When did it start for you? For me, my love affair with horses began when I was about eight years old, and it evolved from playing with My Little Pony dolls to devouring every “a girl and her horse”-themed book I could get my hands on (anyone remember The Pony Pals?) to finally getting a pony of my very own. And no matter how your love for horses began, two things are true for everyone: first, that your connection with horses is uniquely special to you, and secondly, now that you have a horse, you probably intend to ride it at some point. After all, that’s kind of the whole point, right?
But whether you’re reading this at eight years old or eighty, you’ll soon discover— just like I did—that there’s a world of difference between reading about riding a horse and actually being on the back of one of these magnificent creatures. So, what can you do to make the transition process a little easier? You can start by taking a look at our top tips!
Acknowledge the Awkwardness
You know how, in all the horse books, there’s this magical connection between rider and horse that leaves them both feeling uniquely centered and connected? It sounds awesome, doesn’t it? But the thing is, building that connection can take time. Whether you’re taking lessons at a stable or you’ve just bought a horse of your very own, your first new job is to get to know that horse. And just like getting to know a person, bonding with your horse takes time. So, if you don’t feel that magical connection right away—don’t worry! Forming a new relationship is always awkward at first.
It’s also important to acknowledge the physical awkwardness you may experience. If it’s your first time, mounting a horse from a mounting block is definitely not going to look graceful. And if you’re not used to riding, being on top of a huge animal might feel intimidating, not to mention how sore it can make your thighs and butt! But with time, training, and a lot of practice, all that awkwardness will dissipate.
Take it Slow
This might sound similar to the first point, but I promise it’s a separate thing! Because even once you allow yourself to accept and acknowledge any awkwardness you might feel, it’s still important to take your time. Begin by taking horseback riding lessons from an experienced rider or trainer and adjust your expectations to fit your starting point. Just like you won’t experience that storybook connection with your horse instantly, you also won’t absorb a lifetime of riding lessons overnight. So, even if you want to be galloping majestically through an open field, realistically, you’ll need to start off in a riding ring or an arena.
Taking it slow also applies to the pace you’ll be setting for your first few rides. Start with a nice, steady pace like walking or a gentle trot and keep that up until you have quite a few lessons under your belt. Believe it or not, beginning with a steady pace actually has a number of benefits for both you and your horse. Because it doesn’t just serve to show you the ropes of riding or help your horse get comfortable with you, it also minimizes the physical wear and tear to your body!
As is the case with any form of exercise, it’s important to warm up instead of rushing in full steam ahead, and since horseback riding was recently classified as a moderate-intensity form of exercise by the British Horse Society following a 2011 study, prioritizing your warm-up is extra important. There’s more to riding a horse than just sitting—which is awesome, because it can help you build strong leg muscles and tone your core! —but not so awesome if you ride too hard too soon and stretch your muscles a little farther than they can stretch. So, keep your health and safety in mind and remember that taking it slow might not be the most fun way to begin, but it’s definitely the best, and it will give you a foundation of knowledge and experience you can use for years to come.
Take Care of Your Horse
There’s more to horseback riding than just the part where you’re actually riding the horse! At the beginning and end of every ride, it’s vital that you groom and tack up your horse. (If you’re wondering, “tacking up” means putting the saddle and bridle on your horse). Although grooming and tacking might not be as much fun as riding your horse, they serve a couple of important purposes. On one hand, they benefit your horse’s health by providing necessary warming up and cooling down periods. And on the other hand, as a fun bonus, they provide a special opportunity for you to bond with your horse.
Horses actually love being groomed and that type of loving touch gives them a sense of comfort and security. The more you groom them, the more they’ll associate those feelings with you! Win-win, right? You can use a variety of different tools in the grooming process to let your horse know you care, and while your qualified riding instructor can give you specific information on the best tools and ways to develop a grooming routine, you should always have these standard three at the ready.
A hoof pick
The hoof pick is useful for exactly what you might think: picking harmful things out of your horse’s hooves. Be sure to keep an eye out for dirt and small pebbles especially.
To clean your horse’s body and remove anything that might be irritating their coat
For a deeper clean, this comb removes irritants closer to your horse’s skin
As you can see, a lot more goes into horseback riding than you might think, but once you start riding, you’ll see that it’s also more rewarding than you ever imagined. So, now that you know a few basics, what are you waiting for? Get out there and get riding!