While riding horses can be a delightful experience, it is not without risk. Consequently, it’s essential that you work with the best riding instructor you can. Picking the correct instructor and farm can have an enormous impact on your riding experience, while picking the wrong riding school could result in a bad, and even dangerous, experience.
Many people pick the first riding program they come across, which is far from an optimal strategy. However, there are certain factors that you can look at to help you select a program that will be right for you and/or your child.
The farm that you choose doesn’t have to be exquisite, but it definitely needs to be clean and safe. Fences and buildings should be painted (or stained) and in good repair.
Broken boards are the sign of a farm that is in disrepair, so avoid any place that looks to be falling apart. The landscaping does not need to be extravagant, but grass should be mowed, walkways raked or swept, and cobwebs should be virtually nonexistent.
Ideally the farm you select will have a heated or cooled (depending on where you live) viewing area, from which parents and other onlookers can watch the riders during their lessons. Refreshments of some sort, even if it’s just water from a dispenser, should be available to visitors.
Horses should, in general, be well groomed, with shining coats and silky manes and tails that are not tangled and do not contain shavings, burdocks, or lots of hay. To be fair, in the winter months many horses will look very furry, as they will be wearing their “winter coats,” so if you visit a farm when it is cold you do need to allow for this natural occurrence.
Horses should be, in general, friendly, and should approach human visitors with a kind curiosity. Horses should be approached carefully, however, and under the guidance of the farm manager, as some will bite or kick.
Be sure to watch some of the riding lessons at any farm you are considering. Things to watch for include:
These “hard hats” should be worn by all riders under age 18. After that, while it is a good idea for adults to wear them, it is more optional.
The horse and rider should look like they are working as one, similar to two great dance partners dancing together. Of course, beginner riders will not look as coordinated with their horses as more experienced riders will, but, nonetheless, horse and rider should look like they are working together happily and most of their efforts should be successful.
Do you like the way the instructor talks to her/his students? Does she/he seem to get the horses to behave properly through calm and quick instructions? If so, this is an excellent sign!
You need to feel comfortable working with the instructor. If you find you enjoy talking to her/him and asking questions, then you can feel good about this. However, if you don’t get a good “gut feeling” about this instructor you may want to look at other farms for an instructor for yourself or your child.
All things considered, picking the correct riding school is the same as picking a school. You have to feel good with the office, the educators, and with what the school instructs. On the off chance that despite everything you don’t feel sure with your judgement, keep learning and looking. Attend local horse shows, talk with the riders and trainers you see there. If you spend the time up front to learn who the good an not-so-good people are in your area you will, in the long run, have a much more safe, successful, and fun time during your equine experience!