Horseback Riding 101
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While it's impossible to describe the exhilaration and connections to yourself and to nature you will experience while riding a horse, be assured that nothing else you ever do will be quite like it. That may not seem true the day after your first ride, when you will probably have some aches and pains from muscles you don't use often and may feel like your legs have forever become an "O" shape, or when you are learning to ride the trot, which is a big challenge for most of us, but those kinds of problems will disappear quickly as you learn and love to ride.
You'll also love horses themselves. They are friendly, gentle animals and companions – and enjoyable riding requires that you and your horse, or a stable horse you may ride, work together. Since horses are herding animals in the wild, they enjoy having at least one other horse companion, and will take you into their herd, too. You'll like that!
There's nothing like the feeling of riding a horse. Your sense of place, and connection to your horse, are both unique. The world has a new perspective and new horizons when you see it from two to three feet higher than usual. You can hear the world around you – no engines, TVs or radios blaring. You may be surprised at how relaxed you feel. Most of us don't get away from our noisy, bustling lives as often as we should.
As the motion of the horse becomes natural and you move with it, you experience a whole new way of relating to a magnificent animal, and to yourself. It's always a bit breezy on horseback, and you'll feel the wind and pure motion when you speed up to an adventurous canter.
Riding is a great way to spend time with friends or family, and people of all ages can enjoy horseback riding. You'll find yourself having real, in-person conversations. By the way, talking on a cell phone while riding would be horribly bad manners.
From the moment you meet a horse, with its velvet nose and warm brown eyes, it has major animal appeal. And a horse is a friendly, gentle animal – you'll become good friends.
Riding as Exercise
Riding also provides significant exercise. You will build core muscles, especially in your abdomen, lower back, buttocks and legs – universal favorite targets for workouts. On average, a 150-pound person will burn 171 calories per hour on horseback at a walking pace –compared to 189 for walking two miles an hour on foot. Grooming and saddling is good, too – about 405 calories an hour. If you don't weigh 150 pounds, use the link above, add your weight, and find your numbers.
The term horse sense, meaning good, common sense, has been around almost 200 years. Since the horse, by definition, starts out with horse sense, you as the rider and possibly a future owner need to develop horse sense, too. Understanding horses and learning to ride well will make you "horse-sensible," and you'll enjoy riding at a much deeper level.
Riding and caring for horses help children learn patience and consistency, and build their confidence for further adventures in life. In general, children can start riding between the ages of eight and 11. To ride safely, they must be tall enough to sit a saddle and reach the stirrups comfortably. Both children and adults should wear helmets. Head injuries lead the list of riding injuries that require medical care.
It's generally more fun, and a good safety factor should an accident occur, to ride with at least one other person.
Children will enjoy horses much more if they ride with someone. They should always ride with at least one adult in the party until they are fully trained as riders, reliably demonstrate correct and safe riding habits and are old and/or experienced enough to handle an emergency, such as a fall or a horse spooking. Spooked is the word used to describe a horse when it is frightened. Some horses are easily spooked, and some almost never. When spooked, some horses freeze, while others either jump (shy) back or sideways, or bolt (taking off at a run). Training helps habituate horses to things that may frighten them.
Children should always ride horses that you know are well-trained and safe – that's especially important if you decide they're ready to go out without an adult. If you ride along any public streets or roads, be prepared for people who either know nothing about horses or are malicious to honk their horn as they approach or pass people on horseback, which causes many horses to spook.
Riding as Therapy
Riding can also be a tool for physical and emotional therapy. About 30,000 people participate in more than 600 accredited therapeutic riding programs in North America. Benefits include balance, establishing the right rhythm for those learning to walk again and the emotional bond between riders and horses. Professionals in counseling and both physical and occupational therapy refer patients to horse programs.
Getting Started as a Rider
We recommend lessons for all new riders – there's just no substitute. Even before lessons, you may want to try a walking paced trail ride – stables offer them, or a friend with access to a second horse would probably be delighted to share his or her enthusiasm.
A handy tip: When you are first riding, you will use leg muscles that most of us don't use much, especially in your legs, so virtually everyone has sore muscles early on, whatever your age. Start slow, with 30 to 60 minutes in the saddle, until your newly found muscles catch up.
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