Many people with a true love of horses have not grown up in the country or even with the “horsey crowd.” If this sounds like you and you are now invited out for a hack or to spend time around these amazing animals there are some basics you should know before you arrive at the paddock or the stable.
This guide is meant to be a general overview of some of the common mistakes and questions those spending time around horses for the first time may have. It is not meant to include all the details about everything to do with horses, but it will give you the basics for your first introduction.
Explain Your Lack of Experience
It is never a good idea to try to appear as if you have a lot of experience around horses and with riding if you do not. First, someone familiar with horses will quickly notice your lack of experience, and it can make the situation very awkward.
Second, horses are typically docile and friendly, but they also have their own individual personalities and eccentricities, just like dogs, cats or people. By explaining you have not had the experience of being around horses, a more seasoned equestrian will be able to help you to make sure both you and the horse are safe and comfortable through the experience.
Additionally, if you are going to a stable, it will be much easier to match your riding ability with a horse that is suitable for a novice rider. This will allow you to enjoy yourself and have confidence you are on a horse that is not prone to spooking or that is challenging to ride.
What to Wear
You do not need to have special clothing to enjoy a few hours on a ride. It is important to choose comfortable, loose fitting clothing that is not going to flap or billow in the wind. Flapping clothing can be unsettling for the horse and potentially cause problems with the horse bolting if the fabric suddenly moves in the wind or with your movement.
Don’t wear shorts or tight trousers. Shorts do not work well with the saddle and will leave you with rubbed areas up and down your legs. Tight trousers are uncomfortable and can make it difficult to mount and dismount. For the summer a lightweight long sleeved shirt or a t-shirt is comfortable. If you are riding in colder weather, choose a shorter jacket rather than a longer coat this is more likely to flap and startle the horse during mounting and dismounting.
You should always wear a riding helmet, which is very similar in design to a bike helmet. Ideally, dress in layers suitable for the weather. In the colder months wear gloves, not mittens, to keep your fingers warm.
Leather boots with a slight heel are a good option, but it is also possible to wear trainers if you don’t have suitable boots. If you aren’t sure, don’t be afraid to ask the more experienced rider what he or she recommends.
Greeting the Horse
Most horses love being around people. However, they also recognize familiar people and strangers. One of the biggest errors people new to horses make is to approach the horse directly from in front of the horse’s head. Instead of this approach path, angle one side or the other at about 45 degrees and walk towards the shoulder, not towards the head.
Approach slowly and speak to the horse in a soft, even voice. Hold your hand out, palm down and fingers slightly curled under and let the horse sniff your hand. Keep talking softly and then slowly raise your hand to pet the horse. Don’t make any sudden moves or loud noises. If the horse moves away, don’t chase or follow, rather let the horse come back to you.
Finally, before approaching or petting any horse, be sure to get permission from the owner. While most horses are very accepting of attention, some can be more aggressive or have a habit of nipping or biting. These are horses that you will want to avoid until you become more confident with your interactions.
It is never too late to get started riding or to get to know more about horses. If you get the opportunity give it a try, just be honest and let people know about your novice rider status so the experience is a great one.