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Horse riding is a sport which, when you mention it to people, they either "did it once and would never do it again" or ¨love it¨. Having been riding now for over 30 years and teaching for over 20, I feel that it is very important that people are aware of the importance of starting out correctly, not only for their enjoyments sake, but also for their safety.
The ´"did it once" people have probably not be supplied with enough good advice for them to discover that horse riding is a fantastic sport. You never stop learning, every horse is different and you can learn for the simple pleasure of enjoying the countryside or get more experienced in a variety of equine disciplines.
However, there are some GOLDEN rules to remember when setting out to start horse riding, especially for your children. In the end your child´s life is in the hands (and hooves) of the insructor/school you choose..
You can whittle down the number of schools to visit through a phone call, any respectable school will enquire about the rider´s ability, age, height and weight. You must never book a lesson without being assured you are going to be ´matched´with the correct horse, in the correct lesson.
First, pay an unnanounced visit - does the place look clean (stick your nose over a stable door - if it is filthy - leave. Second, do the horses look happy, healthy (definately not skinny with their ears back and seem to hate people). Do they look as if a brush has been near them that day ? have they got access to clean, fresh water ? - all these things constitute a happy horse, a happy horse is much more likely to want to please you, and it means the owner knows how to care for the animals. It also means the owner is dedicated - keeping horses happy and healthy is a very expensive business, be prepared to pay more for quality - it could literally be a life saver.
Check to see if there are signs of Health and Safety, i.e. is the yard tidy or are there wheelbarrows, pitchforks etc., laying around the place. Do they insist that all riders where safety hats and suitable footwear - ARE THEY INSURED ?
Try and watch a lesson, is the instructor qualified, professional and attentive to the rider/s or are there 20 ponies following nose to tail around a small arena where nobody will get much attention in a lesson ? - cost effective it may not be, but if they insist beginners have private lunge lessons - great sign of a good school. Is the instructor explaining clearly what each rider should do and offering helpful comments to assist with any problems ? Does the instructor ask the class if they have any questions and ably respond to them with knowledge and confidence ?
There are many riding instructors who teach in many different ways, but all should be sympathetic to any problems a rider may have, have full control of both the riders and the horses for safety´s sake and, most imporantly, leave the rider wanting to come back for more !
Riding is one of the best sports around and great for kids who not only learn to ride, but are out in the fresh air, learning a healthy sport and learning how to care for animals. Also, in this day and age, they are learning to interact and socialise with other children and adults - without the use of a computer !
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