Horseback Riding for Kids

Parent Q&A

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  • Looking for horse riding lessons for our 7 year old daughter. Skyline Ranch has a very long list and hoping to hear other recommendations. Thanks!

    My kids are serious riders and have had issues with many local riding barns.  Each of them is missing something for long term happiness.  I can't go into further detail.  However, we are now riding at Apple Creek Farms in San Ramon with trainer Alma Cadwalader.  It's not a perfect facility.  One of the other trainers is obnoxious and must be ignored.  But Alma is a terrific trainer, the horses are good quality for lessons, and the facility has multiple arenas. The indoor arena can be split up in rainy weather when it is in demand. And these are the main qualities of happy horse lessons as far as we are concerned. And the drive is mostly along 580, which is pretty peaceful, especially on Sundays when we go.  As someone who has seen and done a lot of local horse venues, this place with this trainer seems to have the right combination.  Alma can be reached at 510-368-6120.

  • Pony rides/lessons for 2 yo

    Apr 19, 2021

    Our daughter is 2, almost 3, and obsessed with horses. We would love any ideas on pony rides available now and lessons for her if this is more than a passing phase. We are in Oakland/Berkeley. Thank you!

    As a horse-obsessed mom of adult children, I can tell you that the lack of opportunities for pony rides for little ones is a huge peeve of mine.

    Less than 10 years ago, the East Bay Regional Park District shut down the beloved Tilden Park pony rides on bogus grounds. They are ostensibly concerned about pony manure polluting Wildcat Creek.  But they wrote the rules so strictly that no concessionaire would bid on their RFP, since it was obvious no one could operate a business that would turn even a modest profit.

    Where does that leave us?  In the exurbs, there are likely private barns where you could lead a small child around on a small horse or pony. Please let us know where these are! 

    There are a number of stables in the Oakland hills that are concessions of the Regional Park District. Try a visit. You can leave a phone message or email the website saying that you will be stopping by.  Stable managers are generally not good at returning phone calls.

    Your best bet is probably Anthony Chabot Equestrian Center on Skyline Boulevard near Keller, or Piedmont Stables or Skyline Ranch on Redwood Road.

    Once you arrive at the barn, keep your child close at hand.  Do not bring a dog with you; outside dogs can be problematic and are usually not allowed.

    Ask trainers or horse owners if it is OK before you pet any horses.  People are very concerned about liability issues.

    If you become acquainted with horse owners, someone with a very mellow horse may give you permission to put your child on for a brief ride.

    The Metropolitan Horsemen's Association has regular events at the Sequoia Horse Arena in Joaquin Miller Park. Check the website at . This would be a chance to be around horses, though it is unlikely your child would get to ride.

    When my kids were little I had my own mare at Skyline, and pony rides were always possible.  It sucks that every horse-crazy kid can't enjoy this.

    Skyline Ranch is the home of the Redwood Hills Pony Club, which teaches English horsemanship. The youngest participants are about eight years old.

    It would be a public service if you were to write a letter to your elected park district director demanding that pony rides be made available again.

    Hi, Kismet Farms is great, I took lessons with Laura in the past and she also gives lessons for kids on ponies. I can highly recommend her!

    Sadly I am not aware of anyplace that offers pony rides on a regular basis, but when they are happening again you may want to check out local city fairs and festivals, like the Rockridge Festival in September, some pumpkin patches may offer pony rides, too.

    Pre-COVID my daughter’s classmate had a birthday party at Washington Park in Alameda and her parents hired someone who trailered two ponies to the park to give pony rides. Maybe an option for you if there is a birthday coming up?

    I have not visited in a few years, but Fairyland had ponies and donkeys last time I was there (not for riding though). There is also a great carousel there for young kids to ride independently... although it’s not the real deal, your daughter might enjoy that.

    When your daughter is older, Roughing It day camp in Lafayette (they bus from Oakland and Berkeley) has horseback riding as an activity for campers as well as a dedicated horse camp option.

    Happy Trails!

    Thank you all so much for these wonderful answers! It’s a bummer there isn’t more opportunity, but I’m on the hunt and this information was so helpful.

    We had a really great birthday party with Figaro and Julie Duff. Julie was extremely warm, great with kiddos, and led with a ton of love and empathy for the horse. Highly recommend.

  • Any recommendations for horseback riding for a 7 year old?  I thought I saw a couple of week long summer camps but can't find any recent feedback.  We are located Berkeley/Oakland area.  

    They offer camps at a few places in the area.

    Horse Riding Lessons & Day Camps

    My 7 year old loves loves loves Nola Giddings.  Her operation is called Nola Giddings Peruvian Pasos Horses.  She is in El Sobrante right off 80, a surprisingly often short drive from our Berkeley home.  She has an unstructured approach that may work better for some kids/parents than others.  It is a modest facility.  Kids ride most days unless its raining and also care for the horses.  You would be amazed how much kids enjoy shoveling manure!   To my girls, 7 and 11 years old, the whole Nola experience is absolute heaven!  They would live there if I let them.  Contacting her is also a bit hit or miss so please be patient.  Call or Text to 510-703-7765

  • My daughter would like to go horse back riding for her 9th birthday with me, her dad, and 5-year old sister. We are looking for a mellow walk through pretty forest or beach or something similar (don't want to just go around the stable grounds). We have done this a fair amount while visiting family in Mexico (with little sis sharing my horse), but never locally, where it seems that safety protocols are stricter. Can anyone recommend a place in the bay area that might be willing to arrange a guided ride for us?

    Hi there - a friend recommended this place to me, but we haven’t tried it yet:  Have fun!

    Check out Sea Horse Ranch in Half Moon Bay. We bought a Groupon for a "trail and beach" horseback ride for our family of 4 a couple years ago and it was fun (and the Groupon is still active!). I don't know if they do private rides but would assume so. It was beautiful and reasonably priced and the kids enjoyed it.

    Check out Five Brooks Ranch in Olema (out Sir Francis Drake to Hwy 1, near Pt Reyes). It's lovely, and I think just what you're looking for. We've done family trail rides there and the horses are well cared for. There are a few different rides you can do, depending on your skill level and how adventurous you're feeling. Plus you can't beat the location/scenery!

    I've always this place looked like fun although I've never used them:

    We love love love Nola Giddings dba Nola Giddings Peruvian Pasos Horses.  She is located in El Sobrante.  She can travel to local sites for trail rides.  I did a ride with her in Point Pinole that was nice.  She is great with kids.  She believes in getting kids on horses early.  I'd say the only caveat is that Nola, like most other horse people is really tough to get a hold of an make a plan.  But once you do, you are in.  So call, be patient, if you don't hear from her, try again... She is a great lady and her horses are lovely as well.  Nola Giddings Peruvian Pasos can be reached at 510-703-7765.  She replies to text messages.

    I have two recommendations, both were excellent.  In Saratoga, Garrod Farms, easy ride through the surrounding hills with a beautiful panoramic view. Easy to plan because they do riding on a regular schedule each day and you can do as a drop-in:  They also do groups/parties. In Monterey, Monterey Bay Equestrian Center... beautiful ride on the beach (Moss Landing).  By appointment (unlike Garrod).

    Five Brooks in Olema/Point Reyes. A wonderful experience in a beautiful setting; you can design a private ride to your liking.

  • So my 7 year old had an amazing week at Kenilworth Stables Horse Camp this summer.  We would LOVE to continue but the cost and frequency of lesson requirements are not at all in line with what we can afford.  My gut tells me that a quality riding program that takes good care of its horses is just going to be crazy expensive.  But hoping I'm wrong.  I checked around online and checked if our local park district (Berkeley, Alameda County, East Bay Parks...) offered lessons and they do not.  My daughter would love to continue.  Any advice?  We can go as far as the Redwood Rd area of Oakland or north to Sobrante but of course would love something close too.  I know!  So much to ask...

    North Peak! Deb Henry is an amazing instructor and she runs a friendly, high quality program for young riders. It's a bit of a drive but so worth it!

    You should try Skyline - directly across from Kenilworth.  We ride there and love it.  The people are amazing and they have amazing school horses for beginners, plus, they don't have the twice weekly commitment that Kenilworth does so its more affordable.  Hope this helps!

  • I would like to find a patient horseback riding instructor for my two kids. My 8-year-old is a beginner and my 12-year-old has a couple of years of experience, but I'd prefer to get them joint (semi-private) lessons. Hoping for someone patient and good with kids, either in the Oakland or Berkeley Hills or Orinda.

    If they're interested in learning English style riding and potentially  jumping, you might want to try Kenilworth Stables in the Oakland Hills. I know they have lesson horses and other riders near your daughter's ages. There are many great trainers in the Bay Area, but ones with kid safe horses available for lessons are going to be harder to find.

    As a side note, you'll likely be required to do private lessons with your younger daughter at least until she has the basics down and this should be true for any reputable barn you decide to go to. Good luck!

    North Peak in Walnut Creek. It's a drive from the Berkeley/Oakland area, but so worth it! Deb Henry runs a great program with several teachers, the kids are friendly and the facilities are top notch!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Skye Valley Training

March 2013

My daughter, teenaged son and myself have all ridden with Skye Valley Training at Shiloh West Equestrian in Castro Valley for over 8 years. I can't say enough about the positive experience we have all had and the poise and confidence that my kids have attained through their interaction with horses, pony club and riding in general. Empathy for others, responsibility, being a team leader, taking care of others' needs before your own and managing disappointment and enjoying the thrill of a job well done. These are but a few of the life lessons they have gotten through their time with horses. Our trainers, Jaimi, Courtney and Jennie are amazing mentors and equine educators. Their love of horses and of teaching others to ride shows! The kids at our barn love them and enjoy learning and achieving new things in their lessons. It is a commitment but one so full of rewards. I hope you come out and try it out! -Dede

Western Horse riding lessons for almost 8yo girl

Sept 2011

Hello, My daughter really wants to take Western riding lessons. She has taken one set of English lessons and one set of Western lessons. She really liked the Western lessons better and wants to continue with Western lessons. We do not have a horse. I would prefer to keep the lessons close to the Berkeley Oakland area if possible but we can go farther. daughter loves horses

Try asking at Redwood Hills Pony Club. They do English riding, and my daughter went there for many years and really enjoyed herself. They have a whole program of learning about the horse, and ratings. You may have to get on a waiting list, but might go ahead and do so as it may take time to get in and she may become interested in English Saddles because of jumping. Western saddle has a pummel to grab onto and for an insecure rider may be one of the reasons for preferring it. The Berkeley Wildcat Canyon Ranch Youth Program taught inner-city children to care for the horses and ride, but I understand the program lost its funding as a result of a dispute with neighbors and closed. There are other stables in the area. Horsie mom

My 4 and 6 year olds have been taking horseback riding lessons with Nola Giddings in El Sobrante. I'm not sure what style of riding is taught but she is really amazing with children and my kids LOVE her and riding. You can call her here: 510-703-7765 or email me with more questions. cath

9 yr. old Horseback Riding

April 2010

Please, does anyone know of horseback riding camps/lessons where kids do riding and horsecare? She wants to ride, not do crafts related to horses. The closer the stables are to Berkeley, the better. Thank you so much

Our daughter has done several sessions at Castle Rock Arabians over the years, probably starting at about 6 years. She enjoyed it lots. It is a bit of a drive, out to Walnut Creek, YVR, and then a right on Walnut Ave. out to the end just before Mt.Diablo State Park. Mostly they learn to care for the horses, groom them, etc. and have lessons in the ring and some trail riding depending on age. Not for the cash - strapped, it is great but about $800+ per week. Discount if more than one sibling is taking a session or one child is doing multiple sessions. kl

Contact the Redwood Hills Pony Club. My daughter went there for a number of years. It is affordable and goes beyond just learning to ride with a strong program of horse care, levels of achievement to master, and fun field trips. There is often a waiting list, so you may want to sign up ahead of time; even a year ahead wouldn't hurt. Some parent participation is expected.

My kid takes private lessons at a stables called Taylor Ranch up in El Sobrante. It's up in the hills at the end of Valley View, about 20-30 minutes from Berkeley, depending on where you live. Nothing fancy pants, just horses and people who like them (and a goat named Snowflake, and four hens, a rooster, + a brood of chicks).

Melinda Reed is a young woman who has taught lessons and ran camps for a few years. She's got a draft horse named Rock and a red mare, Mama Horse, that she uses for the kids. Draft horses are huge, but mellow, kind of like St. Bernards--much nicer and more predictable than most ponies, which is what my kid started on last year. He loves it because he's so high up.

Melinda charges $40 for an hour and a half, which includes learning horse care as well. Her information is: mreed_cowgirlatheart [at]

Western Horse-Back Riding Lessons

April 2008

My daughter loves being with and taking care of horses. She has been taking English lessons for years. However, she just cannot seem to get past some of her fears when she is actually on the horse. Her instructor thinks she might do better riding Western - no jumping, slower gait, bigger saddle, etc. Can anyone recommend a barn where she could hang around and help with the horse care, take lessons, and do some trail riding? horsey girl's mom

My daughter has the best teacher/trainer ever! We had many less than favorable experiences with riding teacher and places, and that led my horse loving daughter to fear. Marie has made her a better, safe rider, has taught her all about horse grooming and care, natural horsemanship and how to truly have fun. She is patient, supportive and fun. Teaches western only. Call Marie Grisham at 510-304-1025. She is great and reasonable! Varda

Horse/Pony Riding Classes for 4-yr Old

June 2007

My 4-year old daughter is developing quite a fascination with horses (all things cowgirl, books, Breyer horses, barrel racing videos on YouTube . . . ). In our efforts to satisfy this, we took her to a pony-ride place where the ponies are on one of those carousel hookups. She loved the riding part, but only wanted to know 1) why there wasn't a bridle, and 2) why the ponies had to stay on the carousel. Does anyone do riding classes (horse or pony) for 4-year olds? We're specifically looking for classes, not a camp. I'd prefer western. We're in Oakland, and wouldn't want to travel too far. Thanks for any recommendations! anne

You can find places that will give riding lessons to 4 year olds, and a good resource for barns in the area is I would recommend waiting until she is a bit older (say 6 or 7), however, since most kids aren't ready physically or mentally to learn to ride at 4. I say this as a former riding instructor who also has a horse crazy daughter who is about to turn 5. We have horses at home so you can only imagine the pleas to add a pony to the herd. Until kids reach a certain age, physically they are somewhat top heavy and often lack the balance to manage their own body and control a horse.

A general rule of thumb is that they should be able to confidently ride a bike w/o training wheels before they start riding lessons. Mentally they need to be able to listen to a teacher and focus on a task for at least 30 minutes, and have enough resilience that they won't be too traumatized if they roll off the pony. Finally, make sure that you purchase your own helmet for her and make sure it is well-fitted and won't shift during lessons. Vista Madera tack store in Oakland or Western Saddlery in Pleasanton are good sources. Good luck! Vali

Horse stable where daughter can volunteer?

July 2003

My daughter has fallen in loves with horses this summer at her camp. Does anyone have recommendations for a place that she could go weekends and ride/help exercise/help groom/help clean/ etc.? Years ago we had a neighbor who stabled her horse somewhere and there were some horses that were rather neglected by their owners, and they needed extra attention that the stable crew could not provide. Any suggestions as to where she can get horse time? for not too much money? as a volunteer?

When my daughter was around 12 she also got bitten badly by the horse bug. She had attended ''horse camp'' for a couple of summers at Tilden Park (by the pony rides) and had gotten to know the woman who ran the pony rides. I don't know if it's the same person there now or not. My daughter offered to come up on the weekends to help and they were very happy to have her. This was about 5 years ago, so I don't know whether something like this would still be possible, but you might check it out. Judy

You didn't say where you lived but there is a low key and VERY inexpensive horse stable place in El Sobrante. We have been there and it is $25.00 per hour to ride around. My daughters also groom, saddle and lead. Patty is very nice. It is VERY ''rustic''. Their phone no is (510)223-7249. anon

Horseback rising lessons for 9-year-old

June 2003

I am looking for recommendations for horse riding lessons for a nine year old with some experience already. We are in Oakland and are willing to travel some for a really good teacher. She has been riding English. We are concerned about safety and a positive learning environment. The only suggestion on the site is for Bottomley and we found them a bit more geared towards the competition than we like. Sharon

Try Briones - there's a riding stable there that gives English lessons. susievav

I have a friend who takes lessons in Marin. The stable is called Miwok Livery and she raves about it. They have classes and camps for children. The URL is . Hope that helps. Mollie Hart

Skyline Stables, Redwood Road, Oakland (has a pony club) FoxRidge Stables, Redwood Road Oakland (may have a summer camp) Rancho del Lago, Rancho del Lago Road, Martinez (off Bear Creek Road about 1 mile from Bottomley. has summer camp for kids, has a pony club) Half Halt Farms, Rancho del Lago Road, Martinez (see above) Poplar Place Stables, Bear Creek Road (next to Bottomley, has a pony club) Nancy

I took english riding lessons at Black Point Farm in Martinez, which is down the street from Bottomley. I learned a lot about horses, grooming, etc. I even had to put the bit in the horses mouth, which for me was a bit much at first, but got used to it. I was there for 6 years, but stopped because it became to expensive. It's been since 1996, so not sure if they're still around. The smaller children were taught on ponies. The place had a very nice and homey feel. Nothing fancy, but the horses are well taken care of and healthy. What I liked about the place was that the owner had a variety of horses and you could ride a different one or the same one each lesson. The owner is Carole Dwinnelle. I was taught by her daughter Beth, who is very nice, patient and very good with horses. She grew up around horses and use to compete so that made the experience much better. I'd like to know if they are still in business. I would love to take my daughter there. Cheryl

Relaxed horse riding lessons for 4-year-old

Oct 2002

I am looking for friendly, relaxed horse riding lessons for my 4 year old around the Walnut Creek area. Does anyone have any recommendations?

Hi, I keep my horse at the Eagle's Nest Ranch in Castro Valley. There is a wonderful trainer there that is great with young kids. Her name is Beverley Vreeland. Their number is: (510) 538-8249- office (bev-direct line) 886-6851 Good luck, Michelle Stern

Riding lessons near San Ramon

My daughter's birthday is coming up in April, and she wants horseback riding lessons more than anything. Can anyone recommend a place where she would not only learn to ride, but have a very positive, confidence-building experience? We live in San Ramon and would prefer something in our area, but would be willing to go a bit further - especially if lessons could be on the weekend ;-) Thanks in advance! Wendy

My daughter has been taking riding lessons at Bottomley Farm in Martinez for four years. She started when she was six. Bottomley Farm is a serious riding stable, but it's also turned out to be a pretty friendly community of people.

Bottomley Farm stresses care of its horses, so part of a riding lesson is grooming the horse both before and after the lesson and cleaning the tack you use. So though a private lesson is only a half of an hour, it's takes 15 to 30 minutes to get the horse ready and about the same amount of time after the lesson to clean everything up. If your daughter continues with lesson, at some point she'll be able to join a group. Then for the same price, she'll be able to take an hour lesson with a group of one to three other riders at the same level of ability. The cost of a lesson is $40.

Bottomley Farm also offers one-week day camps in the summer. Beginners are welcome to sign up for these. They are from 9 to 4 and expensive (I think $300 per week this year.) The children get to ride twice a day and spend the rest of the time learning about horses, what they eat, what diseases they get, how to take care of them, parts of the saddle and bridle, etc. There is a little horse show for the parents on the last afternoon of the camp. The phone number for Bottomley Farm is (925) 228-3766. Janet