If you are looking to take your first steps into the world of horses then you will be looking to have some riding lessons. On this page, we will cover the basics that should help you when you turn up at your local riding school for your very first lesson.
Usually when you book your first lesson, you will be asked what your level of riding is so they can match you to an appropriate horse/pony. They will usually advise you what clothing would be suitable and if they offer a hat hire service (you can see our clothing guide here if you need help). When you arrive, you will normally need to fill out forms for insurance and personal accident reasons. You will normally be asked for basic details such as name, age and height but they may also require details such as next of kin and emergency contact details. You will also need to find a suitable hat, and most riding schools will have a qualified hat fitter to make sure you get the right size.
Once you have filled out all the necessary paper work, you will usually be told which horse/pony you will be riding. It is usually a good idea at this time to have a look around to see if you can find your horse/ponies stable (most riding schools are OK with this but ask first just to be safe). Alternatively, you can wait for a member of staff to bring him/her to you as all riders will usually mount up somewhere close to the menage. Use the time before mounting up to get to know your horse/pony by letting him/her sniff your hand, stroking them and talking to them. It'll let them know they don't have to be afraid of you.
When you come to mount your horse/pony there are a few things you need to check, don't assume someone else has already done it for you just 'cus it's a riding school. Firstly, you'll want to check that you can comfortably reach your stirrups. Usually, the way people check is by placing their hand flat where the buckle of the stirrup leather meets the saddle and seeing if the stirrup iron reaches their armpit. If your horse/pony spooks, this is the safest way as it means you can drop the stirrup and move out the way if need be, this however can be inaccurate as leather stretches and some people just have longer than normal legs (such as the Administrator of this website!) Another way is by lifting your left leg up and putting your foot in the stirrup to see if it's a comfortable length to mount up from. One dis-advantage of this is if your horse/pony spooks, your foot could get stuck and you could fall or be dragged. Since this is your first lesson, it would be best to ask a member of staff to adjust the stirrups for you if they are too short for mounting. If you do have trouble reaching your stirrups and they are already as long as they'll go, you'll need to use something called a mounting block.
The second thing you'll want to check is the girth. This is attached on both sides of the saddle and goes around the horse/ponies belly to help hold the saddle in place. When horses or ponies are tacked up, they will often breath in to give the impression that a girth is tight, however when they do eventually breath out it means the gap between the girth and the belly is increased which can cause the saddle to slip. To check the girth, take your index and middle finger and place them between the girth and your horse/ponies belly, then give it a firm tug as most girths are usually elasticated. It should be a snug fit and shouldn't move more than around 5-10mm under firm pressure. If it moves more than this then it's usually a good idea to have the girth tightened by a member of staff. If it moves less than this then is could indicate that the girth is too tight and could hurt your horse/pony, providing the horse has breathed out! It is also a good idea to check the rest of your horse/ponies tack for anything that hasn't being buckled up. We all make mistakes and can forget about things so it always pays to double check.
When mounting your horse/pony, you will usually be told the correct way to do it. You usually stand on the left side and your left foot would be the first to go into the stirrup. You should turn the left side of your stirrup counter clockwise as this will help prevent chaffing on your legs and make it easier to remove your foot from the stirrup iron in case of emergencies. Usually you'd have someone there to help hold onto your horse/pony and to hold onto the stirrup on the other side of the saddle to help prevent it from twisting. Gather up your reins in your left hand and put your hand on the horses withers (you can also use the pommel of the saddle) then take your right hand and put it at the back of the cantle. Then bounce on your right foot a few times and spring upwards with the help of your left foot which is in the stirrup. Swing your leg over the horses back and land as gently as possible into the saddle. Take hold of the reins in both your hands (you will usually be shown how to hold them correctly) and put your right foot into the stirrup only this time turning it clockwise instead. You have just successfully mounted your first horse/pony.
To dismount a horse or pony, firstly he/she needs to be standing still and you need to take both your feet out of your stirrups. Take both reins and your whip (if you have one) into your left hand (or drop your whip on the ground) and put your hand just in front of your horse/ponies withers. Place your right hand on the pommel of the saddle, and lean forward slighly. Bring your right leg up over your horse/ponies back (being careful not to kick them) and gently slip to the floor landing on both feet. You can then move closer to the front of your horse/pony and take hold of the reins just under thier nose.
Some riding schools will ask you to run up your stirrups, where as others will come round and do this for you. If you are asked to do this, all it means is to 'move' the stirrup irons so they are not hitting against the horses side. To do this, run the iron to the top of the leather (towards the buckle) and then tuck the rest of the leather strap through the iron.
When you're sitting on a horse or pony, you want to be relaxed and comfortable but not so relaxed that you're not in control so you have to stay alert as well. You should sit deep into the saddle, keeping your back straight and your lower legs in contact with the saddle. It might seem hard to do this, especially if you've just started but practice makes perfect! When riding, you basically want to turn your lower body into a giant spring so that it absorbs all the bumps and allows you to move with the movements.
When holding the reins, remember to keep your hands in front of you and level. You need your thumbs to be on top of the reins and then pass the reins through the inside of your palm and then out between your third and fourth finger (or fourth and fifth finger if you happen to count your thumb as a finger!) click here to see how to hold the reins correctly.
You want to make sure you can always 'feel' the horse or ponies mouth so that you have god control. You don't want the reins to be that long that should you need to hold your horse or pony back that when you pull back on the reins your arms have to go behind your head before it has any effect! Also, depending on the horse or pony, you don't want the reins too short as some will associate this as you asking them to slow down or stop whilst there are some others who will rise their head up and be raring to go.
To lengthen or shorten the reins, pass all the rein out of your left hand into your right hand, and then slide your left hand down until you have the length you want. Then simply do the same again but with the other hand.
When it comes to the stirrups, they need to be comfortable. Since you're just starting out, the longer they are the harder you'll find them to aid you in doing the posting / rising trot. Too short, and everytime you rise during trotting, you'll feel like you're going to go pover the top of the horses head as you'll be brought quite a way out of the saddle. Providing you can still give your horse or pony all the correct leg aids, there really isn't any set rule about the lengths as everyone is different. Now, usually you won't ge tthe correct length on both stirrups to begin with, this is because leather stretches and what might be hole 5 on one side, might not be the same length as hole 5 on the other side. Always make sure you try lifting yourself out the saddle to hel[p determine if the stirrups are level or uneven.
When putting your feet into the stirrups, its important that you always turn your stirrups the correct way. The left side should always be turned at 90' counter clockwise and the right and 90' clockwise. This is to stop your legs being trapped behind the leather, something that makes it uncomfortable, restricts thre aids you can give and can also cause you to be dragged if you fall.
We don't recommend you try it yourself for the first few lessons, but to adjust the stirrups, you take your foot out of them, lean slightly forward and pull outside leather downwards so that the buckle comes from behind the guard. Here you can adjust the hole that the stirrups are on where the lower numbers make them longer and the higher numbers make them shorter. Its always best if you try them before putting the buckle behind the guard again. If you are happy, simply pull down on the inside leather and the buckle will go back up and behind the guard on the saddle.
It is entirely possible to adjust the girth whilst your riding should it need doing. To check the girth, just lean forwards and slip your finger in between the girth and your horse or ponies belly. If it seems loose, its time to do it up! It is actually much easier to do the girth up now then when you're on the ground as you can put more pressure on when pulling the straps up. Again, we recommend you don't do this yourself on your first few lessons but for future reference the procedure is as follows: You will need to move one of your legs forward and over the knee roll, usually starting with your left. Once its out of the way you can then lift the saddle flap and gain access to the girth straps.
To adjust the girth, its important that you do one strap at a time so there is still contact. You will notice that there are three straps but only two buckles, the first buckle can use either the first or middle strap, but its very important the other buckle uses the last strap! This is because the first and middle strap are stitched onto one piece of leather which is then stitched to the saddle. If that fails the girth will not be attached anymore which could result in injury. The back strap however is joined to the saddle with its own system meaning if one of the straps fails, the other doesn't. You will need to check the reserve travel on the straps to determine if the girth needs to be adjusted the left side or on the right side. Move the buckle guard up and take a look at the straps by looking directly down. If the straps look like they are buckled fairly close to the top, simply put the buckle guard back, flip the saddle flap back down, move your leg back into position and then do the same again with the other side.
To tighten the girth, undo the buckle and then pull the strap up towards you, you will feel resistance as it starts to tighten around the horse or ponies belly. You don't need to make it as tight as humanly possible as you can check it again later. Once this is done, you can drop the pin through the hole and then do the same with the other strap. Once done, simply pull the buckle guard down over the buckles, put the saddle flap back and then move your leg back into the correct position.