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Do you want to learn to ride? Maybe a friend has taken you to visit their stable, or you've tried riding your neighbour's horses. While this can be fun and rewarding, a good riding school teaches you the basics so you get things right from the start. The horses are carefully selected and used to being handled by riders of all levels. And the teachers are well-trained and know exactly what you are capable of.
We visited Smedstad Ridsportcenter, an equestrian centre in Sweden, to meet Maja Johansson, one of their six riding instructors. She mainly works with children's groups and ponies.– The youngest riders in my Mini group are only three years old. They ride for twenty minutes with a leader. Kids can join a 'real' beginners' group at the age of six. The first five lessons focus on learning about horses. You learn to care for the horse before and after your lesson. For instance, you learn how to saddle and bridle your horse, lead it to the riding stable and mount it. We encourage parents to be present so that they also learn and feel secure with the horses. We also regularly hold courses for parents where they learn how and why we do things and how to read the horses' body language. Parents are a huge asset and it's great if they can attend, says Maja.
Riding schools have beginner groups for people of all ages, including adults. Some riding schools hold beginner camps, which can be a great way to kick start your riding lessons. After you become more advanced, there are different groups and specialisations you can choose between, so you can continue learning at the level and in the discipline that suit you best. A large riding school has more horses and groups to choose from, so it can be easier to find a group that matches your specific riding goals and needs.
Maja got her first pony when she was nine years old. She has competed in jumping, dressage and horse trials. Maja initially worked as a hairdresser for six years before changing jobs.– I felt I wanted to work more with horses so I retrained as a riding instructor. Among other things, I learned teaching theory and pedagogy, which means teaching methods. Of course, the methods the instructor uses will depend on whether you're teaching children or adults, and on the student's riding goals. One good thing about joining a riding school is that there is a syllabus. You start from the basics and gradually learn new things. The first thing Maja teaches beginners is to stop, start and steer their horse. Early on, they practise steering the horse over poles, so that it feels natural when the time comes to learn jumping. They also go for short rides in nature and ride up and down small hills to practise their balance. As the students improve, they gradually progress to higher levels of difficulty.
Smedstad Ridsportcenter teaches groups up to intermediate C dressage and 110 cm jumping.– I think the best thing about going to a riding school is that you learn so much more than just how to ride. For instance, you learn how to care for a horse and keep it healthy, what food it needs and how to understand and read its behaviour. You will learn everything you'll need to know if you ever get a horse of your own. For instance, you will practise safely loading a horse for transport, so that you're not doing this for the first time when you buy your first horse and bring it home. Even if you don't get a horse of your own, you'll experience most things a horse owner experiences with their horse.
To start with, all you need is comfortable clothes, long trousers and low-heeled shoes. You are obliged to wear a riding helmet, but most schools lend students helmets for the first few lessons.– A helmet must fit properly in order to do its job, so it's advisable to buy your own. The latest helmets are adjustable and usually last for a long time. However, if you fall off the horse and bang your head or drop the helmet on a stone floor, you'll need to buy a new one. So always take good care of your helmet.Once you know you want to continue riding, it's useful to buy some riding breeches. They have seams in the right places to prevent chafing. It's also useful to have boots with steel toecaps, which provide added protection if you get trampled.– For children we usually recommend either boots and chaps or leather riding boots. Small children aren't strong enough to sit correctly wearing rubber riding boots. A safety vest is useful, especially for jumping and outdoor riding.
Maja's tips for beginners
1) Arrive at lessons well in advance so you have time to care for your horse. If your horse is being used in the lesson before yours, tend to another horse. It's important to relax and unwind. It's not good to ride when you're tense.
2) Watch other people riding. You learn a lot from watching.
3) It pays to take your time. Consolidate what you've learned before taking the next step. For instance, it's good to develop a balanced seat while walking and trotting before you start galloping.
4) Have fun! Riding should be fun – then both the horse and rider will be happy.