Learn to Ride!™
The Equiery's Exclusive Guide
Find a a lesson stable
Evaluating the facility, staff, horses
What to wear
a Lesson Stable
Riding lessons can be an enjoyable experience for everyone, and
many families enjoy riding together. In Maryland, we are fortunate
to have hundreds of places to learn to ride. But how do
you choose the lesson stable that is right for your needs?
The Equiery features a list of riding and boarding
stables, but what if the stable near you only does English, and
you want to learn how to ride Western? Or what if you find yourself signed up for dressage lessons, and you’re
not sure what dressage is?
Neither the state nor national government regulate either instructors
or riding programs. Anyone can hang out a shingle and claim to be an instructor.
It is a “caveat emptor” world:
buyer beware. The purpose of this page is to help give
you the tools to become an educated consumer.
There are a number of voluntary certification programs
that certify riding instructors, and they are governed by well-respected
national and international organizations. Some organizations
with certification programs include:
* The American Riding Instructors Certification Program (ARICP)
* The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA)
* The United States Dressage Federation (USDF)
* The British Horse Society (BHS)
* United States Pony Clubs (USPC)
* The American Association of Horsemanship Safety, Inc.
* Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA)
In addition, many colleges offer equine studies degrees, which
include certification programs, or their equivalent.
These certifications do not necessarily attest to the quality
of instruction, or the integrity of the instructor, or to their “people” or
teaching skills. They only certify that the individuals
have a certain amount of knowledge. Some certifications
do not require any updating, while others require periodic
In addition, there are many outstanding instructors who
hold no certification whatsoever. So you will have to use your
own judgement when choosing an instructor.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture through the Maryland
Horse Industry Board
stables to be sure that the care of the horses meets certain
minimum standards. Certified stables must display Maryland
Department of Agriculture certificates prominently on the
premises. However, MDA certification does not ensure the quality
of instruction. Click here for a list of stables licensed through the
Maryland Horse Industry Board.
The First Step
When starting the search for a lesson stable, the
first thing to do is answer some simple questions:
1) Are the lessons for an adult or child?
2) English or Western (do you want a saddle with a “horn” in
front)? There are many sub-disciplines involved in both English and Western,
but just worry about the basics in the
3) Do you want to ride just for pleasure, or do you (or your
child) have aspirations to show or compete?
The answers will dictate some of the
direction of this search.
1) Some stables specialize in only children or adults, and
others are comfortable doing both. You need to be comfortable
with the others who may be in the lessons with you, or
your child. Ideally, the lessons are grouped according to age
and ability. Some children do better in programs geared only
for children, and some adults do not want children around
during their leisure time. Some beginner adults are comfortable
being around children or teenagers who can ride circles
2) Many riders begin their lessons knowing which seat
(English or Western) that they want. Others do not. Some
barns can provide introductory lessons in both styles of riding,
and students later specialize once they have decided which
they prefer. Neither style is better than the other. If you
you eventually want to jump, you should probably choose
English, but if you know you only want to trail ride, either
style will work.
3) Although competing is not necessary to enjoy horses,
many people enjoy showing and competing, while others have
no desire to compete. Some barns don’t do any competing.
Some barns allow you to show or compete if you want, but
don’t pressure you to compete if you don’t want to. Other
barns are primarily geared toward showing and competing,
so it is important to decide where you fit in the spectrum.
Many barns are starter or “feeder” operations, meaning they
offer lessons and in-stable showing, and the student moves
"up and out” to another stable when it is time to become
more competitive, or time to lease or purchase a horse. You
can avoid interrupting your educational progress by choosing
the barn that best suits your personality and goals at this
stage of your riding. Then, if you find your goals change after
completing a program, you can move to another facility.
Assessing your needs honestly and accurately in the beginning
may save you lots of money, and help avoid the expense
of signing up with a program that really just doesn’t
suit your needs.
Narrowing the Field
Now that you know what type of lessons you want, what
next? Select a few barns that meet your requirements, and
visit them! Many barns hold regular “open houses” and introductory
lessons. Everyone is on their best behavior. Speak
with staff and other students (or parents, if you are looking
for a lesson barn for a child). You might also want to visit
a weekend, to see if your first impressions were accurate,
you should first determine if the facility is a “public” facility,
open to the public during business hours, or if it a “private” facility, and you need permission before visiting.
When looking at a potential facility, ask yourself the following
questions: (Hint: The answers should all be YES!)
- Is the staff friendly and helpful?
- Do they appear knowledgeable about teaching riding as
well as riding themselves? (It is one thing to ride well, it
is a completely different thing to teach someone how to ride.)
- Do the instructors have control over the class? (e.g. If the
students are too busy chattering about themselves, the instructor
has lost control of the class.)
- Can the instructors communicate with their students? (If they keep
repeating the same thing and get no results, they are not
communicating, or if they start yelling or badgering the students,
they are not communicating effectively. In a beginner lesson,
a teacher may have to repeat "heels down" a thousand times; a good
teacher will come up with a few hundred different ways of saying
"heels down", just so that the student doesn't "tune out".)
- Is the instructor able to help the student work through the fear of
learning a new skill?
- Do the horses seem happy with their jobs, healthy and well cared for?
They are as important as the instructor to the success of riding lessons.
Even if you know nothing about horses, there are some basic indicators
about a horse's health. Simple things to look for include shiny coats,
an absence of saddle area sores (keep in mind that horses are magnets
for injuries, and can hurt themselves in the most amazing ways, so
do not let little bumps and scrapes scare you off), and a happy
attitude. Each horse is different on any given day, but is the overall
impression of the herd a positive one?
Safety & Responsibility
- Do the students seem happy to be in class?
- Do they seem excited about the lesson? Some students are fearful to
try a new exercise or ride a new horse, which is different than being
afraid of the instructor. A good instructor knows the limitations of
each student, and knows just how and when to push a student into
a new skill.
- Does the barn stress safety when riding and working with horses?
Riding can be a dangerous sport and it is vital that lesson facilities
teach students how to work around horses in the safest manner possible.
Safety can include (but is in no way limited to): clothing, footgear,
helmets, handling horses, working with equipment, etc.
You have chosen your facility - - Now What?
What to wear
- Is the overall impression of the barn one of neatness and tidiness?
A good lesson facility does not have to be a showplace with brass fixtures
and brick walkways, but the staff and students should have a sense
of pride in the way the barn looks.
- Is equipment put away or thrown around? If equipment is thrown around,
not only can it be dangerous, it can also be a reflection on the barn's
attitude towards instruction and safety.
- Is the tack in good condition? If the barn management does not care if
people and horses step on or over pitchforks and other equipment, does the
management care if tack is kept in good condition so that it does not
break? Accidents with horses will always happen, but a good barn works
to make sure that accidents are rare.
Once you have visited different barns, and are comfortable that the barn you have
chosen suits your needs, you may be asked to invest in some equipment.
For English riding:
Breeches (pronounced "britches") or Jodhpurs (often refurred to as "jods"):
Riding pants designed to reduce the bulk under the riders legs. Breeches are
traditionally worn with tall boots, and jodhpurs are worn with short boots (jodhpur
boots or paddock shoes). Many lesson facilities have no rules that require these
pants, and jeans are perfectly acceptable. Many people switch from wearing jeans
to breeches, jodhpurs once they have decided to stick with riding. Some people wear
jeans with chaps over them to give them a little more grip, but some barns
frown on chaps, as they feel that chaps allow riders to fall into bad habits
in the early stage of their riding career. There are now low-cost schooling
breeches, jodhpurs, tights, etc. available for individuals on a budget. Many
tack stores also feature consignment sections where gently worn garments can be
purchased for a small sum, a boon for parents with rapidly growning children.Helmets:
Currently there is no state or national law requiring
the use of riding helmets. Many barns have insurance coverage that requires
all mounted riders wear "approved" safety helmets. Approved safety helmets
will bear the ASTM/SEI insignia. It is best to avoid purchasing a used
helmet, since the new helmets are designed to absorb the brunt of one serious
impact, and then be replaced. Some helmet companies will replace helmets free
of charge after a serious fall. Schooling helmets begin at about $35.
Most barns require a hard soled shoe with a definable
heel. Riding boots include tall boots, which can be leather or rubber, or short
such as paddock shoes or jodphur boots (both of which are very stylish, and
can continue to wear variations of "barn" or "muck" boots. There are riding
sneakers available which have a heel, but some barns prohibit such foot gear,
since sneakers do not offer much protection for the foot if a horse steps on
it. Tack store consignment shops are always full of outgrown footwear for children.
Before investing in expensive footwear, check with your barn to see what they
recommend, or if they have any "forbidden" footwear.
For Western Riding:
Jeans are standard attire. Many people also wear chaps (which are worn
at shows) over their jeans.
The boots that are appropriate for English riding are not really
right for Western riding (and vice versa
) because of the configuration of
the stirrup (where the foot is placed) and how the foot is placed in the stirrup.
Western boots tend to have a bigger heel than English boots.
It is not common practice to wear a safety helmet when riding
Western. There are, however, Western safety helmets available. There is also
nothing against wearing an English hemet for lessons and schooling.Summer Camps
For many children, summer camp is their first initiation into horseback riding.
There are many summer camps in Maryland that offer horseback riding as one of the
activities, and many barns that offer summer horsemanship programs. The rules that
govern summer camps in Maryland are much stricter than those that govern riding
schools. The state requires that summer camps be licensed through the Department
of Mental Health and Hygiene. To be licensed, a summer riding camp must meet a number
of criteria, in addition to its ability to teach horseback riding. To find out if
a "summer camp" is licensed through the state, please contact the Department of Mental
Health and Hygiene at 410-767-8417. As with general riding stables, summer camps
should have their licenses conspicuously posted.
How to Make the Most Out of Your Riding Experience
Riding is a fun and enjoyable learning experience. In order for you to get
the most out of it, there are a few things you can do as a student:
- Always be on time. Keep in mind, being on time can mean being there 1/2
hour to an hour before your lesson begins in order to groom and tack your horse,
- Always consider the horse's welfare before and after the lesson. Does your
mount need a little extra TLC before class? Does he need extra walking
and water after the class?
- As in any athletic sport, athletes need to wear and dress in certain
ways, not only to make use of your body more efficiently, but also that
instructor. Your breeches or jeans should be clean and in good repair;
your shirt should be tucked in (no half shirts); long hair (male or female)
be tied securely back under your helmet or hat.
- Listen to the instructor, avoid chatting in your lesson.
- Never dismount until the instructor says the lesson is over.
- Always thank your instructor at the end of the lesson.
- Try to avoid excessive cancelling and rescheduling of lessons. It disrupts
the barn's routine and it interferes with your learning process.
- If you have a major concern about how your lesson program is proceeding,
or about your instructor, find a quiet time to calmly discuss the issue
with either your instructor or the program director. Don't stew about it, or
change barns without seeing if the problem can be resolved.
- Help out around the barn as much as possible, sweep the aisleways, clean
tack - and you will soon find yourself one of the most popular people
in the barn, plus you will learn a lot.
- Above all, maintain a cheerful, positive "can-do" attitude - and you will
be surprised at all you accomplish!!! Things you never thought you could do!
Common Riding Styles
English - English riding is broken down into
three broad catagories:
Dressage or Balanced Seat - which
stresses working in harmony and balance with the horse. There
is no jumping in dressage. In competitions, horse and rider
perform a series of movements which are scored against an ideal
"10". During the Renaissance, this style of riding was considered
an art form, like painting and music.
Hunter/Jumper - this style of riding
prepares the rider to "jump" obstacles. Hunters stress
form while Jumpers stress speed and height. Both descend
from the tradition of foxhunting, which required a horse and
rider to get over anything in their path. Although referred
to as "English", the modern jumping style is actually derived
from the "forward" seat development in the early 1900s by an
Italian calvary officer named Frederico Caprilli. Prior to Caprilli's
innovations, jumping had always been done with the rider sitting
in the saddle and leaning back.
Saddle Seat: which was originally
the type of riding one did for any length of time, but has become
the flashy show horse style usually associated with gaited horses
(those that demonstrate gaits other than the walk, trot, and
The Western saddle was developed to meet the needs of American's
ranchers and cowboys. These men and women spent days in their
saddles, and required a saddle that was comfortable for them,
their horse, safe, and allowed them to do the work necessary
on a ranch, from the frequently slow riding necessary to move
herds many miles to market, to the lightning fast bursts of
speed required for cutting cattle out of the herd, or for roping.
The saddle also served as an extra pair of hands, so that a
cowboy could rope a calf, tie on end of the rope around the
saddle horn, and dismount, knowing that the horse and the saddle
would hold the calf in place so that he could do what he need
Once one has mastered the basic "stock seat" there are many
ways to enjoy riding Western. There is Western Pleasure
which is riding for pure enjoyment. There are the Speed
Events which include: Barrel Racing, Pole Bending,
etc., which are the thrill sports. There are also sports that
harken back to the western cattle working tradition: Reining,
Cutting, Team Penning, Roping.
These sports require speed, agility, and "cow sense".