Learning how to ride a horse? Riding is fun, challenging, exhilarating and great for your fitness but, if you are new to this sport that could have you hooked for the rest of your life, there are a few pointers you would do well to follow.
1. Invest in lessons
This may sounds obvious, but there are so many things to learn when you first take up riding that a highly regarded, recommended trainer is a must. In the long run it will keep you safer and more secure in the saddle. A good, approved riding school should always match you with the right horse, ensuring that your initiation into the wonderful world of horses is a fabulous and stress-free experience.
2. Master the basics
Depending on your natural ability and balance, it can take weeks or months to master the basics of a good seat, plus mounting and dismounting, slowing and stopping, walking, trotting and cantering the horse — not to mention taking your first leap into the unknown over a fence. It will be false economy — and a compromise in safety — to think that you know everything after just a couple of lessons. Keep going back to the school until you have mastered an independent seat — which means keeping balanced in all paces without hanging onto the reins or gripping with your legs, so that you are able to use your seat, legs, hands and voice independently to communicate with your horse. Go slowly to build up confidence. The saying ‘don’t run before you can walk’ is particularly apt here. To stay safe in the saddle, take things at the right pace for you and never feel pressured into taking the next step if you don’t feel ready. Confidence can be lost in an instant and regaining it can be difficult — or, in some cases, impossible.
3. Think outside the box
Horses aren’t just for riding. If you are starting out at a riding centre, don’t just hand the horse back at the end of the lesson. Get involved with tacking up, untacking, grooming, rugging up and all the everyday tasks that go with horse ownership. Spending time with the horse on the ground is an essential way of building up trust and a partnership.
4. Don’t stint on the safety gear
Most riding schools hire hats for beginners, but once you know that this is your new serious hobby, ensure that you buy an approved hard hat, crash cap or skull cap which can be fitted at your local tack shop. The BHS offers excellent advice on helmets on its website. Lightweight body protectors have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and many riders are now using them for hacking and schooling. Additionally, wear a strong pair of boots with a small heel — definitely not trainers — when you start riding and later, when you know that you’re hooked, invest in a pair of jodhpur boots or long riding boots, plus a pair of gloves with non-slip palms. An additional safety item for the rider is a neck strap that is worn by the horse. Even leading professionals use one. It can prevent a fall in the event of the rider becoming unbalanced and it can also stop the horse being jabbed in the mouth.
5. Be seen
It’s great for both horse and rider to get out of the school and go for a hack, but if your ride involves the roads, a fluorescent vest is the bare minimum high-visibility clothing that you should wear. If your horse is quiet, on dismal winter days consider putting a fluorescent exercise sheet on him and high-viz leg wraps.
6. Never over-horse yourself
You’ve had the lessons and now plan to buy or loan a horse. Make sure that you choose one that is the right size, age and temperament for you. There is no point taking on a young horse if you are a riding rookie. Youngsters require time, patience and knowledge to educate them and can test even the most seasoned pro. Instead, find yourself a mount that has been ‘around the block’ and who will be able to teach you, rather than the other way around. Temperament is equally important. You are far better to begin with a horse who needs a bit of kicking rather than one who is sharp, feisty and impossible to stop.
7. Never say no to advice
Even if you no longer have riding lessons, don’t be afraid to ask someone more knowledgeable if you feel out of your depth. Quiz a riding school instructor, a horsey friend or a seasoned professional if you’re stuck. Generally, the horse world is friendly and most people will be happy to proffer advice.
8. Stay safe on the ground
Horses are basically prey animals, which helps to explain why they have a flight mechanism, as opposed to fight, when startled. Nasty accidents can and do happen in the field, especially if your horse is grazing with others, so always wear a hard hat and sturdy footwear when you go to catch or turn out, and read our top tips to stay safe around horses.
9. Alternative therapy
Any horse or pony, no matter what its size, is likely to be stronger than you, so handling with brute force will not win in the end. If you find that conventional methods, or your trainer’s help, do not work for your particular problem, consider a different approach and maybe look into natural horsemanship, which can benefit both horse and rider in certain circumstances.
10. And finally…enjoy!
Horse riding is supposed to be fun. Being at one with an animal is an extraordinary experience which is hard to describe to someone who has never tried it. Most horses will give their all to a sympathetic rider — but always remember to ask nicely.