Lesson Preparation is Key to Success

"Fail to plan = plan to fail"

A riding instructor, riding clothes, and riding style are important considerations when signing up for horseback riding lessons.

Every good horseback rider had to start with his or her first riding lesson. The right instructor, the right clothing, the right expectations and the right attitude will help beginning riders get the most out of their first lessons. Sometimes the excitement of riding a horse by oneself can be overwhelmed by the apprehension of actually taking the reins. Knowing what a riding lesson will entail is key to being mentally ready, avoiding apprehension, and keeping the excitement.

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Riding Clothes:

  • Long pants and a hard-soled heeled boot are the must for horseback riding. Long pants protect a rider’s legs from chafing against the stirrup leathers and seams of the saddle. Jeans are acceptable for beginning riders, but breeches may be more desirable (and comfortable!)
  • A hard-soled boot is safest against injury in case of being stepped on by the horse, and sturdiest to keep the rider’s foot in the stirrup. A heel of ½ - 1 inch is necessary to keep the boot from sliding through the stirrup and becoming caught. A taller heel is unsafe because it can catch on things around the barn.
  • Wear a fitted tee-shirt instead of a tank top in summer, because it allows some protection of the shoulders in case of a fall, and wear non-bulky warm layers in winter.
    Gloves can be worn but aren’t absolutely necessary until later in a rider’s education; choose thin leather gloves that provide some grip.
  • Lastly, a respectable riding school will mandate use of an ASTM/SEI-approved helmet for all riders under the age of 18, and recommend them for all riders of any age or ability. Lots of riding programs have a selection of helmets to borrow from, but a dedicated riding student should own a helmet that fits well and comfortably. There are a few models as inexpensive as $50 in the United States.

Western or English Riding?

Depending on the types of riding that are offered in a certain lesson program, beginners may have to decide if they want to ride “Western” or “English.” These are styles of riding, which differ in type of tack used (i.e. saddle, bridle) and also in some positioning of the rider’s body. In a beginner’s lesson, western riding and English riding are the same, except for the type of tack. Not until a rider becomes more advanced will the differences between the two styles manifest themselves. Until then, the basics of riding (including steering the horse and position of the rider’s body on the horse) will be synonymous between the two styles.

A Typical Beginner’s Lesson:

Some programs include learning how to groom and tack up a horse as part of the lesson, and others do not. The opportunity to learn how to groom a horse offers insight into how the horse reacts to human presence, and also the beginning of a personal relationship with the horse. Having a rapport with the horse is very important because it instills confidence in the rider. Learning how to tack up the horse is also very informative, because the rider learns how the tack works together and how it helps both horse and rider. It is also confidence-building because the rider often learns the names of the equipment, and is therefore better able to understand and communicate with his instructor.

The rider will learn:

  • How to Approach and Safely be around a Horse
  • How to Tack up (Dress them for Riding)
  • How to lead a Horse
  • How to Pick up and Clean their feet
  • How to mount and Dismount for Riding
  • How to tell the horse to walk forward, stop, turn, and possibly back up
  • The 4 basic gaits of a horse
  • How to position your legs, heels, torso, head, arms, and hands to best direct the horse and why if necessary
  • How to Trot and Canter once Rider is balanced enough
  • Routine care for the horse (Nutrition, Vet care, Physical maintenance)

How to Evaluate the First Riding Experience:

After a lesson, beginning riders should feel excited about their first experiences in a riding lesson. They should feel a connection to the horse they rode, and also an understanding with the instructor who taught. They should feel safe the whole time, yet push their boundaries a bit. If the lesson leaves the beginning rider uneasy or unsure, he should decide if riding would be more enjoyable with a different instructor, with a different environment, or if riding is not a suitable endeavor for the individual. Overall, the experience should be positive, encouraging, and touching on a personal level.