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Learn to Ride!™

The Equiery's Exclusive Guide
Find a a lesson stable
Evaluating the facility, staff, horses
What to wear
Summer camps
Riding styles

Finding 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 renewal.

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.

Stable Facilities
The Maryland Department of Agriculture through the Maryland Horse Industry Board
inspects public 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 around them.

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 know 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 on a weekend, to see if your first impressions were accurate, but 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!)


  1. Is the staff friendly and helpful?
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.)
  4. 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".)
  5. Is the instructor able to help the student work through the fear of learning a new skill?
  1. 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?
  1. Do the students seem happy to be in class?
  2. 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.
Safety & Responsibility
  1. 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.
Facility Maintenance
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
You have chosen your facility - - Now What?

What to wear

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.

Shoes: Most barns require a hard soled shoe with a definable heel. Riding boots include tall boots, which can be leather or rubber, or short boots, such as paddock shoes or jodphur boots (both of which are very stylish, and you 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 may 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.

Shoes: 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.

Helmets: 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:
  1. 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, if required.
  2. 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?
  3. 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 your 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) should be tied securely back under your helmet or hat.
  4. Listen to the instructor, avoid chatting in your lesson.
  5. Never dismount until the instructor says the lesson is over.
  6. Always thank your instructor at the end of the lesson.
  7. Try to avoid excessive cancelling and rescheduling of lessons. It disrupts the barn's routine and it interferes with your learning process.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 canter).

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 to do.

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".

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