A pony-tailed girl wiggles in her seat, tapping her tiny pink boots together in anticipation of visiting the stable. A boy laughs and swings his lasso at bales of hay, imitating a rodeo cowboy.

Children remind us of the enchanting magic of our equestrian world.

Many parents decide to support their child’s interest in our sport, and paying for riding lessons is generally the most economical way to avoid the purchase price and daily expenses associated with owning a horse or pony. Thus, the search for a lesson program begins.

For parents with little-to-no riding experience, this can be daunting task, especially knowing the right barn and instructor will undoubtedly impact both their child’s safety and enjoyment!

Here are five simple tips to help select the right lesson program for your child:

1. Ask around

Horse people are a notoriously opinionated lot; each of us has our own techniques and biases. But if several people recommend a particular instructor, that’s a good place to visit. Keep in mind: just because everyone raves about a particular individual doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the perfect fit for you. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts!

2. Ask to watch a lesson

If the instructor isn’t comfortable with a lesson audit, consider it a big red flag! Sit quietly within hearing distance and just observe. Is the lesson a positive, respectful experience? Avoid trainers that use harsh language or yell at their pupils. What some might pass off as “tough love” may have a long-term impact on vulnerable children’s mental health and self-esteem.

3. Don’t forget about the horse!

A mannerly equine partner can make or break the lesson experience. Good instructors will thoughtfully pair children with horses or ponies of an appropriate disposition. Saintly ponies are worth their weight in gold—there’s no room for shortcuts with a beginner rider! If the horse is kicking, going too fast, or often leaving students in the dirt, that’s a good sign to make your exit.

Another key factor is the animal’s health. Even those with little horse knowledge can monitor for obvious health problems such as a severe limp, poorly cared for wound or an emaciated looking animal. Parents should also be aware that horses can suffer from a variety of neurological conditions. Never let a child sit on a pony that is tripping repeatedly or showing any possibility of falling down!

4. Bring your own helmet

Before starting lessons, purchase a riding helmet and appropriate boots with heels. Riding boots help prevent the foot from slipping through and becoming stuck inside the stirrup. Helmets should always be purchased new to avoid riding in an already-damaged item. Your local tack store will be happy to assist with correct size and fit.

5. Look at the first few lessons as a trial experience!

If there’s two really nice barns in the area, try both and see how it goes. If you don’t like a facility, simply stop scheduling sessions! Most trainers are busy enough they will likely assume your child has lost interest. (Kids do go through phases, after all!)

To the parents of the next generation of horsemen and horsewomen, I salute you for supporting your little ones’ dreams! Have faith, and most importantly, follow your intuition to find the right lesson program to keep your young equestrian happy and safe!