Introduction to Horseback Riding
Horseback riding is wonderful sport for exercise, recreation, and competition, and with a wide variety of disciplines available it can be enjoyed for a lifetime. Plus it doesn't have to be expensive!
English or Western?
English riding involves eventing, jumping, dressage, polo, and horse racing. Western, with the larger saddle and horn, focuses on reigning, endurance riding, and rodeo disciplines that have historically developed from working ranches. Though the differences in equipment and apparel appear dramatic, fewer differences between "English" and "Western" riding exist than most people think. Both styles require riders to have a solid seat, with the hips and shoulders balanced over the feet, with hands independent of the seat so as to avoid jerking the horse in the mouth and interfering with its performance.
Riding can be enjoyed by anyone, of any ability, regardless of age. We can all remember pony rides as a child! However, for a child to ride on their own they should be no younger than seven because of the strength and attention span required. Don't forget we are dealing with a large animal with a mind of its own!
Summer riding camps are a fabulous introduction to horses and children can learn the basics of riding and care of horses in a fun environment.
Riding schools can also help children and teens master the basics and introduce them to the wide variety of disciplines. At every level students compete in local schooling shows and can eventually advance to international events. Joining a local chapter of the Canadian Pony Club (an international organization with universal standards and testing) is great way to pursue excellence in riding and horsemanship: www.canadianponyclub.org.
Many riding schools offer lessons for adults who have never ridden before. Enjoy a great physical workout along with the social atmosphere of a friendly barn. The quality time spent with a very special animal is a great stress reliever!
To start, here are a few basics that are needed.
• ASTM approved helmet (some stables will lend or rent one to start)
• Boots with a sole (initially rubber rain boots will do)
• Comfortable pants with a bit of stretch (avoid jeans)
Other items can be purchased as you progress, and make ideal presents: riding crop, gloves, breeches, riding boots, grooming kit, saddle pad, and lead shank, just to name a few.
Finding a Stable
Most riding schools now feature valuable information on websites, and the Yellow Pages list riding establishments under "Riding Academies." It is important to visit a few farms to watch lessons in progress before selecting. Being accredited members of organizations such as the Canadian Pony Club and Ontario Camping Association is another good indication of expertise.
Most important is to visit the farm, speak with the instructor, and watch a lesson in progress.
• Is the stable and riding area uncluttered and safely maintained?
• Are the horses well cared for? Shiny coats, well fed, clean stalls?
• Are riding helmets and boots worn by all riders in the lesson?
• Do saddles and bridles look clean and in good repair?
• What is the main focus of the farm? Riding school, boarding stable, breeding farm?
Instructors and qualifications can vary widely. Some have attained formal coaching levels, while others have worked through the stringent levels of the Canadian Pony Club, and still others have years of coaching and high levels of show experience. It can be confusing and you will find no fixed standard, each approach can be completely acceptable. Again, it's important to visit and watch a lesson:
• Is the instructor clear in their teaching?
• Does the lesson fit the student's ability?
• Does the instructor have complete control of the class? Of the horses?
• Are they putting a priority on safety?
• Plus, it has to be fun!
To suit various budget and skill levels most riding schools offer a variety of group, semi-private, and private lessons. Prices will vary so be sure to thoroughly investigate the teaching experience of the instructors, the temperament of the horses, and the safety record of the riding school.
Dianne O'Brien owner and head instructor of Whitchurch Riding Academy for over 25 years, is a graduate of Equine Studies at Humber College. With past experienced in both Eventing and Hunter-Jumper, Dianne now focuses on Dressage, has competed internationally at the FEI Grand Prix level of Dressage, and was short listed for the 1999 Pan Am Games. For more information, visit: www.whitchurchriding.com.