Like many starry-eyed little girls, I fell in love with horses at a very early age. I never thought it was a coincidence that I was born in the Chinese Zodiac year of the horse. Despite this love for everything equine related, I did not grow up riding much and we couldn’t afford a horse. I only got the occasional opportunity to ride, and I always jumped on it.
It wasn’t until a year and a half ago I really started to pursue riding. It has its ups and downs, like anything in life, but even on a bad day I know that I’m gaining valuable skills. And whether it’s riding or mucking stalls or just spending time in the barn, it’s amazing how being in the atmosphere can clear your mind and renew your spirit.
Here are some tips that might help if you are a beginner.
Have a goal in mind. When I started riding, I simply wanted to get comfortable riding and working with horses. I quickly realized that having a more solid goal in mind helps a lot. You will always be learning how to ride, so to speak, as every time you’re in the saddle you are developing as a rider. Whether your goal is to show horses or to hit the trails for a relaxing ride, having tangible checkpoints along the way helps you see your progress.
A good horse will carry you on a relaxing ride and provide draft power where it's needed. Photo by Fotolia/Tyler Olson.
Get good boots. Never go in a barn without proper footwear. You may have heard of or seen the damage that can be done to an unshod human foot when it comes in contact with a heavy hoof. Not pretty. For English riding, I’ve found that the Tredstep Giotto paddock boot is very comfortable and durable. They don’t pinch anywhere and are easy to zip, which can be a challenge in the winter when your hands and fingers don’t seem to want to work. These riding boots helped me avoid what could have been a far worse experience when my foot was stepped on by a big draft mix horse.
Find an instructor. A good instructor who has made it their life’s work to handle horses and teach riders understands the finer points of developing an equestrian. To find an instructor, ask around and check with your horse friends, or do some research on the Internet. If you’re lucky enough to have friends or family who own horses and are willing to teach you how to ride, that is a big plus.
Try new things. At first I rode mostly western style, because I always figured it was what suited me better. But as I started hanging around the barn more and watching the other girls riding English, I gave it a shot and ended up really enjoying it. Avoid putting yourself into one category too quickly. Be open to trying different styles.
Some of the skills you develop in English-style riding can also be applied when riding Western. Photo by Fotolia/George Dolgikh.
Make friends. I’ve made some great friends at the barn, and when you’re with good people, it makes learning so much easier. They are great resources and provide much needed encouragement. Ask questions and pick their brains.
Wear a helmet – at least until you’ve been riding a while and you’re comfortable with your horse handling abilities. Because …
… You will fall off. Not that you will be falling off left and right, but as you develop your riding skills, you will be trying new and challenging things. Falling is just part of the process. My first instructor had been riding for at least 30 years, and I remember once when she said, “I feel a fall coming on soon; I usually get a good one in once a year,” like it was perfectly normal – and it is. Accepting that it is just part of riding made it easier for me to focus on the positives rather than worrying about the negatives. The important thing is to get back on.
Sweet William is a Thoroughbred-draft mix, and the first horse I rode when I began taking lessons. About 30 minutes after this photo was taken, he spooked, I flew, and I experienced my first wipe out. It was good to get it out of the way. Photo by Bradley Trimble.
Breathe. I still forget to do this sometimes when I’m back in the saddle after not riding for a while. Breathe in rhythm with your horse’s stride. There’s a tremendous difference when I remind myself to do this.
And of course, have fun! Get to know your horse. Bring him or her treats like apples and carrots if the owner allows it.
I'll send you off with some advice I received from a good riding buddy: "The hardest part about riding is the ground."