So, You Want to Ride
By Barbara Aiken
If you’re reading this I bet you love horses and perhaps rode them as a child. I also bet that taking up riding again, or even for the first time as an adult, could be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Find yourself a good teaching barn with caring instructors, kind horses and go for it.
To start, you should visit several barns to determine which one is right for you. You can observe classes and inquire about the qualifications of the instructors. Speak with some instructors about their teaching experience. Notice if the classes are well organized and that safety is paramount. Ask about class size and if private lessons are available. Group lessons last about an hour and private ones about 30 minutes. Note the cleanliness and tidiness of the barn. The school horses should be healthy, well-groomed and cared for. Stalls and drinking water should be fresh and clean. Watch how the staff and pupils treat the horses.
Most teaching stables have times when you can show up for a free lesson. You’ll be shown the basics for leading your horse, mounting up and walking around the arena, or perhaps trotting if you’ve ridden before. You’ll be provided with a safety helmet and all that’s needed is comfortable, loose-fitting pants, leggings or jeans and preferably sturdy shoes with a small heel to prevent your feet from slipping through the stirrups.
I began riding at age 38. When I started there were a number of folks riding or beginning to ride who were well into their 50s and 60s. Though you should be physically fit with a flexible lower back, riding is a sport that’s appropriate for all ages and something that can be enjoyed all your life. Age barriers blur in the world of riding and there’s an atmosphere of caring and mentoring among riders of all levels.
You can choose among riding activities and gravitate to what feels right for you. Lessons can be taken for fun and exercise, trail ride or to compete. There are many types and levels of competition suitable for various ages and abilities. Adult competitors are usually not mixed with competing youngsters. Galloping across fields, fox hunting, barrel racing or steeple chasing may seem exciting, but those areas of riding are not for the unfit or faint of heart. Not to worry, there’s no need to aspire to these disciplines. A quiet trail ride is likely within your reach.
You’ll want to inquire as to the style of riding a barn subscribes to. There are Western and English styles; both teach a balanced seat. In Western riding the gaits are walk, jog, lope and gallop. In English riding they’re the same, but referred to as walk, trot, canter and gallop. In both Western and English, the rider sits in the saddle at the walk. At the jog, the rider sits but at the trot the rider may sit but usually posts the trot, meaning the rider rises slightly out of the saddle with each forward motion of the horses off (right) foreleg. At the lope and canter, the rider sits in the saddle and for the gallop, both styles have the rider rise slightly out of the saddle. There is no jumping in Western riding, but you may wish to try it if you take up English style.
Consider the saddle for both disciplines. The leather Western saddle is heavy, about 40 pounds and the English saddle is about 20 pounds. You’ll want to learn to tack up and lifting a Western saddle gently onto your horses back can be difficult. Don’t think that you will feel more secure in the deep-seated Western saddle. You’ll need to rely on good balance to stay astride your mount. Once you get your balance, you’ll feel secure in either saddle style and you may like to try bareback.
If you decide that riding is for you, you’ll want to invest in a few items. A helmet of your own is important. Be sure it’s fitted properly, feels comfortable and is safety-certified. Besides the traditional black velvet helmets worn for English riding there are schooling helmets in a wide range of styles and colors. Remember, light colors reflect heat on hot Summer days. Visit a tack shop and browse the aisle of items available to make your riding experience a comfortable and safe one. The staff can guide and fit you properly.
Riding can free you from daily stress and take your mind off your troubles. You may experience the heartfelt bond between horse and rider. Give riding a try, it could change your life for the better.
Barbara enjoys riding, and managing a stable and tack shop part time. She can be reached at [email protected]
SIDE BAR – Names of 5 or 6 stables – coming
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