Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.
For those of you who have considered riding in the past or are considering it now, here is some information that I think will be valuable to you. There are a lot of common misconceptions about horseback riding and the horse community in general, some of which might discourage someone who was considering giving it a try.
I have had a wide array of experience with horses, but my niche involves giving beginners and new people a fun, safe introduction to the horse world. My goal is to break down those misconceptions so that the horse world seems inviting to anyone who would like to try to get involved.
Misconception #1: It's Only for the Elite
Riding horses is an activity for those in the upper echelon "elite" part of society. When you say horses, they envision Prince William, Kate, and the kids at a polo match. Maybe they envision the big hats on Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day.
If you relied on the media, I can see how this might be how you would see the horse world. The truth is that horses are not only for the rich and famous, and those polo matches and million-dollar horse races you see are just a smidgen of what the horse world has to offer.
The other way people see horseback riding is in the more cowboy sort of rough and ready way, sort of like the old Marlboro cigarette commercials on television. That makes it look super rough and rugged. (Also, not the most appealing, especially for an adult amateur or someone with a kid who wants to try lessons.)
The reality of it falls somewhere in the middle. There are nice family-oriented lesson barns all over the country, where "normal" families bring their kids to learn to ride. You don't have to be a millionaire or be friends with the Dutchess of York.
Misconception #2: It's Unaffordable
Horseback riding lessons are too expensive?! I have found from talking with our clients who have children involved in other sports and activities that our lesson program is comparable in cost to many of the other activities available like dancing, gymnastics, karate, etc.
Obviously, the prices will vary depending on where you live and the facility, and the type of clientele they cater to. I think if you did some research on facilities specializing in beginner riders, you will find the prices reasonable.
Also, aside from a helmet (some farms will even let you borrow helmets) and boots, you are not expected to purchase a ton of equipment to get started with lessons. You can easily find consignment tack shops or even reasonably priced basic helmets and boots on Amazon. You can get an approved helmet and boots for well under $100.
If you end up not liking riding after all or your child doesn't, again you can find consignment shops and sell the equipment or post on Craigslist also. Many barns also will let you sell your outgrown or lightly used equipment to other riders at the farm.
Misconception #3: It's Not Exercise
You don't get any exercise riding horses since the horse does all the work. Nope! Definitely not true. Riding involves body control, muscle memory, and core strength, just to name a few. It is most definitely good exercise, especially when you do it regularly.
New riders are almost always shocked at all the muscles they use when they ride and how much more work it is than it looks, even just the beginning stages of learning position, stopping, and steering.
Plus, if you ride at my barn (most barns, really), you will groom and tack (put the equipment on your horse), which is physical exercise before you even get on to ride!
The horse does do his job, but your job of telling him what to do is physical exercise and a good all-around workout, if I do say so myself.
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Misconception #4: It's Not a Sport
Riding is not a sport? It most certainly is! Going along with misconception #3, good riders are athletes and work hard to get good at their discipline of choice.
Though on the lower levels you don't see as many team competitions, there are most certainly local show series that are affordable for those that are interested in competition.
Equestrian sports are included in the Olympics. If it wasn't a sport, it wouldn't be in the Olympics. Show Jumping, dressage, eventing, vaulting, and reining are featured Olympic sports.
For those that don't want to consider riding a sport, think of it this way. Your horse is your teammate, he or she probably weighs at least a thousand pounds, has his or her own brain, and speaks a totally different language than you.
It is hard work, it takes skill, physical strength and coordination, and a whole bunch of determination. It is a sport!
Misconception #5: You Have to Start Riding Early
You have to ride as a kid. It isn't something you start later in life. WRONG! I have many adult students who finally have the means to afford lessons or the free time since their kids are all grown. You can start riding at any age. It is not just for kids.
Most farms will offer private lessons for adults or group lessons with adult beginners together to make new riders feel more comfortable.
Misconception #6: It's Just a Phase
Riding horses is just a phase that all little girls go through and then discover boys and give it up. While there are some kids who try riding and discover it is not for them, to say it is just a phase for all little girls is not true.
I have taught many enthusiastic little 4- and 5-year-olds that keep riding throughout their grade school careers and even end up buying a horse of their own or continuing to ride in college. It is a lifetime activity for many.
Misconception #7: You Have to Buy a Horse
Eventually, you will have to buy your own horse. Nope! Not true! Many riders just enjoy their weekly lesson on the barn's horse and don't make the commitment to own a horse.
For those who want more riding time without the extra financial responsibility of ownership, many people lease horses. Leases are done on a variety of different terms, and the cost varies. Leasing is an option for more riding time or barn time without buying a horse of your own.
Misconception #8: It's Dangerous
It's dangerous. Okay, yes, there is an element of danger involved when dealing with thousand-pound animals. That is why if you decide to pursue riding, you do your research and find a farm that specializes in new riders. They will have appropriate beginner horses for you to learn on. I know that my barn is filled with horses that are as close to perfectly safe as you can get when you are dealing with an animal that can think for itself.
These barns, with these types of horses, are all over the country—you just have to do your research and find them.
A good beginner instructor is not only teaching you how to ride but also how to be safe around horses on the ground and how to understand the nature of the horse. The more we understand their behavior, the safer we are around them.
All athletic endeavors involve some level of risk, it comes with the territory, and riding is no different. In the right program, with the right trainers and horses, the danger of injury in riding lessons is kept to a minimum and equivalent to any other athletic sport that you might choose to pursue.
Misconception #9: Trail Riding Equals Expertise
You already know how to ride because you have ridden a trail horse on a trip. Many vacation spots have horseback riding offered. Riding a trail horse on one of these trips is not really riding.
Trail horses are a whole different mindset. Horses that take inexperienced riders on trail rides basically just follow the tail in front of them. They go down the trail, so you think you are in control. The reality is the trail horse was just doing his job and taking you on a ride. So, despite how many of these types of trail rides you have been on, that does not mean you are an "experienced" rider.
Misconception #10: It's Just for Girls
Riding lessons are for little girls and boys don't take riding lessons. Though you will normally find more girls than boys in lessons, this is also a misconception. We have had many little boys come for lessons and summer camp, so it is not "just for girls."
Interestingly enough at the upper levels of riding, there are more men than women, or at least just as many. They had to learn somewhere!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2018 Ellison Hartley