Beginner Horse Riding FAQs

Horse riding for beginners FAQs

Are you, your children or grandchildren thinking about taking up horse riding?  We are sure you have lots of questions so we have tried to answer as many of them as we can for you here.  We hope this helps and gets you on a horse as soon as possible.

What horse should a beginner ride?

The best horses for beginners are:

·       Older

·       Well schooled

·       Not stubborn

·       Docile breed such as Clydesdale, Fjord or Cob

·       Not too sensitive

·       More slow than go

A beginner should ride a horse with a calm temperament. This is the most important thing.  Riding is 90% about confidence and a calm experienced horse will give you the confidence you need.  A horse will pick up on your mood and the more agitated you are, the more agitated the horse will become. It’s important to find a horse which will walk and trot when you ask it to.  You don’t want one which is really stubborn or you won’t have a good experience. You will become frustrated and that frustration can stress the horse.  Beginner horses are best to be “Confidence givers” or “More Slow than go”  but they do have to go a little!

Its also important to find a horse that is not too sensitive. A well-schooled horse reacts to many signals from the rider, from having the right contact with the reins, to giving the correct signals with your legs.  A horse which is very sensitive will make you lose confidence very quickly.  As a beginner, you will be making small mistakes with your leg, how you sit in the saddle and how you hold the reins.  A very sensitive horse will take these as signals to perform an action, and if you aren’t ready for it, it can give you a surprise and make you lose confidence.

Older horses tend to be better for beginners as they have “been there and done it” so they don’t spook or overreact to the wrong signals.  The best breeds for beginners tend to be the “Cold Bloods” so named for their temperaments.  Cobs, Clydesdales, Fjords or crosses with these breeds tend to have calmer nature.  That’s not to say an Arab or Thoroughbred can’t be docile, its just more common in the native breeds.

Your best bet is to go to a reputable licensed riding school with a wide selection of horses.  That way once you have learned the basics you will be able to progress on to the more responsive types

Can you ride a horse with no experience?

Yes you can!  With one caveat… the horse is experienced.  If you can find a good, licensed riding school with good horses for beginners, you can ride with no experience whatsoever.  A good riding school will ensure you are put on a horse which is right for you.  You may go on a “Lead Rein” initially, where the instructor holds the horse with a rope as you ride.  Once you become more confident, and can stop and steer, you instructor will let you off the lead rein.  You should consider having some Horse Care and Stable Management lessons, or taking a course such as a BHS Challenge Award. Many schools offer these and they are the best way to gain confidence around horses, as well as being great fun and very therapeutic.  Spending time with horses, grooming them, taking them in from the field and mucking out has been proven to reduce stress and boost mental health as well as being a great way to get some exercise. Doing groundwork with horses will really make you feel comfortable around them

What is groundwork with horses

Groundwork can be as simple as putting a headcollar on and leading a horse in from the field, to free schooling them over jumps.  It could be grooming or plaiting, washing or clipping or even practicing picking up their feet.  The point of ground work is to get to know your horse better, teach it respect and get it used to being handled before being ridden.  If a horse doesn’t like being groomed or having it feet picked out, it will already be stressed before you get in the saddle.  Lunging and long reining are great skills to learn and will really help you get to know your horse and teach it basic skills before riding it

Do you have to wear jeans when riding a horse

You can, however we’d recommend Jodhpurs as they have a close fit and stretch to them.  They can also have features to give you extra grip in the saddle which adds confidence.  The close fit is necessary to stop you skin being nipped by the stirrup leathers.  From personal experience I can say it really hurts!

What body type is best for horse riding

No body type is better than another for horse riding, although for welfare reasons there is a weight limit.  You may have heard a commonly stated rule that a horse should not carry a maximum of more than 20% of its own bodyweight.  10% of its own body weight is also often quoted.  Why the big range? Well just like humans, horse come in all shapes, sizes, strengths, ages and abilities.  Every licensed riding school will have a weight limit set for each horse.  Rider ability and activity also come into the equation.  A well-balanced rider puts less stress on a horse so can be heavier.  If you can’t find a horse which suits you, carriage driving could be an option

What is the average age to start horse riding

The average age to start horse riding is 7 years old.  However as we all know age is just a number.  We have had clients from 5 years old up to 75 years old and as long as they ride the right horse, age is not important.  For youngsters, 5 years old is good to first sit on a horse and have lead rein lessons, but due to their short legs and lower strength they often struggle to get a good rising trot which can slow progress.  One-on-one or lead-rein group lessons are best for 5 to 6 year old riders.  We find that by 7 years old, children are big enough and strong enough to progress quickly and soon ride unaided in group lessons.

Is 30 too old to start horse riding?

No!  It’s a great age to start horse riding.  We have many adult groups to ride in, it’s a great way to meet people, keep fit and learn a new skill

Is 40 too old to start horse riding?

Absolutely not!  We have many clients who started riding in their 40s and have gained a lifelong passion as well as making many new friends

Is it too late to start horse riding?

Its never to late to start.  This is the youngest you will ever be. Just find a good local riding school and send them an email.  We have people 75 years old riding with us and the only regret they have is not starting sooner

Is horse riding painful for the horse

No. As long as the horse is well cared for.

To ensure riding is not painful for the horse we:

·       Have regular visits from a BHSAI Qualified saddle fitter

·       Limit rider weight for each horse

·       Have a Horse Physiotherapist check over the horses regularly

·       Have a full time Tack manager to ensure all tack is in top condition and fits properly

·       Monitor and limit horse working hours

·       Only allow riders of the correct skill level on each horse

·       Have each horse seen by the farrier every 6 to 8 weeks

·       Have dental checks every 6 months

·       Have Veterinary checks every 12 months

·       Give horses regular rest days

·       Give horses regular holidays

We go to great lengths to ensure the welfare of our horses.  We are a licensed riding school, which requires regular vet inspections of the horses and stables. The vet checks the health of each horse that works in the riding school, and the vet ensures we track their workload.   We monitor horse workload using our EC Pro software, which tracks their work hours and also won’t allow us to put too heavy a rider or to inexperienced a rider on.

Well-fitting tack is extremely important, Jane our resident Tack Manager looks after each piece of kit personally to ensure its kept in the best possible condition.  They have dental checks every 6 months to ensure their teeth are in good condition and the bit doesn’t hurt them.  Debs our dentist keeps detailed records and knows which horses require attention.  Sometimes they will require their teeth filed down if they have become too sharp.

We have a professional saddle fitter visit every three months to ensure the saddles fit properly. Horses change shape all the time, so its important that the saddle fit is checked to ensure its not pinching the horse or is too loose which could lead to saddle sores.  Claire does these checks and makes the necessary adjustments.  Our staff are also trained to spot when tack needs refitted.  We also have a Caroline, a Horse Physiotherapist who visits and gives any stiff horses physio to ensure they stay flexible.

Murray our Farrier – who has been coming to Strathorn since he was 5 years old (he wasn’t quite a farrier then though!) – sees each horse every 6 to 8 weeks.   He ensures their feet are in tip top condition and can also diagnose any joint or skeletal related issues the horses have and can fit corrective shoes to manage them.  Murray really knows each one of our horses feet inside and out.  Being consistent with a good Farrier is extremely important for horse welfare.

What age should you stop riding a horse?

You are never too old to ride, as long as you are still mobile.  If you do decide to stop horse riding, you should try Carriage Driving.  The Late HRH Prince Phillip did just that when he stopped playing polo.  He wanted to stay involved with horses so took up competitive Carriage Driving.  He was inspirational for many people around the world to take up the sport.  Our very own king and queen, George and Ruth were very well acquainted with Prince Phillip having met him at many horse events over the years.  George and Ruth are still driving their horses well into their 70s and 80s, recently having competed with a pair of Clydesdales at the World Clydesdale show 2022 in Aberdeen.

What is considered a beginner rider

We consider a beginner rider to be anyone from their first time on a horse, up to being able to stop, steer and perform a rising trot.

This is our own definition and it is used when placing riders in to the correct group lesson. Other riding schools may have a different definition.  In reality, it is hard to make an exact description because it depends on the horse as much as the rider.

For example, a rider may feel they are able to stop, steer and rise when riding behind a leader, but when they are the leader the find they cannot steer the horse.

Or a rider may be very confident on a particular horse – a Confidence Giver as we call them – however when faced with a slightly more challenging horse or naughty pony, they lose their confidence and their skills along with it.  That is why it is important to be able to ride a variety of different horses in different situations before moving on to more challenging skills such as pole work or canter

How do you know if you are a good horse rider

It’s important to get feedback from a qualified coach. We work with SVQ, BHS and UKCC qualified coaches to ensure our riders get the best possible feedback and progression.  Targeted practice is one of the most important aspects of progression.  It is very important to get an experienced horse person to look at your riding and give you coaching on how to improve.  Habits are easy to make but hard to break.  Unlearning a bad habit can take many times longer that learning a good habit so seek feedback early and often.  Even just getting a friend to video you and watching it back can be enough to spot where you are going wrong

What makes a good horse rider

A good rider is someone who forms a bond with a horse and works with them to achieve the best they can.

It might be winning the Olympics, or your local dressage competition or it might be as simple as achieving a smooth rising trot for a few minutes.  As long as it’s in harmony with the horse and within both your limits, then you are a good horse rider.

To achieve this, you will need

1.       Patience

2.       Dedication

3.       Consistency

4.       Equanimity

5.       Groundwork

Maybe you were thinking the list should say something like… a good rider can:

·       Jump 120cm,

·       Win a dressage competition

·       Break in youngsters

Yes, these are impressive achievements, but the most important part of riding is not winning all the competitions, the most important thing to form a bond with a hairy four-legged friend, progress together and achieve little milestones as you go, relax and enjoy each-others company.  There is a reason horses are known as therapy animals, as anyone who has ever spent any time with them can attest to.

You might also wonder why “Confidence” is not on the list.  It is indeed one of the most important attributes of a “good rider” but it’s not something you just have around horses.

Confidence around horses has to be built.  And building confidence comes from the 5 things on our list.

1.       Patience

Every day will not be better than the last.  Progress is not a straight line and somedays you or your horse just might not be “up for it”.  Stick with it, patience is the key.  Try not change more than one thing at a time. Don’t change your horses feed, exercise and turnout routine all at once.  If things get better… or worse… you’ll never know what it was that really made the difference.

2.       Dedication

Cold winter days, field injuries, mucking out, unexpected vets bills, feeling like you are going backwards, a fall, a cast shoe a broken stirrup leather.  All things which might put you off.  You will need dedication to get the most out of your riding, but trust us, the reward of those special moments with your horse will be worth it

3.       Consistency

Make sure you spend time with horses regularly.  If you can’t ride due to injury, just leading your horse in and out every day is enough.  Groom her, pick his feet out, build the bond.

4.       Equanimity – Staying cool under pressure.

Like it or not, you will find yourself in an unwelcome situation at some point around horses. She will spook at a crisp bag, he will buck because his girth nips, they might get colic for no discernable reason or your mare might back into another mare to show her who’s boss.  Its all part of the fun! (is it???)  This is where equanimity comes is, it will come with experience, but there are a few things you can do to practice staying cool under pressure.  Breathing exercises are extremely useful, as well as having emergency procedures written down for when you might not be thinking straight in a stressful situation.  Be prepared. Have a plan for if your horse has colic, or if you find an injury.  Checklists are extremely useful for when you might not be thinking straight. Be prepared when you go out for a hack, make sure you know where you are at all times and who to call in an emergency.  Practice on the yard for meeting cars so you know how your horse will react out on the road.  Take the BHS Riding and Road Safety Qualification.  Make a plan and stick to it

5.       Groundwork

How does groundwork make you a good rider?  Shouldn’t you be in the saddle?  No, not always.  In fact half and hour per day 3 days a week in the saddle would be enough to make big leaps forward in your riding.  So if you are at the yard for 2 hours per day, what will you do for the other 1.5 hours?  Grooming is extremely important, as well as picking out their feet.  This will help you get to know all your horses lumps and bumps and if their behavior is changing when you pick up a particular foot.  This can help you diagnose any issues you may be having while riding.  Is your horse tight on one side?  Stiff hocks?  How did they react when you had the saddle on last time?  All these clues can be put together to diagnose issues such a poor saddle fit which could be holding back your riding.  Long reining, lunging, even just taking you horse for a walk with their bridle on will all help build the bond.

If you work on these 5 things your confidence will grow and your riding will improve in leaps and bounds

How many classes does it take to learn horse riding?

6 to 12 half hour private lessons should be enough for anyone of reasonable fitness and agility to learn to stop, steer and rising trot.  After this, riding in open order in group lessons should be possible.  Consistency is key.  If you can ride 1 to 2 times per week you will improve very quickly

Should a novice rider buy a horse

Yes, if you have the time to commit to riding it at least 3 x per week for a minimum of 30 minutes at a time.  Learning by getting your hands dirty is by far the best way, although we’d recommend you still get lessons either from an instructor.  You could consider liverying at a yard which has a good indoor school where you can ride year round with experienced riders or instructors.  Loaning a horse at a riding school can also be a good option as you get a sense of horse ownership with less exposure to the financial risks.  If you one plan to ride once a week or less, its better to go to a riding school.

Do you need to be fit to ride a horse

Mobility and rider weight are more important than fitness, although being fit is a bonus if you want to trot or canter for longer periods, such as in a one hour group lesson.  We have found that once someone is bitten by the riding bug, they become more active in their general lives so they can be fitter for riding.  There is nothing like a goal to motivate someone

How do I prepare my body for horse riding

Horse rising is very much a “core to extremity” sport.  The key is a strong core which gives you stability in the torso which in turn gives you precise control over your head and limbs.   Correct arm and hand position come from a strong core.  Keeping your legs under control so you can send the correct signals to the horse comes from the core.  Things like Skiing, Cross-fit, Yoga, Pilates and Martial arts are great complimentary activities to horse riding.  Exercising the glutes, quads and adductors will give you the lower body strength you need to use your legs correctly.  It is also very important to stretch.  You will feel it in your adductors and abductors after your first riding session.  A really simple way to warm up and strengthen them is to stand in your socks on wooden, laminate or vinyl floor and allow you feet to slide out and pull them back in.  Start with 3 sets of 10 reps and build it up from there.

Do they weigh you before you ride a horse

Yes, you will be weighed in your riding gear to ensure we select the correct horse for you.  It’s a very important for the horses welfare that the rider is not too heavy

What is level 1 in horse riding

We have our own grading system for our riders in our riding school, where grade 1 is “Riding on the lead rein”.

There is no standardised system of levels in horse riding as these are many accrediting bodies.  The British Horse Society has a “Stage 1 in complete horsemanship” which is the entry level qualification in their system.  It assures a basic level of horse riding, care and stable management. This is very similar to S/NVQ (Scottish/National Vocational qualification level 1.  There is also UKCC1, which is the first stage of a coaching qualification and is available through Horse Scotland

Is horse riding hard the first time

No, horse riding is not hard the first time, as long as you are on the right horse and have a good instructor.  It is very important to go to a licensed riding school as this guarantees a high standard of horses, welfare, and instruction.  You can further improve your experience by going to a school which is approved by a recognized accreditation body such as the British Horse Society or ARBS.

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