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.
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.
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.
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!