Up until last year, my horse riding experience had been minimal and sporadic. I had been on several trail rides as a child and attended “horse camp” for two weeks when I was 12 years old. As an adult, I had been trail riding perhaps a handful of times, and I had previously tried a few lessons at a nearby stable. My minimal exposure was enough for me to learn that I enjoyed riding and would like to spend more time doing it on a regular basis.
The opportunity for me to take up riding presented itself last January when a friend suggested a package tour of Scotland in the Fall. While the tour wasn’t strictly about horse riding, the itinerary listed it in the activity options several times. And so my new goal was formed: become a proficient rider by October.
I had some knowledge of what to expect by looking at the websites of the stables mentioned in the tour materials. All except for one noted that riding was done in English tack. (The exception also offered English, but noted that it was the only stable in Scotland offering Western riding, too.) While all of my trail riding had been done in Western tack, I had really liked riding in English tack during my horse camp experience and I had used it during my limited experience with lessons, too.
Finding a local stable that teaches riding in English tack isn’t very difficult in the Chicago area. Hunter/Jumper and Dressage instruction are all done in English-style tack and all of the stables I was finding in the area that offered lessons offered instruction in them. However, I knew that if I had to drive an hour or more in each direction for lessons I would not be likely to enjoy them or keep them up. That helped me narrow down my choices to two stables that were in fairly close proximity to my home.
I had actually taken some lessons at one of those two stables about five years ago. Back then I had a loosely formed goal of learning to ride so I could incorporate it into a vacation, too. However, I couldn’t commit to a time frame for my goal since there was too much in flux in my life at the time. (I was getting divorced and needed to get used to living on a single income.) I also was not enjoying the lessons at that stable. While I had inquired about lessons at the other stable, I had been told they weren’t taking any new students at the time, so I dropped my lessons and went on with my life.
Because of the Scotland vacation, the opportunity to take up riding had presented itself again and this time I was ready to pursue my goal. I knew that I had room in my budget, and the ability to commit the time needed for lessons.
First, I thought I’d ask for some recommendations and feedback on my goals and how to reach them from other riders. There are message boards on the Internet for everything, but I found it intimidating to wade into the forum because I just wasn’t sure where to post my questions. So I directed my questions to a blog I read where there had been some mention about horse riding in past entries and comments. That was a big help and confidence booster for me to move forward with my plan.
Next, I visited the stable where I was considering taking lessons. It was not the one where I had previously lessoned, but the one that had told me five years ago they couldn’t take me on as a student. I went on a week-day before lunch, hoping it would be less busy so I could chat with the people working there and I could look the place over. Happily, I found the receptionist very welcoming and was told they could offer me lessons. I was encouraged to walk through the stable and watch a lesson in progress, as well as given some advice on where to purchase equipment, too.
Before I went to my first lesson I purchased the basic equipment: a riding helmet, a pair of riding boots, gloves, and breeches. There are many options for boots, gloves, and pants so I tried on several types of each. All riding boots should have a small heel to help keep your feet from slipping back through the stirrup, and a non-rugged sole (which could catch in the stirrup and keep your feet from sliding free easily). I ended up purchasing paddock boots, which are short boots that stop just above the ankle.
While they were pricier than I had planned, I purchased a pair of microcord breeches/riding tights because they allowed ease of movement, were well-fitting, yet they didn’t chafe. They not only perform very well for riding they look good on me, so I don’t feel weird when I run errands before or after riding. (Although, I sometimes worry that the hair and odor that clings to me after riding may be a bit off-putting!)
A riding helmet is an absolute necessity. While it’s possible to show up at a stable for your first lesson wearing whatever pants you want and less than ideal shoes, you must have a helmet on your head before getting on the horse. The stable where I ride does have helmets available for loan during lessons, but I wanted to buy my own so I knew that I had a helmet that fit me perfectly and was comfortable. The sales person helping me at the tack store recommended I get a ventilated helmet, and she was definitely spot on. During the summer months, I could get very hot while riding even with the ventilated helmet.
For the first two months I took two 30-minute lessons a week. I started to really see improvements when I added a third weekly lesson. I’m not the quickest kinesthetic learner. For me to learn a new physical activity, I have to be able to break it down and work it slowly and repeatedly. Three times a week seemed to be the minimum I needed to improve my posture and my conditioning.
I did make my goal of becoming a proficient enough rider for my trip to Scotland. And I’m continuing to ride three times a week while I’m figuring out my next riding goal.