So, maybe you just got back from your dude ranch vacation and realized you caught the bug? Or, maybe you’re gearing up for your upcoming getaway and want to get a little jump-start on riding before you spend a week in the saddle. You’re not the first to have either of these ideas! If you have a ranch vacation in your future, riding ahead of time will help you be more comfortable on day one, as well as alleviate some of the soreness that is inevitable with using muscles you don’t normally use for hours on end, day after day. Our hot tubs help a lot, but riding before you arrive will help even more. Granted, it’s hard to know where to start, who to go to, and to know what you’re looking for. Here are some tips on finding the right place to take lessons and the right trainer who can help you improve your horsemanship skills.
Understand the different types of riding. Western, English, Reining, Cutting, Jumping, Hunter, Three Day, Trail, Dressage….what are all these options?
Western and English are the broadest terms for riding styles. Western riding got its start on ranches as early as the late 1770s. Much of the equipment was influenced by the early Spanish vaqueros and designed for comfort, function, and necessity. English is the more traditional European and Eastern style of riding, with a closer contact saddle and more contact with the horse at all times via leg pressure and rein pressure. Within those two disciplines, there are more specific types of training and riding, so just because two people ride Western doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing the same thing with their horses. One might be performing cattle work, one might just be trail riding, and one might be barrel racing. And, with all of these different styles within a discipline, there are opportunities for competition at various levels. If you’re intrigued, check out this Wiki article showing all the different styles of horseback riding. There were several I had never even heard of before! At Vista Verde we teach Western riding with a working ranch horse focus in our training techniques. That gives us a horse that is handy on cows, willing and safe on the trail, and capable of doing whatever work is required around the ranch (although we’re still working on their dishwashing skills!)
Find someone who teaches to your level. If, like many people, you don’t have a lot of horse experience, you need someone who can teach you the basics, make you comfortable, and get you some mileage in the saddle. Many horse trainers are focused on high level competition. These types of trainers are still great at teaching but will be more inclined to teach experienced riders and refine their skills for competition. We would recommend looking for someone who focuses on general horsemanship and beginner riders. That person is going to have more practice teaching the novice rider and will be better at communicating the hows and whys of horses and riding. You wouldn’t go to the astrophysicist for tutoring help in basic biology, so go to a horse trainer whose main goal is to make you comfortable and competent on a horse and who wants to foster a love of equines in everyone. This trainer might not be at the flashiest stable, and might not have the flashiest horses, but they are going to give you the foundation you need to move up. If, at some point you want to move on to competitive riding, then maybe the more renowned riding stable will be a better fit. But my experience is that oftentimes the less flashy trainers are the ones who really teach you how to ride, and don’t just prop you up on a fancy horse and let the horse do all the work. After all, you want to learn to ride and not just be a pretty passenger, right?
How often? Weekly lessons for a couple months would be a great start. If you find yourself or your child falling madly in love with riding, then it’s time to step it up to a couple days a week so you can progress more quickly. But, for starters, once a week is great, as you’ll have a chance to move past being sore, process what you learned before your next lesson, and come to the following lesson ready to step up to the next level.
Okay, I’m ready. Now what? So, you know what you want, now how do you find it? Well, I wish we could say we have a great database of inspected and approved riding instructors. But, many of our guests have checked out some of the pros, and here are a couple recommendations from them. Not in your area? Check out the American Riding Instructors Association or the Certified Horsemanship Association for a list of instructors in your state.
One of our guests, Michele, recommends Gillian Muir for dressage (a subset of English) if you live in the South Florida area. Michele shared that she feels Gillian really teaches from the ground up, which means she focuses on the whole horsemanship experience, not just sitting on the horse’s back.
Elizabeth suggests Mikia Parker at the Arvada Indoor Equestrian Center for those living in the fine state of Colorado. According to Elizabeth she is smart, encouraging, an excellent communicator, and absolutely loves her horses.
For those in the Kansas area, Vicki recommends Vaught Family Natural Horsemanship. This family team offers lessons and clinics with a focus on natural horsemanship. Their goal is to provide a harmonious relationship between horse and rider. Sounds pretty good to me!
Lastly, if you live in Southern California, Lucy had high words of praise for Nicole Bankhead at River Valley Equestrian Center. She teaches English riding, and they have beautiful trails to explore nearby, but there is also has a polo field at the Center, so you can try out polo!
At Vista Verde, we pride ourselves in teaching people how to ride, not just tossing them on the back of a horse as a passenger. It’s exciting to see people learn about horses and horsemanship, improve their skills over the course of the week, and leave excited to ride more. Our horses appreciate that we teach guests to ride too, as it makes their lives more comfortable, and we keep our horses tuned up by training our guests to ride properly. It comes full circle as the horses become more responsive and more enjoyable to ride with the consistency from their riders. So, get out and ride!