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It looks amazing. Cowboys galloping against a backdrop of a Montana sunset, looking cool on the telly. Kids on ponies shrieking with laughter down a country lane as you pass them in your boring old car. Horse riding seems like a brilliant country hobby and around 2.7 million people in the UK agree. It’s a good all round physical activity and the companionship of these gentle animals has been proven to be really good for mental health.
But how easy is it to start horse riding? And what do you wear? Simple. Just go to the right place.
It can be a bit overwhelming with so many places offering riding lessons, but "The Embassy Riding School" can be a good place to start. They have a list of approved centres and can tell you about one in your area. Ask if you can visit and have a chat with the instructor about your background and what you’d like to do. You will normally start in a group lesson, where around five or six of you learn together. It can be helpful to watch a lesson and see if you like the style of instruction. Check that the horses and ponies you see look happy and well cared for. To start with you just need a steady horse or pony that is the right size for you and won’t run off or spook while you are learning to get your balance and how to steer!
As with all other things, ask amongst people you know that ride, as they may be able to recommend an instructor or riding centre.
The absolute essential is a well-fitting helmet to protect your head. Most riding schools will have a selection of sizes and will be able to lend you one of these to start with, but if you want to buy one for hygiene reasons, make sure it is a PAS015 helmet.
It’s also important to have the right footwear. You need a boot with a small heel that won’t slip through the stirrup. Wellingtons are no good as the rubber can get stuck. Your going out boots will probably have too big a heel. Find something that has a small heel and won’t rub.
Jodhpurs – a special type of legging for riding – are less essential. If you have some close-fitting trousers without a seam, they’ll do fine. Jeans can rub so try to avoid those. You’ll have enough to think about without worrying about sore bits!
Don’t worry about your age - the Queen still rides regularly! Riding is a suitable exercise for all ages. So whether you’re over 50 and looking to start riding now you have the time or have a child that you would like to start, you’ll all be welcome. A riding school will have ponies that are quiet and kind for children to learn on. Plus horses that are the same for larger adults. There is no upper age limit for horse riding – as long as you are physically able to climb on and fairly supple, you can ride. Children probably need to be 4 years upwards to have enough coordination and long enough legs to reach the stirrups and make the pony go forward. You can ask the riding school for advice if you’re unsure.
While you’re learning, a lesson a week or every two weeks is helpful. Costs vary, but budget for around £20-£30 per group lesson. Group lessons are often more fun for kids, plus they can make friends and enjoy sharing their passion. Riding schools and other stables are very social places! It can help to have occasional private lessons to help you progress more quickly with one on one tuition, although these cost more. A hack - which is the horsey word for going out for a ride in the country side – might cost a little less as it requires less direct instruction. An instructor or two from the riding school will supervise you and you will probably go out in a group. You may find you enjoy these hacks at least as much and it can be a good way to get to know the horse and find your balance in a more relaxed way, after some early riding lessons to teach you the basics. And of course, you get to see the countryside as well. These are most fun in the spring and summer when cold toes aren’t an issue.
Horse riding is fun and can be exhilarating (once you’re cantering and the wind is blowing through your hair). And it’s healthy exercise too. A half an hour’s riding lesson will burn about 205 calories! So although it won’t quite burn off a chocolate bar, it’s healthier than sitting on the sofa watching the telly. And you may find you have a new addiction instead – horses. Don’t say we didn’t warn you…finding out how to start horse riding is just the beginning!
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