Where to Begin When You Want to Learn to Ride Horses
Stop believing that you can’t be part of the equestrian world on a limited budget. When I was a kid, I heard someone mutter the old Scottish proverb, “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” I understood it more literally than most people in the late 20th century would, being a horse-obsessed person from my earliest memories. Having been on a limited budget for most of my life, I would have to say that while I do not technically fall under the category of ‘beggar’, I have managed to do more riding than that proverb gave me any hope of doing. So can you.
If you or your child is passionate about spending time with horses, there are ways to work around a minimal budget. If you have little, or no experience with horses, you will most likely need to initially pay for some lessons, but don’t lose heart! If you had experience with horses somewhere in your personal history, but assume it’s out of the question in your current situation—well, need I say it? Don’t assume, friends. There are ways to be involved with these amazing animals, without having a trust fund; really.
I understand the objections:
· I’m a working single parent and my horse-obsessed child doesn’t understand that even transportation to and from a riding facility is difficult, not to mention all the financial barriers to realizing her horse-related dreams.
· I’m an adult now with responsibilities, a career, a family. It’s not just about me anymore. I can’t justify taking that kind of time and expense, away from my family.
· I’m too old to get involved with horses now, anyway.
· I’m just starting my career. I have to save and invest. I have student loan debt. I have lots of pressure on me to get out of debt and build a life.
Regardless of the excuses, is there a nagging feeling, a hole somewhere in you that only time with horses can fill? I would humbly like to offer some assistance in helping you achieve your horse-related goals, whether to ride once a week, or get serious enough to compete.
Horses make us better people. Learning to ride and work around animals weighing half ton--more or less--builds confidence and, of course, the human/horse bond is something that can’t be described. If you’ve experienced it, you just want more of it. It is a partnership that is invaluable.
The first thing to do to get your foot in—or back in—the stirrup, is to find a facility that gives lessons and has lesson horses to ride. They are in most communities, however, it’s not always to easy to locate them, if you don’t already have ties to the horse community. You’ll need to begin by deciding what sort of riding you or your child wants to pursue.
Some stables offer lessons in multiple disciplines, but most specialize in one or two areas of riding. If you don’t already know what type of riding you want to do, use your favorite search engine to begin to decide. Start by typing in western riding, and then compare that to English riding. The images that come up will help you, but do some reading as well. Different disciplines will lead you into different horse related activities.
If you know exactly what type of riding you or your child wants to do, you can go to the website for the association in that discipline and find a list of all the local stables that teach, train and show in that specific type of riding. In dressage, you’ll find information by region, and in hunter jumpers, you’ll find information by zones. In barrel racing, you’ll first find your district and then enter your state. If a specific breed of horse is your passion, find the local branch of the association for that breed and you’ll find stables that cater to the breed and the disciplines most associated with that breed.
Outside of the internet, go to tack stores and horse expos, or horse fairs and talk to people. In Minnesota, where I live, we have a fantastic yearly Horse Expo. You’ll find all the help you need there to get started, or back into the horse world. County fairs or state fairs are often good resources also. Watch the horse shows at the fairs if you want to get more of a handle on the type of riding you might want to do. As you watch a variety of competitions and ask questions about what you’re seeing, you’ll begin to discover where your real interest lies. If you’re looking for your child, find out if there is a 4-H horse group in the area. Tack stores have billboards covered with all the community has to offer in equestrian activities and stables--just try not to get too distracted by all the lovely pictures of horses for sale. This summer, the Olympics will offer a chance to see the very top competitors at the most advanced levels of competition in certain disciplines. These are movements and jump heights most horses and horse lovers will never even aspire to, but it does give you an idea of what can be achieved within a discipline.
Once you’ve found a riding style that suits you and a stable that offers lessons, now the hard work begins; the sore muscles, and the expense. I can’t help with the first two, but I have lots of suggestions to help defray some of the expense. Lessons can be expensive. You’ll most likely be taking a weekly lesson, either private or semi-private. Be patient. As you or your child develops a relationship with a trainer, that trainer will learn that you’re serious about doing this and you will learn how tough it is and how rewarding. When those two things start to evolve, you can begin to ask about trading lessons for chores. There are an endless number of things to be done at any equine facility. Some require lots of experience with horses, but others don’t. Cleaning stalls is certainly not glamorous, but it needs to be done, and you might be able to trade some weekend stall cleaning for lessons.
Winston Churchill said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” Learning to safely interact with horses is a lifelong journey of discovery. They are amazing animals and it is a privilege to spend time with them. Where ever your personal journey will take you, should always start with the best interest of the horse in mind. Enjoy the ride.
Trainer Tip from Alisha O’Dell (hunter, jumper, dressage and eventing trainer): When you begin taking lessons, you will come to the realization that riding horses is more challenging than you initially thought. Because of this, it is important to choose a trainer that will be positive and encouraging as you work your way through the process of learning to ride. You want a trainer who will be honest in evaluating your progress, and who will provide a positive environment for learning.