September 28, 2021

Back to Basics : Tips for New Riders

You’re finally going to do it: take your first riding lesson. It’s a dream you’ve had for a long time, and now it’s coming to fruition.

Audrey Pavia

If you booked a lesson with a good riding stable, they probably gave you some instructions beforehand: wear comfortable clothing and safe boots for riding, be prepared to wear a riding helmet, and bring some water to drink after the ride. But to get the most out of your lesson, follow these tips for new riders.

Being Around Horses

If you haven’t spent a lot of time around horses, you’ll want to get to the barn early so you can be around the horses for a while. Watch their body language, and observe how they interact with each other and the humans around them. Horses are experts at reading our body language and sensing our energy, so it’s only logical we should return the favor.

If your lesson includes the opportunity to groom your horse before you ride—always a great idea—this is your chance to become acquainted with your horse on the ground before you climb into the saddle. Lesson horses are usually the gentlest and most forgiving horses you’ll ever find. They are picked for their easygoing personalities. Your lesson horse will appreciate the attention he will get from you as you pick out his feet, curry his coat and brush out his mane. This will give the two of you some time to get to know each other.

Remember that horses are easily startled, so speak gently to your horse as you approach him. Be careful not to come up directly behind him because this may cause him to startle and kick. Approach from the side, and always make sure the horse knows you are there before you get too close.

Whenever you are around horses, avoid running. Horses are herd animals, and if they see people running, they assume something bad is happening, and they should run too. This is an especially important part of horse behavior for children to understand. Kids like to run when they are excited, but running near horses can actually be dangerous.

 

Back to Basics : Tips for New Riders

 

Tips for New Riders : In the Saddle

Horses evolved as prey animals, and they have a strong sense of self-preservation. Their general philosophy is “Run first, ask questions later.” A frightened horse’s first reaction will be to shy or bolt to get away from whatever scared him. This creates an interesting dilemma for riders who must be alert and always prepared in the event their horse spooks at something, while at the same time not being uptight while they ride. An anxious rider makes for an anxious horse, so being relaxed when you ride is imperative. If your horse senses you are nervous, he will assume something is amiss, and he will get nervous too.

Fortunately, most lesson horses are pretty unflappable. They get a lot of exercise, and spend a lot of time in a familiar environment. This makes them less likely to spook at something during a lesson. That said, you never know when a bird is going to fly out of bush next to the arena just as you are riding past it, or if car in the parking lot is going to backfire. Something completely unexpected could startle your horse, so you need to be emotionally prepared. Knowing a spook could happen will make you less frightened if it does occur. Dealing with spooks is a requirement of being a rider, and you’ll learn most spooks are really no big deal.

If you are just learning to ride, you won’t have great reflexes when it comes to handling your first spook. Rest assured that your instructor will talk you through whatever happens, and the incident will likely be over very quickly with no harm done to you or your horse. Most horses spook by just being startled in place for a brief moment, or running a few steps forward and then stopping on their own, or at your request when you pull back on the reins. Just remember to sit deep in the saddle and maintain your balance. A rider with good balance can easily get through most spooks.

When it comes to the sport of riding, many people think the horse does all the work. As a new rider, you’ll soon discover that’s not true! Riding is a sport just like any other, and requires physical strength, stamina and athleticism on the part of the rider. Of course you’ll need to develop all this as you learn to ride and as you spend more time in the saddle. Be prepared to be sore after your first lesson, mostly in your legs. It’s a good kind of soreness, though, the kind that will remind you with every step that you’ve begun an exciting new journey with horses.

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