Youth Involvement 101 – Kids & Horses

Kids and horses are a magical combination. Seeing the joy that washes over a child’s face while they ride for the first time is truly inspiring. If you are a parent, grandparent, or other guardian looking for ways for a special young person in your life to get into riding, rest assured that there are plenty of options. Each option has different time and financial commitments, which could also differ based on the local club or group you become involved with within a national organization.

The Certified Horsemanship Association offers options through its members, who are riding instructors, driving instructors, instructors for riders with disabilities, vaulting coaches, trail guides, equestrian facility staff, or camp staff. If you want to try lessons for the child in your life, CHA’s certified experts are a great option. It’s important to understand the credentials of anyone you work with, do thorough research, and make a careful decision because you want to make sure your child gets off to the right start and has a positive and safe experience. In a past blog post, CHA explored why it’s important to find a certified instructor.

To look for CHA members in your area that are certified and offering riding opportunities in your area, you can search the free online database at You can also find CHA Accredited Facilities at that same link. And once you have a list of options in your area, CHA offers more information on how to choose a riding instructor at or you can listen to CHA’s interview of two experts on the subject on this recording of the CHA Segment on Horses in the Morning.

In addition to riding lessons, many children have their first experience with horses at a camp or just do a search for all CHA facilities in your area. You can search for a CHA Accredited Facility that is a camp on by typing in “camp” into the search field. To read more about finding a camp with horses, check out the blog posts titled, “Attending a Camp with Horseback Riding” at and “How to Find the Best Horse Camp” at In addition, the American Camp Association has been a partner of CHA in the past and offers an abundance of information on their website.

In the past, CHA has even offered CHA Young Riders Clinics for new young riders.

In addition to CHA instructors and camps, there are many additional options in the equine industry for youth to get involved. Some of the most well-known options include 4-H, FFA, and Pony Clubs. One thing to remember with 4-H and FFA is that they are not just exclusively about horses, so if your child is ONLY interested in horses and would not enjoy the other activities, then you may want to go with one of the other organizations mentioned below.

4-H is the Cooperative Extension System’s youth development program with 110 U.S. land-grand universities involved, which helps to make it the largest youth development organization with more than six million kids involved between the ages of 8 and 18 in more than 3,000 counties in rural, suburban, and rural areas across the United States. Every state and county across America, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and 80 other countries have local offices. The equine curriculum has five horse project activity guides with Levels 1-3 focusing on “horseless” activities, while riding and horsemanship is the focus of Levels 4 and 5. To look into joining or volunteering with 4-H, or to learn more, visit to find your local 4-H office.

The National FFA Organization, mostly known as FFA, or the Future Farmers of America, involves teaching youth about livestock, including horses, and agricultural topics, although it is not just for those who want to be farmers. Anyone interested in those topics or those who want to become a teacher, doctor, scientist, veterinarian, engineer, chemist, biologist, business owner, etc., would benefit from involvement in FFA. Students participate in classroom and laboratory instruction, supervised agricultural programs, and student leadership opportunities within the organization. And for those who start FFA as a child and want to continue, there is the Collegiate FFA, programs for adults, and the opportunity to volunteer as an adult. FFA allows participants to connect with a mentor, win awards, and participate on horse judging and horsemanship teams. Within these teams, your child will learn how to judge horses just like the professionals do at horse competitions. To get involved with FFA, look for the nearest chapter organized at the local school level. This chapter is connected to your state’s association underneath the national organization. To learn more, visit

The United States Pony Clubs (USPC) provides horsemanship and horse care instruction. Its core values include horsemanship, organized teamwork, and respect for horse and self through horsemanship, service, and education. Participants can now stay within the organization until they are 25 if they meet requirements. There is no minimum age set by the national organization, but many local clubs set a minimum age. There are Pony Clubs in many countries worldwide, and the U.S.’s organization was originally an offshoot of the British Pony Club. USPC offers mounted and unmounted meetings, clinics, rallies, certifications, exchanges, and other special opportunities. Certifications are available within the disciplines of dressage, show jumping, and some Western disciplines. To become a member of USPC, members join through their local Pony Club or through a riding center that has been recognized by the USPC to administer the Pony Club program. Parents and volunteers administer the program; this is important to keep in mind since it will involve a time commitment from whoever is taking the child to meetings and events. With that said, this type of activity, which requires parental participation, is a great way to get involved and bond with your child, grandchild, niece, nephew, etc. While horse ownership is not required, participants must arrange to have a pony or horse available to ride and may need to trailer that horse to meetings or events. But don’t let this discourage you. Many riding centers can provide a horse for a child to use for Pony Club activities, as long as it is not a stallion and the mount is at least five years old. To learn more, visit

The National Little Britches Association (NLBRA) is for children ages 5 to 18 who want to participate in rodeo events and Pee Wee Rodeos. There are almost 400 youth rodeos within 15 states, and these events allow youth to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo. While it seems like a smaller organization, it involves more than 2,000 kids from 27 states that compete in NLBRA events every year. Equine events include breakaway calf roping, tie-down calf roping, team roping, barrel racing, pole bending, and goat tying. For more information, visit

One organization helps youth and youth leaders in the equine industry regardless of breed or discipline organization. That is the American Youth Horse Council (AYHC), which serves as a national information center that offers ongoing training opportunities to youth and to people looking to teach kids about horses. AYHC strives to provide opportunities for youth leaders to network among adults in the industry. It also produces high-quality educational resources for kids. AYHC grants helps youth to attend equine activities in the United States.

In addition to these organizations, there are also youth organizations within most horse breed and discipline organizations. These organizations offer a variety of activities, leadership opportunities, ways for children to be mentored, events and conferences, and even all-youth championship horse shows. Some examples include the:

  • American Quarter Horse Youth Association (AQHYA),
  • American Junior Paint Horse Association (AjPHA),
  • National Reining Horse Youth Association (NRHYA),
  • Arabian Horse Youth Association (AHYA),
  • Appaloosa Youth Association (AYA),
  • American Morgan Horse Association Youth (AMHAY),
  • National Reined Cow Horse Association Youth (NRCHAY),
  • National Youth Cutting Horse Association (NYCHA),
  • And many more.

Many organizations offer contests and youth awards through their youth associations or through the parent organization. It’s important to keep this in mind and research in advance since some of these awards must be applied for in advance or require an accumulation of points or achievements, which can help kids focus towards achieving a goal. Some awards are not just for riding achievements; many are given to those who exemplify sportsmanship, volunteerism, leadership, commitment, dedication, and other similar traits that adults are trying to teach to the next generation. Some contests and awards may be geared toward youth with a special talent, such as art, photography, writing, etc. Several youth awards offered by breed and discipline organizations include scholarships and grants.

Within one of the largest disciplines, dressage, the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) offers a variety of programs for youth on upward. USDF’s Platinum Performance Junior/Young Rider Clinic Series offers educational opportunities for riders age 14 to 21, while the Young Rider Graduate Program educates riders age 20-28. Many of these riders may go on to compete in upper-level dressage events. Clinics by some of the top dressage clinicians continue the dressage education for attendees on a variety of topics. Meanwhile, the Youth Dressage Sport Horse Breeder/Handler Seminar assists those with a desire to specialize in sport horse breeding and handling and to familiarize them with the breeding and showing of dressage prospects and breeding stock.

In addition to various opportunities for education, USDF offers the USDF Youth Convention Scholarship Program to provide financial support to young dressage enthusiasts who want to attend the annual convention. And the Ravel Education Grants recognizes outstanding displays of sportsmanship among USDF youth. These grants can help cover expenses associated with attending an educational dressage event of the winners’ choice.

In addition to the programs above, don’t forget to ask your student’s school if they have recognized or affiliated programs within the equine industry. One example is the USDF Youth Dressage Rider Recognition Pin Program, which provides pins to kids from sixth grade through 12th grade if their middle school or high school or home school program is a participating member.

A similar program includes the United States Equestrian Federation’s Athlete Letter Program for kids in fifth grade through 12th grade who document their training and competition involvement in order to win emblems and pins, just like other sports earn letters and pins for school jackets. In addition, USEF started offering the USEF High School Scholarship, which provides $1,000 grant to one graduating high school senior that plans on pursuing an equestrian-related degree or compete on an intercollegiate equestrian team. One of the most prestigious national awards is the USEF Youth Sportsman’s Award, which was designed to develop leaders in the equine industry from all breeds and disciplines. Each year, USEF seeks a winner that demonstrates a commitment and dedication to the promotion of equestrian sport and who can serve as a role model for peers, be involved in community activities, and exhibit great sportsmanship. One final honor available to juniors is the USEF Junior Equestrian of the Year Award, which is one of USEF’s most prestigious awards. It is given to a junior member of USEF who exhibits the qualities of good sportsmanship and integrity and who exemplifies exceptional talent and dedication to the sport while showing compassion for horses and horse welfare. For more information on USEF’s programs, visit

The Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) is offered for kids in grades 6th through 12th, and participants do not need to own a horse. Riders of various levels compete on IEA teams in hunt seat and Western disciplines throughout the school year for individual and team points and accolades. IEA teams are offered through public and private schools and through participating barns. Riders draw a name of a horse that has been provided for the competition and compete on that mount. There are more than 11,000 members competing in hundreds of events across the United States. For more information, visit

While this is not an exhaustive list of organizations with some sort of youth program, these are some of the most well-known programs. So whether you own a horse or not, and whether your child wants to ride or participate in another way, there are a variety of options. Stay tuned to our blog for a future post on the options available to college students.

College Level

The American National Riding Commission (ANRC) offers a rider certification program to schools, colleges, and universities, along with public or private riding programs. The goal is to promote the American System of Forward Riding. ANRC also offers instructional riding clinics, forums and symposiums on related topics, and cooperation with other organizations whose purposes align with those of ANRC. The ANRC Intercollegiate Equitation Championship offers college students a national championship that tests riders in a team aboard either college-owned horses or privately owned horses in a program ride (that includes USEF hunter equitation tests), a hunter seat equitation medal course, a derby course with natural jumps in a field, and a written test based on riding theory and stable management developed from the United States Hunter Jumper Association’s Trainer’s Certification Manual. For more information, please visit

The Intercollegiate/Interscholastic Dressage Association (IDA) allows college students to include dressage into their college experience. Every school year, colleges throughout the United States and Canada allow IDA riders to earn individual and team points through competitions in Introductory, Lower Training, Upper Training, and First Level. In 2015, dressage seat equitation was added. Riders compete on horses provided by the host college through random draw and are granted a 10-minute warm-up session aboard their mount. Regional winners go on to compete in a national championship that hosts 12 teams and 12 individual riders in the four areas levels listed above. IDA is a great option for riders who do not own horses or who have never done dressage, but who want to add it to their riding experience. For more information, visit

The Interscholastic Horse Show Association (IHSA) is for riders of all skill levels who compete on teams and as individuals within an IHSA region, zone, and at the national level across the United States and in parts of Canada. Anyone, regardless of riding experience, can compete for their participating college. Riders compete in hunt seat equitation, Western horsemanship, jumping, and reining. Riders do not need to own a horse, and the host college will provide horses for a competition. Riders compete by random draw and ride the horse they have drawn. For more information, visit

The Intercollegiate Saddle Seat Riding Association (ISSRA) is still a fairly new organization. At this point it is only eight years old. ISSRA’s mission is to establish saddle seat riding teams at colleges and universities across the United States for beginners through advanced riders. Participants do not need to own a horse since each team is paired with a local riding school as their home base. Their home base provides saddle seat instruction and team practices aboard the riding stable’s horses, as well as coaching at shows. This is the first program for saddle seat riding in an intercollegiate equestrian program. For more information, visit

The National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA), formerly Varsity Equestrian, was created to continue the advancement of equestrian sport as an emerging sport within the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Your Cheat Sheet to College Riding Teams