Thinking of learning to ride? Here’s what you need to know before you start.
One of the stand-out moments of London 2012 was Charlotte Dujardin winning the freestyle dressage test on Valegro. It really got people talking and Team GB’s great success that year encouraged a new generation of people into the saddle. According to Sport England, equestrianism now lies within the top ten most popular sports in the country, with over 430,000 regular participants.
Happily, pretty much anyone can give riding a go: you can start learning, or get back into the saddle, at any age with just an average level of fitness. There are, however, a few notions to bear in mind before you bookmark ‘horses for sale’ in your browser and enter yourself for next year’s Badminton Horse Trials.
Whether you want to learn to ride for fun or get into serious competition, the first thing to know is that success at any level is based on a partnership. Horses are as varied in temperament as people, so you’re going to need to understand how to approach and communicate with them. You’ll be spending lots of time around these animals, and, thankfully, by large, horses are excellent company. Indeed, given the choice, many equestrians would rather spend time with their horse or pony than with the majority of their nearest and dearest.
There really aren’t any short cuts when it comes to horse riding: being a beginner is a long, tough slog but hang in there: you will get a huge sense of achievement every time you master a new skill. You will need to take regular riding lessons at good, local stables or with a qualified professional. These cost from £20 to £40 per hour depending on where you are based and what level you’re at. You can learn on your own or as part of a group and the chances are you’ll meet some like-minded people along the way. The BEF website, www.hoofride.co.uk, has a useful database of places to ride all over the country.
After the first few hours in the saddle you’ll ache in places you never knew you had, but take this as a good sign. Also, crucially, new riders must be prepared to fall off. In fact, the more quickly it happens, the sooner you’ll see that it’s not the end of the world. Enlightened, you’ll get straight back on. And then promptly fall off again.
Most stables will provide riding hats for their customers, but since a hat has to fit perfectly to be any real use, you may want to buy your own. You might also invest in a pair of jodhpur boots, a couple of pairs of jodhpurs, and a good waterproof jacket.
Unfortunately, if you don’t like the feeling of rain down the back of your neck, then riding is probably not for you. Horses require regular exercise and, if you have planned to ride out, you can’t be a no-show just because of some small matter of snow, sleet or hail. Thank goodness, the beautiful summer evening rides more than make up for the force ten hurricanes you’ll endure in the winter.
The amazing bit about horse riding is that, despite all the hard work, the time commitments and the horrible British weather, almost every single person who works with horses wouldn’t have it any other way. If you’ve read this far and found nothing off-putting, it’s quite likely that, before you know it, you’ll be hooked. By then, I’m afraid it’s too late — say goodbye to whatever previous life you had and hello to your new, horse-mad existence.
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