I usually write my blog for people already involved a bit with horses, either having their own or who ride already but want to know more. However, I thought I should also consider those who are maybe keen to get started. So today's blog is for people wanting to learn to ride to cover what they need to know, what to expect and where to go.
How to find somewhere to ride.
There are many riding schools and centres around the country offering different facilities and different types of lessons. These are advertised locally and often have a website with basic details so if you search 'riding school in ................' a list may appear. When looking for somewhere suitable you need to consider the following :
- standard of teaching and supervision
- standard and experience of horses/ponies, that they are quiet and sensible
- standard of facilities and a safe area for teaching
- standard of horse care and well managed
- standard of tack, it must be well kept and safe
If you are just starting to learn or returning to riding after a break you really want to know that the place you are going has met certain standards. I suggest visiting the British Horse Society website at http://www.bhs.org.uk to find a list of their approved riding centres. The website shows the grades given for different elements so that you can see exactly how good the centre is. To become a BHS approved centre they are inspected for safety, horses, level of instruction, facilities and equipment and horse care and management.
Each riding school or centre will then have one or more instructors. Again, you want to know that you are being taught by a knowledgeable person who is safe. I feel that it is important to find an instructor who is qualified and has therefore proved their ability to teach. It is also important (especially for children) that the instructor is cleared to be teaching!
The British Horse Society has a register for instructors - this is also available to view online. These instructors have to complete a certain number of hours training and complete First Aid and Safeguarding qualifications. They also have to hold up to date Disclosure and Barring Service checks (used to be Criminal Records Bureau) and undertake regular Continuing Professional Development.
There are different levels of instructors too:
- AI is an Assistant Instructor - in my opinion these instructors will be knowledgeable enough to teach beginner riders and many other 'pleasure' riders.
- II is an Intermediate Instructor - these instructors have considerably more experience teaching and competing and will be able to take a rider to the next level.
- I is an Instructor - and again these instructors have even more experience teaching at higher levels and competing and again will be able to move a rider onwards and upwards.
- Fellow - this is the highest level of instructor and there are not a huge number of instructors that meet this level.
Once you have identified a possible riding school or centre go and have a look around. Watch a lesson and talk to someone to make sure that the centre is right for you. Remember that if after a couple of lessons you don't feel the instructor's style suits you it is always fine to change instructors or centres if you wish. Different teaching styles suit different people!
What to expect.
You will need to give the centre some personal information when you book your first lesson. As well as any riding experience they will ask your height and weight, this is so that they can choose an appropriate horse for you. Once they have seen you ride on your first lesson they may change things for the next.
At your first lesson the horse will probably be brought out to the school for you. Remember not to walk behind the horse! The first challenge will be getting on, it is likely that you will be provided with a mounting block of some sort. Even experienced riders will use a mounting block as it means there is less 'pulling' on the horse's back. The first lesson is likely to only be in walk and you will probably be led. This will give you an opportunity to concentrate on things other than controlling your horse. You will learn how to hold the reins and how to sit correctly and the basics of how to make the horse go forward and how to stop. The basics of how to turn left and right will be introduced too.
As you progress you will gain in confidence and ability, you will ride different horses and learn the nuances of making horses go, stop and turn. There are so many paths to take with riding horses that you can never be bored. It is rewarding and varied sport!
What you will need.
For your first few lessons you won't need much equipment as the riding centre will provide a hard hat initially. A hard hat is essential and compulsory at riding centres, competitions and many other places. You should wear good, strong boots either ankle or knee length with a small heel to prevent your foot from slipping through the stirrup. The boots should not have too much tread as this can get caught in the stirrup. Comfy trousers are a must, jeans are not always a good option as the inside seam can rub your legs. Ideally a long sleeved top and if it is the winter your coat/jumper should be securely zipped or buttoned as a flapping coat will frighten most horses. Thin gloves may be a good idea too to keep your hands warm in the winter but you will need to hold the reins so thick woolly ones won't be any good!
Once you have had a few lessons you may wish to consider buying your own riding hat. Getting a hat that fits well, meets current British standards and is not damaged is essential. Steer clear of second hand riding hats, they may look fine but if they have had a knock they are likely to be damaged inside (where you can't see) and this will seriously affect their protection. Go to a reputable saddlery or tack shop where they will advise and fit the hat for you - most good shops will have staff trained in hat fitting! It is worth knowing that they do feel tight initially! Riding hats need replacing if you fall off, drop or knock your hat - as mentioned above the inside may be damaged. Although they are an expense riding hats should also be replaced every 5 years (or earlier). IS IT WORTH THE RISK? I invested in a new hat last year - see my blog here.
Never forget that horses are unpredictable and riding is a risk sport. However, the feeling of cantering along a grassy track or flying over a jump really can't be beaten.
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Until next time!