Tag Archive: riding schools

  1. What to expect from your first riding lesson

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    Don’t be surprised if you’re a little bit nervous before your first riding lesson. It’s normal, but there really is nothing to worry about. The main thing is you’ll find out how it feels to sit on a horse and perhaps understand a bit about how riders communicate with their mounts while on board.

    What to wear for your first riding lesson

    If you don’t have all the togs — and why on earth would you yet? — you can easily make do. Sturdy leggings work in place of jodhpurs, but don’t wear jeans: the inside seams will rub your legs raw. Take gloves with some grip and if you’re not borrowing boots when you’re there, wear something with flat soles and a chunky heel. You might not want to invest in a hat yet, and you can use one at the school until you get your own.

    On the day

    Make sure you arrive about 20 minutes before your lesson is due to begin. The riding school should already have asked your height and weight when they took your booking so they could match you with the right horse, but you will need to fill in a new rider form and find any items you need to borrow. If you need a riding hat, someone should be on hand to help you find one that fits perfectly.

    You may get to meet your horse before you mount up as part of the start of the lesson. Give it a pat, and you can ask a bit about its background if you’re interested. Those used for beginners are always steady, experienced rides so expect to meet a wise old owl of a horse who has taught generations of people the basics.

    Children will have their first lesson on a lead rein and adults on a lunge, which means the instructor will have control at all times. This will allow you to concentrate on what you are doing, as well as getting used to the feel of the horse.

    Emma Harford, an instructor at the Talland School of Equitation in Gloucestershire, explains the content of her typical first lesson: ‘We would usually teach the basic riding position, how to hold the reins, where to place your feet in the stirrups and how to go with the rhythm of the horse.’

    There is a lot to think about up there so don’t worry if it all feels a bit strange: with practice this will all become second nature. In the meantime, your instructor should be clear about what they’re asking you to do, and hopefully patient.

    It’s quite likely you’ll only walk in your first lesson, which will probably last half an hour or 45 minutes. Sometimes you might take a few steps of trot, just to find out how it feels, but don’t be in a rush to go faster and learn more paces. You will progress as soon as you’re ready.

    After your lesson

    Hopefully after you dismount you’ll feel tired, but pretty elated. Don’t worry if you have any questions at the end; it’s fine to ask anything that’s on your mind.

    Later that day, you might start to feel stiff; the chances are this is just the beginning and you’ll be twice as sore the following morning! If you were doing it right, you’ll have been exercising muscles you never knew you had.
    Despite any aches and pains, if you enjoyed yourself, it’s probably time to arrange your next lesson. You need regular practice to develop the skills your mind and body need to be a good rider. This stiffness can also feel pretty good: it’s a reminder that you’re on your way!

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  2. How to find the right riding lessons for you

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    It doesn’t matter whether you’re brand new to riding or you just want to brush up on some flatwork: if you’ve decided to take lessons, you’ll need to feel confident you are in good hands. There are poor quality teachers out there but they can be avoided.
    Firstly, you absolutely must make sure you go to a British Horse Society (BHS) or Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS)-approved riding school that has a good local reputation and BHS-qualified, registered instructors, so do your homework before you book in.

    Once you’ve located the right place, you need to visit and watch the instructors at work because they will all have different styles of teaching. Some will be gently encouraging and others will push you harder; have a think about which kind of approach you prefer, and make sure you get an instructor who will get the best out of you.

    You also need to decide between individual or group lessons, or a combination of the two. Individual lessons mean you get exclusive attention and make progress more quickly. Group lessons are cheaper and fun, and you can often benefit from the advice others receive but you’re also less likely to improve as fast.

    All beginners have individual lessons to start with. If it’s your first time, make sure the instructor is very clear about what they are asking you to do. If you finish the lesson feeling frustrated because you didn’t understand what was being asked of you, it’s not your fault and you might want to look for someone else to work with.

    Riders with previous experience will initially be assessed in an individual session when they start at a new school but can then move into group lessons if they wish. Groups can be useful for adults or children returning to lessons because they will be able to practice with a little bit of guidance, according to Emma Harford, an instructor at the Talland School of Equitation in Gloucestershire.

    If you already have experience, you may want to work on particular skills: perhaps you’ve always hacked out but want to work on some of the finer points of schooling or try some jumping. You will be able to discuss all this with your instructor once you’ve had your first couple of lessons and they should develop a programme tailored specifically to you.

    How much do horse riding lessons cost?

    Prices depend hugely on where you are in the country; learning in Liverpool is much cheaper than learning in London. A 60-minute private lesson for a child starts at around £30 and group lessons start at around £20. Adults will usually pay from £35 up to around £50 for a private 60-minute lesson and from £30 for group tuition.

    Expect to pay significantly more in London, where prices vary from just under £50 to well over £100 for an hour’s private lesson. As a rule, the further you are from the centre, the cheaper lessons will be, although this isn’t always the case.

    Both in London and elsewhere, some places have a membership programme which reduces prices for those who join. Other schools offer packages of lessons at a discounted price and it’s worth asking about a programme which will suit your budget — the thing about lessons is you need to keep having them!

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  3. How to find the best riding school for your needs

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    With an estimated 1,800 riding schools in Britain, how do you choose the right one? Obviously proximity helps: nobody wants to add a regular three-hour round trip to their weekend plans, but neither will the most convenient place necessarily be the best. A few pointers will help you find the perfect place for your particular needs.

    For starters, a riding school must have a licence, obtained from the local council, which does a basic inspection of the premises before they issue a permit. For more specific assurances that you’re going somewhere professional, however, you should try and find a yard that has been approved by the British Horse Society, the Association of British Riding Schools, or both.

    This gives you a guarantee that the school offers a high level of expertise, has great standards of health and safety and takes excellent care of their horses and ponies. As Chris Doran from the BHS approvals department points out: ‘The BHS sends inspectors who specifically look at the condition of the equipment and horses, and the proficiency of the staff.’

    Narrowing down your riding school options

    Once you’ve made a shortlist, you can ring the different riding schools to find out what kind of lessons are on the menu, how much they charge, whether they specialise in any particular discipline and what the facilities are like. You can also read reviews online, although this experience is a lot like TripAdvisor: opinions of a place can vary wildly.

    Some riding schools are huge operations with outdoor and indoor arenas, showjumps and cross country fences, as well as a wide range of horses with different abilities. Other, smaller places might have less posh kit, horses or facilities, but remember that size isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality.

    Before you start, it’s important to have a think about what you’d like to achieve: if you want to enjoy beautiful countryside on horseback, are there good bridleways nearby? Perhaps you’re eventually aiming to compete: do they offer advanced tuition? When you explain your goals, the instructors will be able to say how they can help.

    Visit your chosen riding school before committing

    When you’ve made your choice, you should pay a visit to the stables to get a feel for the place and hopefully watch a lesson in progress. Make sure you see one of the instructors who will be teaching at your level and also have a good look around to check that everything is clean and well-presented and the horses seem happy and relaxed.

    Your first visit may seem overwhelming. There will be a lot of people confidently sashaying around with tack and kit, and horses coming and going in every direction, but hopefully everyone will be friendly and welcoming. It helps if people don’t take themselves too seriously: you certainly shouldn’t be made to feel out of place if you don’t yet know the difference between a snaffle and a gag.

    Joining a riding school is enormous fun, and as long as you start somewhere which is accredited and where you feel comfortable with patient, professional instructors, you’ll be off to a flying start in no time.

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