Horseback Riding For Beginners:Q&A

There are many questions the beginning horseback rider will have when starting out. Here are answers to frequently asked questions about horseback riding.

Question: I've been invited on a horseback riding camping trip next week with some friends, but I'm not very experienced with horses. What can I do to get ready for the trip?

Answer: It would help you a lot if you went to a riding school for a private lesson at least once in the next week. You need to be honest with your friends about your skill level with horses, and make sure your mount is suited to your experience level. Don't go for a fast or unsteady horse. You will need a slow, well trained, and steady horse. Keep your riding slow and easy. Make sure you are riding with experienced riders or a skilled riding instructor. Ask them your questions as they come up and do all you can to follow their lead. Your group should adjust their speed to be slow enough for you to ride comfortably. If the others in your group are going too fast and won't slow down, ask someone to stay behind with you.

Question: I don't have any equestrian riding boots, and I can't buy any right now, so what kind of shoes are a second best for horseback riding?

Answer: If you are just doing light riding for an odd afternoon, you can likely get by with just a pair of sturdy boots such as Wellington boots, with a fairly smooth bottoms and low one inch heels. Often old boots with little traction or tread left are better than new boots that have a lot of traction. You should use safety stirrups.

Question: Can I get by without a helmet? They look dorky.

Answer: Well, ask yourself: can I get by without a brain? The chances of serious injury to the head are so much greater if you aren't wearing a safety helmet. Your helmet should be ASTM approved, and yes, you should wear it anytime you are riding.

Question: I've noticed a lot of cheap used riding helmets, and I'm wondering if there is any reason why you should only use new helmets, like I've heard at the riding school.

Answer: If you use a used riding helmet, it can have hidden fractures and flaws that you can't see due to falls or accidents by its former owner. This could result in the helmet not protecting you in the event of an accident or fall. You can skimp on a lot of riding equipment, but you always need a sturdy dependable helmet that you know has never been in an accident or fall.

Question: Every time I try to lead my daughter's new pony, he stops and starts or pulls on the rope. Is this normal? How can I fix it?

Answer: Your pony should be walking by your side and not pulling on the rope. Stand by the horse's left shoulder and go ahead and give your pony the cue to begin (such as "walk" or "go" or "come." You can try tapping long whip on the pony's croup if he doesn't get the idea that he's supposed to walk beside you. When it's time for the pony to stop, always give him the right cue (such as "halt" or "whoa", whatever it is you use you just have to use it consistently."

Question: I am taking my kids to visit a relative on a horse ranch, and I wondered what kind of horse riding safety tips I should teach them?

Answer: Make sure they know how dangerous it can be to be near horses alone, and that they shouldn't ever go to visit the stable alone. Tell them that they should never startle a horse or walk up behind it and make a loud noise. You should have your kids always approach a horse from the front, with an adult's supervision, and have them talk quietly to the horse as they approach it. You always need to have sturdy shoes with hard, protective toes when you are near a horse. Don't go near a horse wearing flip-flops or sandals. The horse might step on your foot accidentally, and this can be pretty serious. When the owner says you can pet a horse, teach your kids that they should put their hand on the horse's neck first and that when they pet the horse they like more of a rub than a doggy-like pet. Make sure you your kids don't loose their temper around a horse or have a tantrum. Horses are easily startled and can kick and kill children easily.

Question: I was out riding in a big group of horses and riders recently and noticed that one of the horses had a red ribbon tied around his tail. What does this mean?

Answer: The red ribbon tied around a horse's tail means danger. People often tie a red ribbon around a tail of a horse that kicks or is extremely temperamental or easily startled by noises. If you ever see a horse with a red ribbon tied around his tail, stay back and be wary.

Question: What are the basic trail riding rules of etiquette?

Answer: First, make sure you only ride on trails that allow equestrians. Look for horseback rider signs, or check with your local trail overseers or National Parks and trails authorities. Second, hikers and bikers should yield to horseback riders, but be considerate and make sure they are aware you are approaching. It is better to move off the trail to let others pass than let your horse get spooked and kick or get out of control. If the visibility is low on a trail, you can tie a bell to your halter so that other people using the trail will hear you, and then call out if you don't think they notice you. Be friendly and talk to other trail users, particularly backpackers, since the sight of a person carrying a backpack can spook a horse. If the backpacker is talking to you, your horse won't be as likely to get spooked. Fourth, all members of your group should ride single file on a trail. Fifth, every rider should let the rider behind them know of any dangers or low branches.

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