Riding a horse for the first time can be intimidating, even in a controlled lesson environment. Horses are big animals and some people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that they let us tell them what to do, let alone ride them around. Fortunately, there are a few definitive ways to prepare for your first ride, whether on a simple trail ride or in a lesson. Here are some steps to take to help ensure you have a fun (and safe) ride:
Choose a riding facility with a good reputation. Local tack stores are great places to find out the who’s who of equestrian facilities in your area. Looking online is good, too, but be wary of relying solely on internet reviews. Anywhere you go to ride should have at least some basic instruction on horse and rider safety, such as leading from the horse’s left side as well as mounting and dismounting properly.
Invest in the proper equipment. A bike helmet isn’t going to cut it on horseback! As opposed to buying online, I recommend going to your local tack store where there are professionals waiting to help you properly fit your equipment. If you are riding Western you will generally need a helmet, boots, and jeans. If you are riding English, you will need a helmet, boots, and breeches (although some people choose to wait on those until after their first ride). When you choose a riding facility, make sure you find out exactly what equipment they require.
Stretch! This might sound silly, especially if you’re just going to be walking, but riding a horse will engage muscles in different ways than your body is accustomed to. Stretching before and after a ride is a great way to keep yourself from getting sore.
If possible, spend a little time getting to know the horse you’ll be riding. Feed them some treats (if allowed) and give them some loving. This is a great way to start building a relationship with that horse and letting them get to know you, too, so you can establish some level of trust.
If you are not comfortable with the horse assigned to you, let someone know. Your first ride should be as comfortable and relaxing as possible, and the facility needs to know if you don’t feel safe with the horse that they’ve chosen for you. This not only benefits you as a rider, this may give them an indication that they need to reevaluate their selections or notify them that something is not right with that particular horse.
Pay attention to and follow instructions given by staff. I cannot stress this enough. These instructions are given for your safety, other riders’ safety, and the safety of the horses and staff.
One of the most important things I tell people is not to be intimidated by their size. Most horses at public riding facilities—whether lessons or trail—are friendly (or at least tolerant) and they know their jobs. Horses are by nature gentle creatures, and when treated well they tend to enjoy the company of people.
Riding is like eating potato chips: you can never have just one. A lot of people get hooked after their first ride and it ends up being a lifetime activity, whether it’s just a hobby or more serious. Your first ride should be a gentle introduction into the wonderful world of horseback riding.