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What to Expect at Your First Horseback Riding Lesson
Every riding instructor, or trainer is different in his or her approach to beginner lessons. The following are some general guidelines about what happens at a first riding lesson. They are not universal rules by any means. The information, however, should give you a general idea of what to expect at your first lesson(s), in either English or western riding, and what questions to ask before you go for that very exciting first ride.
Questions to Ask Before You Go
· If my lesson starts at 6pm, is that the time I need to arrive at the stable?
In general, you should arrive a half hour prior to the start time of your lesson. However, for first lessons this may be different and you should clarify this with the trainer before the day of the lesson. As you, or your child eases into the a lesson program and becomes familiar with the routine and the horses, that half hour lead time becomes the time spent grooming and tacking up the horse so that both horse and rider are ready at the appointed time. After you become comfortable with the horse and the process, this will be unsupervised preparation time. While you’re new to the process, it will likely be part of the lesson.
- · The structure of the lesson
Part of the first lesson will be about general practices around horses and safety with the remaining part of the lesson being the actual riding time. When the sore muscles kick in later, you’ll be thankful that you didn't ride for a solid hour. Especially for the first lessons, be patient with and attentive to the non-riding instruction. Horses are very large animals with minds of their own and working with and around them requires that you follow time-tested rules for safety for the benefit of both you and the horse. After your lesson, you will likely be expected to untack and groom the horse, and perhaps return that horse to its pasture, with supervision. At most facilities, a one hour riding lesson involves two hours of actual time at the barn. After you’ve had some introductory lessons, if your one hour lesson starts at 6:00pm, the time frame will look something like this for future lessons:
- Arrive at the barn at or before 5:30pm: Retrieve, groom and tack-up the horse you will be riding.
- Lesson Time 6:00pm: You should be standing at the arena gate, or door, at your lesson time with your horse next to you, tacked up and ready. If you’re late, your lesson will still end on the hour and there will be no discount. Most trainers teach back-to-back lessons, especially on the weekends, so they must stick to their schedules. Try not to be late!
- 7:00pm Lesson Ends: After some well deserved praise for your progress, you’ll dismount, and walk the horse out of the arena and back to the grooming area where you’ll remove the tack and groom the horse, making sure they are cool, sleek and shiny, before giving them the carrots you brought with you, and returning them to either their pasture or stall for the night. After you’ve cared for the horse, you must make sure that you’ve put everything you’ve used back where it belongs. If the horse pooped in the grooming area, you will be expected to take a scoop or a manure fork and deposit the pile into a nearby receptacle. You may also need to sweep up the area, removing the dirt you cleaned from the horse’s body and hooves. Before you leave, take a last look around to make sure you’ve got everything you brought with you and have put away everything that you used. Now you’re done and it is quite likely 8:00pm.
· Are there helmets available for lesson use at the stable, or do I need to bring one?
Most facilities that offer beginner lessons also provide helmets. But it’s a good idea to confirm that before you begin.
· What should I wear and bring with me?
- Long pants are a must, jeans are preferable.
- Hard sole, closed toe shoes with a heel and not much tread are important. Hiking boots aren’t good because they tend to be wide and have a deep tread that gets stuck in the stirrup. Boots that are made for riding are best. If you can borrow a pair from someone for your first few lessons, that is ideal. If that’s not an option, ask the trainer what would be best. When you’re ready to buy riding boots, please see my hub titled How to find the Right type of Equestrian Riding Boot for the Right type of Riding at the Right Price.
- Bring a bottle of water.
- Wear a comfortable shirt that you won’t mind getting dirty. Short sleeves are fine. Sun screen and bug spray are a good idea if you’ll be riding in an outdoor arena. Layers are best in cold weather.
- Finally, if you could ask the horse what the most important thing to bring with you is, he probably would say an apple, or carrot or two for him!
- Don't forget the payment for the trainer! Most take cash or checks and the cost varies wildly depending on the area, the discipline, whether it's a private or semi-private lesson, etc. Know what the lesson will cost before you go.
- Signing a waiver
I’ve taken lessons at many different barns in several states, in both English and western styles of riding. My children also both take lessons as well and I have always, without exception, been asked to sign a waiver stating that riding horses has its dangers and you accept that and won’t sue the stable if you get hurt.
- The Expectations of Children about horses
Reading is one of my favorite things in the world, but fictional children’s stories about horses sometimes create an unrealistic image of the human-horse bond. Children need to know that the horse has no attachment to them (yet) and that horses aren’t particularly cuddly. They shouldn’t mistake them for Teddy bears. Horses are a different kind of wonderful and safety is the primary concern. Children should be reminded to watch where they put their feet in the vicinity of a horse because the horse won’t always watch where they put their own feet. They will learn all the safety rules at their first lessons, but parents should listen closely also, to remind their kids periodically when they might forget a rule or two.
Tack is the equipment used when riding horses. You'll learn about it as you learn to ride, but here are a few basic items that are often confused and what they're called.
Halter: This is what goes on the horse's head in order to lead them and work around them from the ground. The lead rope attaches to the halter for leading, and cross-ties clip to each side of the halter for hands free grooming. The halter can be leather, or synthetic. The halters in these images are nylon.
Bridle: This item also goes on the horse's head, but it is used for riding. It too can be leather or synthetic. The bridles in these images are used in English riding. People who are new to horses often confuse the halter with the bridle, but they have very different uses.
A western saddle is much larger than an English saddle. All the riders in my photos are using English jumping saddles, so here's an example of a western saddle.
There is more to learn about horses and riding than you could learn in a lifetime. I work hard to better my riding, because the better I am, the better it is for the horse; and they deserve at least that from us, and much more. Have fun. Be safe. Enjoy the ride.