Selecting an extracurricular activity that is the right fit for younger children is difficult at best. Locating a party venue they haven’t already seen is even harder. Three Upstate horse farms suggest that you give them a try for parties, lessons or camp.

Mandy Dumas at Hillside Farms, Becky Sweeney at Eden Farms and Carole Flaspoehler at Grove Station Farms believe that kids and horses are a perfect match. All three have a variety of services to offer, including horse/pony rides, hay rides, horse camps and birthday party venues.

Dumas offers pony lessons for ages 4-10.

“Safety is my number one priority,” she said. “All riders are required to wear a certified riding helmet. Riders are encouraged to wear a safety vest (which helps prevent injury in case of a fall). I only own and use seasoned ponies who are accustomed to children and their needs.”

Sweeney, with 13 instruction horses, echoes that sentiment, emphasizing that in addition to the standard insurances and safety checks, they also maintain a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH) certification. Flaspoehler has 20 free range horses on her property and said safety begins with how the children are dressed — from long pants and helmets to closed toed shoes with a small one-inch heel. At each farm, all children are always accompanied by a trained safety instructor.

Flaspoehler encourages parents who are not sure they want to commit to lessons to check out the horse camps. They run weekly and can offer a positive first exposure experience for children. Grove Station Farms has winter and summer options. Eden Farms has a Horse 101 availability for kiddos younger than 4 that runs all year. Eden Farms also offers therapeutic rides for special needs and at-risk children through their Happy Hooves program. Hillside Farms offers summer camps as well as a weekly Tot Time specifically geared to ages 18 months to 5 years. Camps work on grooming, hands on activities, crafts and riding.

All three Upstate horse farms also create personalized birthday party packages. Each farm has a unique set of activities to offer children. Sweeney provides a play area and hay rides for kids to enjoy while others are riding, Dumas has a bounce house, play set and hay rides as well as on-site pony parties for those who do not want to leave home. Flaspoehler offers an indoor area in case of rain and a space wide enough for kids to “gallop like the horses.”

All three agree that horseback riding can help children with gross motor skills, core strength, balance, coordination, fine motor skills, patience, communication, self-confidence and responsibility. It might begin with a simple party where they paint the pony and use glitter and ribbons, but Sweeney says the only thing that really matters is the connection the child makes.

“Kids always remember the horse’s name even years later,” she said.

Dumas agrees.

“It is truly wonderful to be able to celebrate horseback riding with so many precious children,” she said.

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