with horses. You don’t need to buy a horse – children can enjoy these rewards by connecting with other horse-crazy people out there! 

Equine Lessons, Camps, Trail Rides & Volunteer Opportunities

For a full listing of opportunities, visit North State Parent’s equine resource page:

  • Almond Country Farms Equestrian Center; Durham. (530) 343-1558.
  • Home At Last Sanctuary; Yankee Hill. (530) 514-1439.
  • NorCal Trail Rides & Riding Stables; Anderson. (530) 515-8958.
  • Rockin’ Maddy Ranch; Yreka. (530) 340-2100.
  • Safe Haven Horse Rescue; Cottonwood. (530) 347-4941.
  • Shasta Wilderness Horse Adventures; Grenada. (530) 859-0500.
  • Wild Horse Sanctuary; Shingletown. (530) 474-5770.
Greta Hanelt
About Greta Hanelt

Author Greta Hanelt lives and plays in Mount Shasta with her husband and two young children. They enjoy the outdoors and exploring art projects of all kinds.

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