So your parents have finally agreed to let you take riding lessons! Hooray! You've done your research and found a great barn with a super-duper instructor. Now you're counting down the days until your first lesson. Well, we want to make sure you start out on the right foot (or hoof!). Read on to make the most of your very riding first lesson.
1. First, dress for safety. Wear well-fitting jeans and boots or shoes with small heels. You need heels to keep your feet in the stirrups, so sneakers are not suitable. Wear a shirt that fits. The instructor won't be able to work on your position if you hide your body in a baggy sweatshirt.
If your parents are willing to buy you the gear, invest in jodhpurs and boots. Jodhpurs are stretchy pants that are comfortable to wear when you ride. You can also buy paddock boots, short leather boots with laces, or tall rubber boots. Gloves are a good idea because they prevent blisters. Cloth gloves, with plastic grips, cost only $3.50.
Does the instructor have a safety helmet for you? Don't wear a helmet unless it has a label that says it is approved by the ASTM or the SEI. This means it meets tough standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials and has the Safety Equipment Institute seal. Maybe your parents will buy you a helmet. Got to a tack shop and try on different types until you find one that fits you perfectly.
2. Arrive 15 minutes early for your first lesson so you can meet your instructor and the horse you are going to ride. Your new instructor will be impressed by your punctuality! If your instructor is a good one, your parents will sign several forms before you ride. They have to sign a medical release form, which states that your instructor can take you to the hospital for treatment if you get injured during a lesson. They must also sign a form stating that they realize that riding can be dangerous, and they will not hold the instructor responsible if you get hurt.
3. A responsible instructor teaches you how to groom the horse before your ride. Riding is only one part of becoming a good horseman. You need to know how to look after a horse too. Grooming the horse gives you a chance to get to know him, plus you learn skills that will come in handy if you ever get a horse or pony of your own. The instructor should tell you what each brush and grooming tool is used for, and explain how to get your horse squeaky-clean.
4. After you groom, your instructor may help you tack up the horse. All the buckles and straps may seem confusing the first time you tack up, but after doing it several times, you'll be an expert. Your instructor will probably help you put on the horse's saddle and bridle. Some horses seem very big! You may have to put boots on the horse's legs too.
5. Once you've mounted the horse, some instructors put you on a lunge line. A lunge line is a long rope that attaches to the horse's bridle. Your instructor stands in the middle of the ring, and you ride around her in a circle. She holds the lunge line in one hand and a long whip in the other, and urges the horse forward. Working on the lunge line is great, because it gives you a chance to get your act together, without worrying that the horse is going to wander off with you or misbehave. You can concentrate on steering and stopping, and work on your position.
6. Toward the end of the hour, if your instructor is pleased with your progress, she may take you off the lunge line and let you ride by yourself. Don't be surprised if she sticks close to you, just in case you get into trouble. You will probably only walk during your first lesson. Don't expect to trot, canter or jump if you've never ridden before. If your instructor isresponsible and safety-conscious, she'll keep you at a slower pace until she is sure you're ready to go faster.
Thanks to trainer Carol Saulsberry, of San Juan Capistrano, CA, and her great student Alex Bennett for their help with this feature.