Boots & Saddles: Beginning in Horseback Riding

By Christie Hoerneman

Brilliant autumn leaves, snow-covered pines, blossoms of a rainy spring, or dusty summer sunshine—the weather outside is always perfect for horseback riding.

Breathing in the fresh air and taking in the sights and sounds of nature on horseback are an ideal way to spend a weekend or a weekday. For those who do not own a horse, trail riding is the perfect solution. Experienced riders will lead those on the ride through forests or pastures, or sometimes through the mountains, over bridges, or through water depending on the location of the trail. Trail rides typically last one hour; however, some can last much longer.

If trail riding doesn't quench your thirst for horseback riding, an alternative solution would be to take riding lessons. Lessons typically run thirty minutes to an hour, and cost can vary greatly. Some important questions to consider when looking for a riding instructor are:
- Is the instructor certified?
- Do the lesson horses appear healthy and well-taken care of?
- Are ASTM/SEI-certified riding helmets provided?
- Is the barn kept in good shape?
- Will you be able to effectively learn from the riding instructor?

Observe a lesson before committing, because every instructor has a different method of teaching and you should be able to find one with whom you can work well Riding lessons are a great way to discover whether you are ready to commit to leasing or buying a horse.

Typically beginning riders will start off using a Western saddle. The Western discipline developed according to the needs of cowboys in the American West. The saddle is larger than in other disciplines; this is to keep the weight of the rider more evenly distributed over the entire saddle, thus allowing the rider to keep his/her balance better. On the front of the Western saddle is a horn, which was used to anchor the rope when roping cattle. There are many activities and sports related to the Western discipline which include:
- Barrel Racing
- Cutting
- Pleasure and Equitation Classes
- Reining
- Roping
- Trail Riding

Once a rider is comfortable mounted on the horse and has a good sense of balance, she can move on to riding English if she chooses to do so. The English discipline has its foundations in the European mounted military. The saddle is much smaller compared to the Western saddle. Most English saddles have a shorter stirrup than what is seen on the Western saddle, and the rider sits in a more forward position. The following activities and sports are related to the English discipline:
- Dressage
Hunter Flat Classes
Saddle Seat Equitation
Show Jumping

Proper Attire for the Casual Rider

Proper attire is essential to being safe and comfortable when riding.
- A helmet that meets standards set forth by the American Society for Testing and Materials/Safety Equipment Institute ASTM/SEI 
- Boots that provide ankle support, have a heel that will prevent the foot from slipping completely through the stirrup, and are comfortable
- Well-fitted pants, whether jeans or English breeches, will allow you to move freely and comfortably.
Always remember to dress appropriately for the season. Being too cold or too hot can be a distraction! Layer!

Want to learn more? Here are some resources to get you started:

Electronic Books
These eBooks may be read online by our library customers. Please click here for more information on using eBooks.The All-Around Horse and Rider by Donna Snyder-Smith
Professional riding instructor Donna Snyder-Smith provides information on new training techniques that allow the rider to ride "correctly," on developing skills, and on setting realistic goals and achieving them.

Building Your Dream Horse: Charles Wilhelm's Ultimate Foundation Training by Charles Wilhelm and with Allison W. Houston
Highly-praised trainer Charles Wilhelm provides insight into how to establish a good foundation in order to progress to more difficult training. He also provides advice on how to effectively solve common problems, such as spooking and trailer loading.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Horseback Riding by Jessica Jahiel
This work provides an all-around introduction to horseback riding beginning with riding around the world and ending with horse activities. The author also describes how newcomers to the sport can enter horseback riding through lessons or leasing, the types of riding, and appropriate dress.

How Your Horse Wants You to Ride: Starting Out, Starting Over by Gincy Self Bucklin
A very thorough introduction that is useful for both beginners and intermediate riders. It begins with establishing a good ground relationship and working up to mounting/dismounting, sitting in the saddle, and going through the various gaits (walk, trot, canter). For the intermediate rider, Part IV of the work guides the rider in how to successfully use leg and rein cues to get the horse to pay attention.

Books in the Library

How to Think Like a Horse: The Essential Handbook for Understanding Why Horses Do What They Do by Cherry Hill
Trainer Cherry Hill explains what motivates horses and how that understanding can help riders to better communicate with their horses.

The Rider's Fitness Program: 74 Exercises & 18 Workouts Specifically Designed for the Equestrian by Dianna Robin Dennis, Johnny J. McCully, and Paul M. Juris
This work will help beginner riders get in shape and seasoned riders stay in shape through a six-week program that strengthens muscles, increases flexibility, and improve balance.

Starting Riding by Helen Edom and Lesley Sims
A beginner's guide to riding that goes through mounting and dismounting and through the horse's gaits (walking, trotting, and cantering), and ultimately discusses jumping.

A Video to Check Out

101 Horsekeeping Tips by Cherry Hill
This DVD gives tips on how to best care for a horse from the inside-out.

Some Horse-Related Events in Virginia

New Kent — Colonial Downs: Thoroughbred and Harness Racing (reopening)
Montpelier Station — Montpelier Hunt Races
Leesburg — Morven ParkPolo and Other Equestrian Events
The Plains — Virginia Gold Cup

Horse Shows
Culpeper — Horse Shows in the Sun (HITS)
Salem — Roanoke Shenandoah Valley Horse Show
Warrenton — Warrenton Horse Show and Warrenton Pony Show
Doswell — Meadow Event Park
Culpeper — Grovespring Farm, LLC
Spotsylvania — Hazelwild Equestrian Center
Lexington - Virginia Horse Center
Rhoadesville — Amber Hill Farm
Woodford — Woodpecker Farm

Virginia Horse Web Sites

The Chronicle of the Horse
This long-established horse magazine with international coverage is based in Middleburg, VA, next door to The National Sporting Library & Museum.

Horse Talk Magazine
An online journal that focuses on the horse industry in Southern Maryland and Virginia.

Love Horses? Love Virginia. Virginia is for Lovers
A great Web site from the Virginia government that lists all types of horse related events throughout the state.

Virginia Horse Journal
An online journal that specializes in the horse industry in Virginia.