Learning to ride horses is a thrilling and rewarding journey, and opens the door to a world of interesting equine activities such as hacking, long-distance riding, showjumping, dressage, cross-country and even carriage driving. In this guide, we will walk you through the essentials of how to start riding and how to go about finding a reputable riding school to begin your journey.
Choosing the Right Horse Riding School:
Learning to ride is a skill and it is extremely important to find a Riding school where you feel safe and welcome and whose primary interests are centred around their horses’ welfare and your safety. It is a legal requirement in the UK for all riding schools to be licensed, fully insured and up-to-date with DBS checks. Explore the local options, and consider their reputation, safety measures, and instructors’ credentials and coaching ability. Look for schools affiliated with respected equestrian organisations such as the British Horse Society (BHS), who have an online directory of approved riding centres that can be filtered to your location. Speak with local schools and visit them where possible, to get a feel for the centre, watch some lessons and speak to members of their staff and instructors.
Essential Horse Riding Gear:
Once you’ve chosen your riding school, (and maybe had a taster lesson!) it’s time to invest in some protective riding equipment. This is probably the most important step towards learning to ride. We recommend visiting a local tack shop to have a proper riding helmet correctly fitted by a qualified member of staff and to find comfortable specialist riding boots, that will prevent your foot slipping through the stirrup. Some other accessories you will need are suitable clothing including jodhpurs (to prevent chaffing on your legs), a body protector (especially recommended for beginners) and some riding gloves to protect your hands.
Understanding Horse Behaviour
When riding or being around horses, it’s important to have an understanding of their behaviours – this helps to keep you safe while close to horses and better understand their body language when riding. If you are a beginner who has little experience with horses, this is something you will be taught by the riding school as you learn how to groom and tack up a horse prior to riding.
For example, if a horse flattens their ears back, they are likely to feel afraid or angry and you need to learn to recognise the difference so that you can react accordingly.
Learning How to Ride a Horse
Your first horse ride is a milestone; here you will learn the basics of mounting, dismounting, and maintaining a balanced seat while the horse is walking. Your riding instructor will guide you through these initial steps, and you will usually have someone walking around with you to help you. Gradually you will progress so that you are confident to rise to the trot and canter around the arena. As you grow your skills and confidence on and around horses, you can venture into other areas such as hacking out, and jumping, and possibly even more niche areas such as competing.
Equine Disciplines & Sports
Learning how to ride a horse opens the door to a wide range of equine sports and disciplines. While some sports or events are more prominent in other countries, the UK boasts many regular events and competitions too.
- Dressage: Dressage aims to showcase the precision and harmony between horse and rider. Its roots lie as far back as 350 BC when the Athenian historian and soldier Xenophon completed his ‘On Horsemanship’ manual. However, it wasn’t until the 16th and 17th centuries that the military use of training cavalry horses extended into the showmanship side of the nobility’s desire to look good on flashy well-trained horses. However, modern dressage is about training the horse as an athlete to improve its suppleness and strength and achieving the highest level of connection between horse and rider in every movement. Judges assess factors like the horse’s responsiveness, balance, progression through the levels of training and the effectiveness of the rider’s aids.
- Show Jumping: Show jumping tests the ability of the horse and rider to jump over a series of jumps in an arena. Courses are designed with many tricky turns and colourful obstacles challenging both the mental and physical agility of horse and rider. The horse and rider team must clear the course, otherwise, penalties are given for knocking down rails, stopping at or running out at a jump and time faults if the maximum time is exceeded.
- Cross-Country: Cross-Country is often the favourite option for both horse and rider as it is ridden at a gallop over natural fences, often including water and ditches. This discipline is timed and therefore tests the speed, fitness, endurance and jumping ability of a horse and rider over multiple obstacles and terrains.
- Eventing: this is a combination of dressage, show jumping and Cross-Country disciplines and can be run over one day, two days or three days.
- Carriage Driving: There are several different competitive driving options from Private Driving (Showing), Tradition d’Attelage, Indoor Carriage Driving and Combined Driving Trials. All of these are possible driving a single horse/pony or driving multiples such as pairs, tandems or teams. In driving trials, the horses and drivers compete in three phases – dressage, marathon, and cones which reflect the three phases in ridden eventing. Find out more in our article; the Beginner’s Guide to Carriage Driving.
- Polo: Polo is a ball game played on horseback, where two teams of four use long-handled mallets to knock balls into the opposition goal. These games usually last around 1-2 hours split into 15-minute chukkas and are usually very fast-paced.
- Vaulting: Vaulting is most often described as gymnastics on horseback, which has origins that stretch back at least two thousand years. It is open to both men and women and is one of ten equestrian disciplines recognised by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI). Therapeutic or interactive vaulting is also used as an activity for children and adults who may have balance or motor skill deficits.
- Racing & Steeplechase: Horse racing is one of the most well-known equine sports, and has been around since ancient times. The basic premise is that riders (jockeys) compete over a set distance to see who can complete the race in the fastest time.
Expand Your Knowledge & Expertise
Whether you’re looking to get serious and own your own horse with a view to one day competing in any of the above disciplines or just wish to ride for exercise and pleasure, it is always worth learning more about riding, have lessons and getting involved with the equine community. Connect with fellow riders and enthusiasts at local riding clubs and events, online forums as well as social media channels. These places can offer valuable support, advice and camaraderie.
Stay Safe & Enjoy Your Journey
Embarking on horse riding, showing, or eventing as a beginner is a rewarding venture; choose your riding school wisely, master the basics and enjoy the journey. If you go down the path of private riding or eventing, it is worth considering Personal Accident Insurance for Horse Riders, to safeguard against financial issues that may arise as part of an accident or injury.
And don’t forget, it’s never too late to start riding. Horse riding is an activity that can be enjoyed by all ages, and can even be incredibly therapeutic for those with disabilities. To find out more about our Equine Insurance services, don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01206 337388.