Horse riding – Getting started

Your one-stop guide to getting in the saddle…

Here at Coolmine Equestrian Centre, we strongly believe that learning how to ride a horse is one of the most rewarding pastimes available. It improves balance and co-ordination, it builds confidence, it’s a great way of getting fit and healthy and it’s a lot of fun! Horse riding also provides the perfect opportunity to get outdoors and, in a country that is renowned for its scenery, the outdoors is the place to be.
But what kind of horse riding activities are suited to you? And what should you look out for when choosing a centre? This guide seeks to answer some of these questions so that, when you’re ready to start horse riding and are looking for a place to do so, you’ll be equipped with enough knowledge to make the right decision.

What’s available?

Horse riding is not just a one-trick pony. Ireland boasts a wide variety of equestrian activies ranging from show jumping, dressage and cross country to leisurely walks and recreational exploring.
The best way to discover what’s suited to you is to talk through your options with an instructor. He or she can advise you on what’s available, before taking you through a beginner’s lesson. The instructor will then show you the basics until you are comfortable on your horse, which will have been specially selected for you, based on weight, height and fitness. And from there, the sky is the limit!
Even if you’ve been horse riding before, you may have little ones in your family who are first timers…and that’s where pony camps come in! These camps are a great way to introduce children to horse riding and to keep them occupied over the school holidays. During the camps, your children will learn all about horses – how to ride them, how to treat them with respect and how to look after them. Horse riding therefore provides a valuable lesson in responsibility, in addition to all the enjoyment your children will get out of it. They’ll make new friends, gain confidence in their abilities and believe me – they will be tired when they get home!

How to choose a centre

So, you know that you want to give horse riding a go. Good for you! But where should you go? Well, we’ll do our best to send you in the right direction; here are 3 steps for you to consider when searching for a riding school.

STEP 1: Find a good place to learn

It’s just common sense – finding a good riding school reduces the risk of you getting injured and helps you learn to ride a horse properly. Furthermore, if you feel safe and well-supervised in your learning environment, you will get a lot more enjoyment out of your lessons. When searching for a school, keep the following tips in mind:
• Ask around – Think hard, you will know somebody that is familiar with horses. If all else fails, ask the closest veterinarian, tack shop or feed store – they’ll be only too happy to help you in your equestrian quest. There are most likely lots of riding schools in your area from which you can choose, so it’s best to stay close – we all know what it’s like to roll out of bed on a weekend only to realise that the thing you want to do is 45 mins away and you have 10 mins to get there. Pick a place that is close to your home and is easy to get to.
• Go digital – It is the 2010's after all; take out your laptop or smart phone and get Googling to find a website, email address or a phone number. Phoning the centre is a good idea as it will enable you to ask questions – make a list before you call of issues that concern you, such as whether there are people there to suit you or your child’s age group and when do they usually do lessons. This way, you can find out quickly whether the centre can fulfill your requirements. When you make the call, make sure they are helpful, friendly and polite on the phone. Their phone manner will be a good indication of the service they provide!
• Look around – It’s usually a good idea to try before you buy – and horse riding is no different. Before you commit to a riding school, make sure to pay it a quick visit first and ask to see the horses – the condition in which they are kept will usually reflect the standards of the riding school. Are the horses full of energy, or do they seem tired and lethargic? Are they well-groomed, or very scruffy? A little mud or dirt is okay, but when the horses are caked with it, you have a problem. When visiting the centre, look for clean, well-fed animals that appear healthy and happy. Try to watch a lesson and see what you have in store. The barn should be relatively clean and stables should be tidy. The arena should be quite large and preferably indoors, out of the wind and rain. True, most horse riding centres are outside but there are a few around that are all under one roof. You will appreciate this roof when you get onto your horse and the Irish drizzle starts!
• Safety check – Safety should be of paramount importance in any good riding school. Safety signs should be clearly displayed, no one should be mounted without a hard hat and instructors should have first aid certification. Don’t be surprised if you are required to sign a waiver form and take part in a riding assessment – it’s a good sign, as it is deemed to be best practice in the industry.
• Look for accreditation - There are health and safety standards for horse riding establishments too. Look for AIRE (The Association of Irish Riding Establishments), BHS (The British Horse Society) or Fáilte Ireland quality standards. These institutions are in place to protect horses and horse riders from safety hazards. If the yard has any of these qualifications, you will know that they keep high standards. BEWARE: If the school doesn’t have ANY of these accreditations, it will most likely NOT have insurance either.

STEP 2: Evaluate the Instructor(s)

So you’ve narrowed down your choice of riding schools. Your next priority should be to speak to any instructor(s) that you will be learning from, as they can make or break a riding experience. Like learning to drive a car, your instructor should be someone whom you can trust completely, and who offers support and encouragement throughout the process. He or she should also possess the necessary qualifications; before you sign up for lessons, make sure that the instructor(s) is certified. There is nothing wrong with asking lots of questions before committing – here are some helpful ones to ask:
1. Where did your instructor get their credentials?
2. How long have they been riding and teaching?
3. What style of riding do they teach? Is this the style you want to learn?
The most important question is one you should ask yourself:
4. Can I see myself learning from this person?
If you do the necessary research at the start, you will find horse riding all the more enjoyable, as you will be learning from someone who is knowledgeable, trustworthy and fully capable of guiding you through the experience.

STEP 3 Evaluating the Lessons

As we’ve already pointed out, it is important to look around before forking out on classes. When you’re visiting the centre, make sure to watch a few different types of lessons, as well as lessons by different instructors. Watching one or two lessons will enable you to make sure that the school will provide the right learning environment for you. You’ll also develop more of a feel for that particular instructor’s teaching style, which will be of great benefit to you when you do begin.
What to look out for during the lessons:
• Do all of the people in the lesson seem to be about the same level? You do not want to be a beginner in a jumping class, or working with people who have only begun to trot when you are already cantering. You should take an assessment lesson to make sure that you are placed in the appropriate group; that way, you can advance together.
• This may seem like a small issue, but you should also observe the instructors’ clothes, as they reflect the professionalism of the school and its approach to safety. Are employees appropriately dressed for teaching? They should be wearing jodhpurs or long pants, along with boots or chaps. When they are riding, they should always wear a helmet.
• Take note of the students’ attire and behaviour. Are they dressed in appropriate riding clothes? These would be long pants, riding boots, and a well-fitting helmet. Everybody should be practicing proper conduct around horses – i.e. no running or shouting – or otherwise endangering themselves or their horses.

Investing in the right centre:
You will be investing a lot of time and money into your horse-back riding education, and it is not worth trying to get an education at a school or stable you do not feel comfortable around. Horse-back riding is an expensive sport; in addition to lessons, there are extra expenses such as equipment, so you want to ensure that you are happy with the place you’ll be riding it, and with the people that work there. The price of the lessons themselves will depend on their length and the number of people in the class; there should be no more than 8 students in an hour-long class. The centre you choose needn’t be a very fancy one; as long as it is accredited, as long as you feel safe and well looked after, and as long as it can meet your needs, it is the right place for you. The less polished ones are often more economical too.
Before joining the school, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Does this school teach the style of riding I would prefer to learn?
2. Do I feel comfortable around the instructor/stable employees?
3. Do I feel comfortable on/around the horses?
4. Does this school have ample facilities to accommodate my interests?
5. Do I like the other students and do I feel comfortable spending large quantities of time at this stable?

The most important thing to remember is that you may be spending quite a bit of time at the school, so make sure you get a positive vibe from the place! If you bear that in mind, and follow the above tips, then searching for a riding school doesn’t have to be a pain – just do the relevant research, ask the right questions, and you’ll be galloping in no time!

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