So you have never been on a horse before and the idea of four legs carrying you over the trails seemed to be a great idea, until you are faced with the prospect of a few hundred kg’s of muscled horseflesh and the realisation that “it doesn’t drive like a car”.
The good news is that whilst it is might not be as easy as hopping on and sitting back to enjoy the ride, novices and first time riders can enjoy horse back trails safely and experience the freedom of riding a horse, by following a few simple steps.
Firstly and most importantly, confirm that the riding establishment caters for novices, don't be tempted by experienced riding "friends" that you "will be fine" joining them for a gallop across the hills. This might appeal to your dreams of being a range cowboy, as romantic as the idea sounds, in the best case, your body will want to disown you for several days, worst case – well let’s say we get a fair number of guests every year who have been terrified by those experiences and never want to see a horse again.
Steady horses, easy trails and experienced guides are essential to ensure an enjoyable horseback trail.
For your first trip, we always recommend a maximum of one hour in the saddle, don’t overdo it, you can always come for more!
When booking always be honest about your horse riding ability, rather underestimate than over do it!
Wear comfortable clothing - long pants with no zips, buttons or decorations down the inner leg. (Leave the bling for the celebratory drinks afterwards!) Shorts might seem like the "cool" choice, but your bare legs will be far from cool after a short while in the saddle. Choose comfort before style - make sure you can sit comfortably; you don't want the circulation to your legs ended prematurely by those super skinny designer jeans!
Closed shoes, preferably with a low, flat heel. No bare feet, sandals or high heels (you laugh - it happens..)
Head protection - we always recommend that you wear a riding hat. Most trail riding companies have hats or helmets, if they don’t; we suggest you borrow one.
Your guide will give you a short introduction on the basics of guiding and controlling your horse, it is essential to listen and ask questions if you are not sure.
Always approach the horses from the front, regardless of how quiet they might seem. Talk to them…okay yes if you must.. “Hello horsey horsey” is better than quietly sneaking up on them! Being a flight animal, a startled horses’ reaction could send you flying. We recommend that you let the guide bring your horse to you at the mounting area.
Young children in particular tend to get over excited at the sight of horses and want to rush up and hug them, please don’t let them “go wild”, let the guides do the introductions, remind kids to speak quietly and calmly!
Take a moment to acquaint yourself with your horse, let him sniff you and give him a stroke, ask his name! Horses are not motorbikes that you hop on and turn a key!
Mounting blocks are frequently a battle of egos; men particularly like to believe they can swing into the saddle like John Wayne, well actually, whilst the mounting block will save you from some undignified positions, they are there to save the horse and saddle, so use them!
BEFORE putting your foot in the stirrup, HOLD the reins – do not let them go at any stage while you are on the horse, even if your horse seems to be sound asleep! That doesn’t mean you have to clutch them in a deathgrip – most trail horses are accustomed to riding on a loose rein, but again let your guide help you.
Your guide will help you with directing and managing your horse. Horses sense your feelings and can see through “cover-ups” of bravado, so just relax – BREATHE if you find that are particularly tense. If you are tense you will not move in rhythm with the horse, making for an uneasy ride for both of you.
Don't expect to learn how to ride in one session, if you feel like you would like to take it to the next level, book some riding lessons as it will take practice and focus to get the hang of the basics. And don't be tempted to show off, 90% of the time this ends in tears and pain..
If you feel unsafe – GET OFF! As a novice, you should be on a reliable and well trained horse, not something that could turn into a runaway train at the drop of a hat! At horseAbout trails we often lead our first timers, allowing them the chance to settle into the rhythm of horseback riding before getting to grips with the “steering”.
When you get back to the stables, wait for direction from the guides and/or staff. Just because your horse is standing still, don’t let go of the reins!!!
Also don’t crowd other horses and people, wait your turn. Once you are off – don’t just walk away, take a moment to give your horse a little appreciation – a pat or a rub is a good way to say thank you. We don’t recommend giving out treats unless under the guidance of the staff, check with them first!
Horse riding is really something for the whole family so next time you are looking for something fun and outdoors to do with your family, why not “saddle up”?
Safe riding everyone!
From the horseAbout Team.
John & Jo
We are the owners of horseAbout Trails & Adventures in the Western Cape.
“We left the premises with heart full of joy, love for these amazing horses and admiration for the lifestyle of John and his family.”