Learning How to Ride
If you've never ridden a horse before, the best place to take your first ride is at a reputable riding stable that teaches beginners the fundamentals. This is true for children and adults alike. A top-notch facility will have everything you need to get started: lesson horses, riding instructors, saddles, and safety helmets. However, you will need a pair of boots with at least a half-inch heel to prevent your foot from slipping through the stirrup in the event of a mishap.
How to Find a Good Lesson Barn
Your phone book is a starting place for collecting locations — look under riding academies or riding stables in the Yellow Pages. Another place to look is on the bulletin boards at local tack shops and feed stores for flyers from local stables offering lessons.
Do some investigating before signing up for lessons. Ask the staff at the tack and feed stores whether they know anything about the stable's reputation. You might also ask about any horse clubs in your area, attend a meeting or two, and talk to the experienced horse people there. You'll likely meet some barn managers or riding instructors or collect some names that way.
Once you've collected names, start with a phone call. Talk with the stable manager, who may be one of the instructors, about what is offered and how much different options cost. Ask if you can come for a visit and watch a lesson or two.
Types of Riding Lessons
Most barns concentrate in a particular riding discipline. If you just want to have a few lessons to get on a horse and start to develop your ability, it may not matter what the stable's focus is at first. After all, the riding basics can be applied in every discipline. But if you already have a certain goal in mind, such as learning dressage or learning to jump, seek out a barn that focuses on your interests. That way, if you decide to continue your rider training long term, you will already have established relationships with people who can help you reach your goals.
Group Versus Private Lessons
Usually, this is a cost consideration. Group lessons cost less than private lessons and are generally the best way to go if you're just trying out riding to see if you like it. However, some beginning riders want to start with private lessons until they develop their seat, and then after a few weeks, when they feel more secure and comfortable, they can join a group lesson to learn how to ride with other horses and riders around. Some people prefer just the opposite — to ride with a group for the moral support and camaraderie while learning the basics, then develop and refine their skills with private lessons later on.
The Lesson Horses
Good lesson horses are hard to come by. They are generally older horses with temperaments that are well suited to tolerating the bouncing bottoms, flopping legs, and flapping arms of beginner riders. They have been intensely schooled to change gait the absolute second they are asked, which helps when you are a beginner and don't have much of a feel for the horse.
Good lesson horses know how to do whatever they are expected to do so well that the rider can learn how something should feel — posting to the trot, for instance — without having yet fully mastered it. Beginning riders can learn to recognize how certain moves should feel and apply them to less experienced horses later.
Barns that accept novice riders generally have lesson horses on the premises, but don't take that for granted. Always ask if this is the case and find out about the horses' backgrounds. What the horses know will make a big difference in what you can learn from riding them. For example, if you want to learn dressage, you need to ride a schoolmaster, a horse that has been classically trained and already knows how to do the dressage movements.
The horses themselves will also tell you a lot about the overall quality of the barn and the experience you will have taking lessons there. Take note of how well cared for the horses appear. Lesson horses can work on a regular basis, which means they should be fit and trim, but not skinny. Are their coats tidy? Are their feet well cared for? Do you see lame horses being ridden for lessons?
The size of the horse doesn't matter much as far as learning to ride. However, if you are nervous atop a 16.2-hand horse, then certainly request a shorter horse and see whether that helps you feel more comfortable. The stable should be interested in getting you onto the horse most suitable for you.