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You might have liked horses all your life.

Or you might have had an awakening not too long ago that is urging you to explore horseback riding for the first time.

You can't tear your eyes away from the sight of glowing coats and rippling muscles.

You get excited every time you drive by horses in a field.

Contrary to your friends, you even like the smell of a barn!

And now, you know you are ready to take the first steps on the long road of becoming an equestrian. You've booked riding lessons at a local barn and you are convinced that you are ready to tackle the learning curve that lays ahead. Before you begin, here are nine tips to smooth the way into your new adventures!

1. Be prepared to be a beginner - for a long time!

Once you step into that stirrup for the first time, forget all about instant gratification. Instead, get all pumped up for the accomplishment of doing something for the long term.

Don't worry if your fingers fumble when putting on the bridle. Have no worry when the horse gives you a knowing look out of the corner of his eye: "This one is a beginner!" Just take the plunge into new feels, new learning curves and new coordination. It's all about the joys (and challenges) of being on the path.

2. Every horse has something to teach you.

If you ride at a riding school, and have had the chance to ride many horses over the course of a few years, you will truly understand that there is something to be learned from every horse you ride.

If you part-board or lease a horse, you can have the opportunity to work with one horse over the long term. You might develop a deeper relationship and maybe even know each other so well that you can read each other's minds. But always be appreciative of the chance to ride new horses because they will add to your depth of experience and repertoire of "language" you need to ride effectively.

3. Find an excellent mentor.

Your mentor might or might not be your instructor. However, this person will be critical to the success of your first years as a horse rider. She will be the one who can listen to your questions and concerns and give you the answers you need for your situation. She will guide you in your decisions and help you find the solutions that are necessary for your development - even if you are not aware of them at the time. Find someone you can trust.

4. Surround yourself with great professionals and horse friends.

It is true that you are the sum of the influences around you. So search for people you admire and look up to. Find the ones who you would like to emulate. Then, be around them and learn from them at every opportunity.

Get to know the professionals in your area - from nutrition, to health care, to training - it is essential for you to be surrounded by kind, compassionate people who always put the horse first when they make decisions.

5. Although the initial learning seems quick and easy, don't despair once your learning curve seems to slow down.

At some point, your riding skills will plateau and try as you might, new learning becomes frustrating and difficult. Be ready for that time period and be willing to keep trudging through - until you reach your next series of leaps and bounds. However, the plateaus will always reappear just before the next real learning curve; they are just a fact of life.

6. Be ready to be physical in a way you've never experienced before.

Riding is like no other sport because of the presence of the horse.

Rubbing your belly and chewing gum is an easy task compared to riding! In order to truly move with the horse, you have to learn to coordinate body parts you never knew you had, and then also stay on top of a moving 1,000 pound animal! But have no fear - it will all come together in the long run.

7. Watch, read, study, do.

It goes without saying that there is much learning to be done off the horse's back. Read books to study what the movements should be like. Watch videos of professionals and even amateurs (especially now that videos are so easily accessible on the Internet). Go to clinics and watch how other riders develop under the eye of an experienced clinician. Then take your own lessons, ride at clinics and shows or video yourself. Use every available means to solicit feedback.



Then study some more!

8. Be wary of the "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" stage.

This happens to everyone at least once in their riding career. There eventually comes a time, once you have made your mistakes and learned from them, that you begin to feel pretty confident about your equine-related skills. The tack no longer defies you. You develop the balance and coordination needed to walk, trot and canter without feeling like you might fall off any second. You can even ride and talk at the same time!

When it all starts to come together like this, you might become a little more confident than were at the beginning. You start to take more riding risks. You might think about changing routines to suit yourself better - change the barn, or ditch your instructor!

Before you head off into the land of grass is greener everywhere else, heed these words! You will want to spread your wings and fly - that is a fact.  However, although there are certainly many ways to Rome, especially in the equine world, don't "instructor hop". Nothing is more confusing than trying to comprehend different people's systems over and over again.

9. Listen to your horse.

Although it sounds a little far-fetched, it is indeed possible to "hear" your horse if you understand their routines, structures and communications. If life is good, your horse will show you his pleasure by becoming more rideable. He will be calm but at the same time responsive to you. He will improve his ground manners, develop consistency under saddle, and work with you toward a better partnership.

If, on the other hand, he becomes less receptive, more difficult to handle, and lose overall condition, you will know this is not the path you want to be on. Just listen and then make decisions according to the feedback.

Well, there you have it! Hopefully, these tips will help you as you progress from newbie to old-timer! 

Do you have any other suggestions for new riders? Write them in the comments below.

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Below are more articles on relevant subjects:

What Being On The Forehand Means to the Horse: The idea here isn’t to cause guilt and doom and gloom; instead, we should learn all we can and take steps to avoid known problems.

How Do You Know Your Horse Is Using His Back? In the long run, our primary motivation for self-improvement in riding is for the sake of the horse’s health. We want horses that live well, staying strong and vigorous long into their old age.

Frame, Round or Collection? Do you know the difference, and in a pinch, would you be able to identify it in a moving horse?

5 Steps to Effective Short Reins: Just as with any other movement and technique that is taught to horses, short reins can be very beneficial to the horse when applied correctly.

Why A Release Is Not A Let Go in Horseback Riding: Many people interpret the term ‘Release’ literally – but that’s not what really means.

39 Comments

  1. Very well written and a lot of good information. This is appropriate for those of us that took time off to raise our families. I returned to horses after a fifteen year hiatus, I started by taking lessons to be sure that I still had the passion. It was the best investment I could of made. Fourteen years later, I am working with horses and still continue to learn from them. I also believe that if you are open to it you will always learn from the horse.

  2. The best thing for a beginner is the right horse, it makes a world of difference. Confidence grows much faster and the learning curve is shortened when a new rider has a good teacher patiently ignoring the mistakes.

  3. When beginning don’t over estimate your experience. If you rode your neighbor’s pony a few times, took a ride at a dude ranch, used to ride bareback when you were younger-none of this counts. I find that the biggest impediment to beginners learning is their conviction that they know more than they do. Saddle time is the only legitimate resume for advancement. Be honest and open and if you are all you say you are, it will show sooner or later.

  4. Thx this helped and I’m a * jumper * I just jump about a foot 🙂 I’m proud of it. And this also just helped! And your right you will get attached to the horse you ride, at my barn I usually ride spook and I have NEVER EVER EVER road another horse there 🙂 I don’t care it’s nice I know her now! ( yes she spooks a lot XP) and u don’t even feel as frustrated like she gave me a ” serious. ” back injury and it still affects her now and I rlly don’t care

  5. when you read about things like if you fall off the horse will trample you,or they can kick up to ten feet away,dont worry about it.your insttrucor would not have you do something dangerous.

  6. Thank you for sharing this. I just turned 60 and I am just 2 months into learning to ride. I am the person you describe in the article. I needed to hear again that this all takes time. My instructor has been telling me the same things. For some reason, i just thought I’d learn faster!! I started lessons once a week and now I go twice a week. It does help to go more often. I just love all the horses and I want to do well!

  7. Thank you for this timely advice! I’m a late starter in the riding game – 43 years young and 5 months in with lessons. I ride once a week and sometimes it feels like 1 step forward and 3 back. Confidence is slumping slightly at the minute so your article reminds me that this is a long haul skill not an overnight thing. I know it will be so worth it in the long run, and I can’t wait to be confidently out hacking and cantering!!

  8. Great article! I bought my first horse, a very mild mannered 5 year old trained reining horse, when I was 57 years old. The seller would only sell me the horse upon the assurance that I would take lessons from her. I have learned so much from both her and the horse. I am confident however that if I had just bought the horse and not taken lessons, I probably would have either had an accident by now or had a really scary incidence. I think that it is just a horse’s inclination to need a leader and a only somewhat confident beginner rider does not always provide that leadership. What I thought at times were miscues from me were actually the ignoring of the cues by my horse! Although my progress may be slow, this is one of the most rewarding and fun learning experiences I have ever had in my life.

    1. Your comments are an encouragement to me. I don’t have a horse of my own yet, but perhaps one day I will. I think the seller was wise in requiring you take lessons. I started lessons at Age 60. The first two months were kind of slow, but then all of a sudden everything clicked. At the 4 month lesson mark now and my instructor is really pleased with my progress. I am having so much fun too!

  9. And, if you are lucky enough to have a friend with horses, if they offer, go have fun and learn what u can, but say thank you, offer to help, and dont continue to expect them to continue at such a rate, that u burn them out. Pull your weight or pay fpr lessons once u r sure this is something u want to continue,but not ready for the purchase plunge.

  10. Thanks so much for this article it was so helpful! I have a friend who was nervous about her first steps in riding. And after this article she is now jumping 2 feet high and trotting like a pro. Thanks!

    1. Yes riding your horse 3 to 5 times a week will do more to improve your riding then just talking about it. 🙂

  11. Thank you for the article. There is one thing I’m wondering you could answer: how do I learn to relax at a lope? I’m a western horse trainer at 13 years old, but I rarely ride. I’ve loped lots on accident, but how do I keep it up with my 6 year old mare? She’s energetic, but I’m afraid that when I lope on *her* for the first time, she might buck, bolt, spook or somehow throw me off. Is there a way to help me??? -I hope so- ??

  12. If your like me finding time to do things is hard, so train smart, ride as often as you can. When it comes to physical training, train like a dancer would. It’s not important to have brute strength, but it helps to have over all good conditioning, flexibility, and balance.

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