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Preparing For Your First Horse Riding Lesson
Arranging Your First Lesson
I already talked about choosing a barn in a previous hub. This hub assumes you've already made that difficult decision and are scheduling your first lesson.
Barns generally have one of two policies regarding beginners. Some barns start all beginners off in private lessons. Others put beginners together in small groups. Both approaches can work equally well. However, if given the choice, it is often best to have your first lesson be a one on one with the instructor.
Either way, schedule the lesson for a time when you can be confident of getting there in plenty of time. Most instructors don't like it when people are late and if your lesson is a group lesson you may well not be allowed to ride if you are more than five minutes or so late. So, immediately after work or school is often a poor decision. Aim to arrive about fifteen minutes before the scheduled time.
What To Wear
Most reputable barns provide helmets. Some do not provide or require them and a few will insist that you purchase a helmet before your first lesson (I recommend avoiding those barns as a beginner, as if you don't like it, you're out the price of a helmet - there is no second-hand market for them). As a beginner, you should borrow or rent a helmet.
In terms of clothing, wear long pants and closed toed shoes with a slight heel. Do not ride in tennis shoes, especially English. Never wear sandals, flip flops or crocs around horses. On top, a long-sleeved, lightweight top is best. In winter, bear in mind that you will both be physically active and sitting on top of a thousand pound space heater. You should be slightly cold when you get on. Therefore, wear outer layers that unzip or unbutton so that if you do have to take one off in the middle of the lesson, you can do so without having to get off the horse.
Remove all jewelry except plain, flush to the finger wedding bands and simple stud earrings. Do not ride in hooped earrings and do not wear any kind of necklace. If you have a medalert necklace, then make sure you have a pocket to put it in, but don't wear it. Some nasty injuries have happened as a result of the combination of jewelry and falls.
If you have long hair, tie it back in a simple ponytail. Serious riders often wear hair nets, which look neater and are not that expensive, but take some practice to learn to wear correctly.
Don't bother spending money on expensive items such as breeches or cowboy boots until you know you are going to be serious about riding.
How Fit Should I Be?
Fairly, but normal fitness will not prevent saddle soreness - you will be saddle sore the first few times you ride and a hot tub is the best cure.
If you do want to do some exercises before riding, then the best ones are crunches, reverse crunches (where the legs are lifted instead of the upper torso) and squats. You might also get some benefit from supermans (lie on your stomach and slowly lift both the upper torso and the legs. Don't lift too far with these, or you can put strain on your back. Walking backwards, heel first, is another good exercise for riding.
Before your lesson do stretch both your legs and your arms, paying special attention to the back of the calf...standing on a step and letting your heel 'drop' off of it is the best stretch to use here.
Also, note that many barns have a 200 pound weight limit for riders.
What Should I Expect On The Day?
First of all, don't eat a heavy meal closer than an hour before riding. If possible, arrange to eat after the lesson, or eat something relatively light. You don't want to be heading for a food coma when getting on a horse.
Absolutely do not drink alcohol before riding. Alcohol impairs judgment and in some states it is illegal to drink and ride (it's considered a DUI/DWI). Although many people break this rule, it really is a bad idea.
As I already said, aim to arrive about 15 minutes before the time of your lesson. Some barns teach a lot of non-riding stuff before allowing you to ride, so be ready for that. Be sure to check in with the barn office and pay, if you haven't already.
You may be pre-assigned a horse, or the instructor may make that determination at the start of the lesson...every barn is a little different in how they do it. Either way, expect to be given a horse that is of suitable size to carry you but is likely to be on the older side. Many beginner horses are over twenty and some horses are capable of giving lessons into their thirties.
Listen to the instructor. The instructor is god. If she tells you to stop doing something, stop immediately.
Do not run in barn aisles. Absolutely do not smoke in, or within 50 yards of, any of the barn structures. If in doubt, leave the cigarettes at home. Hay dust is highly combustible and any naked flame is a significant fire hazard.
Safety Around Horses
During your lesson you'll be introduced to large animals...possibly very large ones if you happen to be a larger-framed adult. Horses can range from 600 pound ponies to 1800 pound draft horses. Your instructor will go over how to handle them safely, but these tips are good to know in advance:
1. Horses cannot see directly behind them and also have a small blind spot directly in front of the nose. You should not approach a horse from the rear or step behind a horse if it can be avoided. If going behind a horse is unavoidable, then you should stay as close to the horse's rear as possible, keep a hand on the rump, and keep talking. This will prevent the horse from forgetting it is you and kicking out. Being as close to the rear legs as possible reduces the risk of injury if the horse does kick, as then it will hit you with its leg, not its hoof. Do not reach up to pet a horse from directly in front, as they can also startle them...approach from slightly to the side.
2. As mentioned before, do not wear open toed shoes, sandals or crocs near horses, or go barefoot. Having one's foot stepped on is an occupational hazard. Also, do not wear steel-toed boots, as these can actually result in worse injury from such an accident.
3. Don't run or shout around horses. Horses appreciate quiet, calm motion from those around them. They react to negative emotion and studies have proven that they can actually hear a rider or handler's heartbeat.
4. Don't allow small children to run up to or around horses, as horses may not notice them, which can also result in injury.
Have fun. Riding a horse is like nothing else and the bond that can form between horse and rider is incomparable.
Yes, you might get saddle sore the first few times - I still do if I ride for longer than I'm used to - but that goes away quickly. So does any residual fear of these large, but gentle animals.
Oh. And take treats. Most horses love carrots...