It is common to romanticize horseback riding
in one way or another, though you can never realize the true depth of the sport until you immerse yourself into the culture. Depending on the type of riding that you choose, you will have varying experiences with horses, instructors, other riders and competitors, culminating in an exciting experience with both good times and bad. But choosing the right stable with appropriate instructors should be your top priority if you are to enjoy your lessons and the horses you ride.
Opening up the phone book and setting up lessons with the first stable in the A section is probably not the best way to go. Though some stables might have flashy ads or guaranteed results, you’ll want to ride in an environment where you feel comfortable and safe. If you follow the guidelines below, you’ll have a great start in your horseback riding career.
SCHEDULE A MEETING
Pull out the phone book and look up stables in your area. They can usually be found under Stables, Riding Academies, Barns, and Horseback Riding, though every community is different. Write down a few that look interesting to the eye, and jot down their phone numbers as well. Make sure that you call in the morning or evening, because riding instructors and trainers will be out working during the daytime hours. When you talk to an instructor, ask the following questions:
1. What kind of riding do you teach? If you want to be a cowboy and you set up lessons with a jumping facility, then you won’t be getting what you want.
2. How much do lessons cost? Is there a discount for paying in advance? Most barns offer a standard per-lesson rate, and a discounted bulk rate. The latter means that you pay for an entire month of lessons before the first, and stables usually like that because it ensures that you will show up. Also, ask if you still must pay for the lesson if you are sick or unable to make it, or if they give make-up lessons.
3. What is your experience? Even if you know little-to-nothing about horses, the instructor can tell you how long he’s been teaching and what kind of competitions he’s been in. This will give you an idea of his professionalism.
4. Can I come take a tour? The instructor should be happy to meet with you at a specified time to discuss lessons and to show you around the facility. Pick a mutually-agreeable time and be sure to show up on time.
This is your chance to decide if this is a place where you would like to come for lessons each week. Be on the lookout from the moment you drive up for things that you like and don’t like. Even if you aren’t an accomplished horseman, common sense will tell you when something’s amiss. These are the things you should look out for:
1. Cleanliness and Order. Is the parking lot free of litter? Are the barns freshly painted and free of holes or rotten wood? Do the fences look properly cared for? The way that an owner manages his stable is comparable to how they treat their horses and their students, so look for signs of neglect.
2. Health of Horses. Do the horses look well-cared-for? Are their coats clean and shiny? Are their hooves smooth and strong? Do they seem happy? You don’t want to ride at a facility where the horses are not clean and healthy, because you won’t enjoy riding them. Plus, trainers who do not care for their horses will likewise fail to care for you.
3. Quality of Facility. Since you are just starting out, you won’t know precisely what to look for, but you can determine if the facility will meet your needs. Is there an indoor arena for inclement weather? Are there jumps for English riders? Barrels for Western riders? Are there multiple arenas?
Judging these factors will help give an overall impression of the farm, which may or may not change after your meeting.
The instructor with whom you meet should be willing to talk with you and answer any questions you might have. Ask her to show you which horses you might likely ride. Ask if you will have a different horse each week, or the same one until you improve. Most of all, use common sense to determine if this is someone from whom you would enjoy learning. Does he seem open to questions? Does he explain things well? And most importantly, are you comfortable with him? These factors will determine whether or not you will have fun in your lessons, and if you can learn from this person.
DON’T CHOOSE YET
Visit at least three or four stables before making a decision. You can always switch later, but it’s better to get the right instruction from the beginning so there are fewer bad habits to break. All instructors teach differently, and if you are constantly changing stables, you are likely to become confused. Learning the basics is the most important part of your riding career, and if they aren’t established, you will end up back at square one.
YOUR FIRST LESSON
Your first lesson with your instructor is the final test. When you are actually on a horse’s back and learning from him, you will finally see if you can continue lessoning with him. The first lesson should be private (versus group, when there are other riders in the arena) so that you receive the attention that a first-time rider requires. If you aren’t happy, or if you don’t think that it will work, move on to the next stable on your list. This is a learning experience and should be done right.