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What to Expect from a Beginner Horse Riding Holiday?

by Octavia Drughi

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Learning to ride a horse is a thrilling experience, but the mere thought of hopping in the saddle for the first time is enough to make anyone nervous. Knowing what to expect from your first lessons can help ease some of that tension.

You might think that a horse riding holiday is reserved for experienced and well-trained riders. That, however, couldn’t be farther from the truth. Anyone can go, even those who’ve never ridden before, as there are many programs that are adapted to all levels.

Learning to ride takes patience and commitment. Being introduced to the basics by an experienced instructor is crucial for building a solid foundation. But so is enjoying the entire process. Discovering a country and its culture on horseback, while bonding and learning to move in harmony with your horse, is an experience like no other.

If you’ve decided to take the first steps in the equestrian world, here’s what you can expect from a beginner horse riding holiday:


But first, how do you know you’re a beginner rider?


Never hopped in the saddle before? Or maybe you have you ridden before but only a few times? Do you still need to practice the trot and canter?

Beginner is a broad term. A horse riding holiday for beginners can target first-timers, beginners, as well as novice riders. If you’re unsure of your riding ability, the instructors will assess your level and tailor the program to your needs.

To narrow it down, beginners have little or no experience, meaning they’ve either never ridden before or only a few times. Novice riders are comfortable and in control in the walk gait, but still need to practice the trot or the canter.

Beginner horse riding holidays are also suitable for “rusty riders” – those who haven’t been in the saddle for a long time and would like to brush up their skills.

» Ready to go on your first horse riding holiday? Read these tips for beginner riders that will help you look like an expert in the saddle.


And why opt for a horse riding holiday?


What if you could combine tuition, hacking, dressage, and gentle trail rides with visiting new places, meeting like-minded people, and making memories to last a lifetime? That’s what horse riding holidays are all about – having an enjoyable trip while improving your riding at the same time!

Taking lessons is an excellent way to learn how to ride a horse. But the more time you get to spend around the horse, over a riding weekend break or for several days in a row, the better.

Most holidays welcome all skill levels and can adapt the programs to your particular needs. Beginners will ride for fewer hours throughout the day:  from two hours up to four or five. These can be divided into, for example, a short trail ride in the morning and a riding lesson in the afternoon or can be all at once.

Beginners and novices can go on short organized rides, usually on straight tracks or bridleways, where they can walk and practice the trot and canter. The lessons are usually held in an arena, where you’ll build confidence and work on your posture.

» Find out what are the different types of horse riding holidays and what you can expect from each.


Can you go on a trail riding holiday as a beginner?


Image credit: Banff Trail Riders

If you’re looking to spend more time with horses, learning more about their behavior and getting more comfortable in the saddle while exploring new places, guided trail rides might be the answer.

The great news is that even complete beginners can go on a trail riding holiday. If you’ve never ridden before, the instructors will take you through the basics prior to the ride and will assist you every step of the way along the trail.

The instructors will adapt the rides to your needs. Most beginner trail rides are short, often just a couple of hours near the riding center. The itinerary usually changes every day.

Some holidays offer longer days in the saddle, up to six hours (including leisurely breaks). On longer trails, if you grow tired, the instructor can take the lead from you and take you back to your lodging or the nearest cottage.


What will you learn on a beginner horse riding holiday?


Regardless of the type of holiday that you choose, as a beginner, you’ll learn and practice the fundamental riding skills.

The first thing you’ll do upon arrival is to meet your horse. You’ll be paired with a patient, well-trained, and mild-mannered horse suited for your skill level. Afterwards, here’s what you’ll delve into:


Prepare the horse


Many holidays offer the chance to prepare and look after the horse before and after riding. This means catching, feeding, grooming, checking the hooves, bandaging, and tacking up, all of which will help you to understand and connect with your new equine partner.

At the beginning and end of each lesson, some equestrian centers allow you to feed and groom the horse. You’ll be introduced to its nutrition and the different types of brushes.

You’ll learn how to tack up a horse – putting on the tack (the horse-riding equipment) – under the supervision of the instructors. This includes the saddle, saddle pad, stirrups, bridles, and bits. Tacking up your horse properly is essential for riding safely and ensures that both rider and horse will be comfortable. When you’ve finished riding for the day, you’ll also un-tack the horse.


Lead the horse


Before hopping in the saddle for the first time, first, you’ll need to learn how to hold the reins and lead the horse.

Leading means walking alongside the horse using a lead rope, an important foundation for horse riding. Traditionally, you lead on the left side of the horse, but some instructors will also teach you to lead on the right. Through leading, you’ll learn to walk, turn, and stop the horse using verbal and physical cues.

Some holidays may also teach you how to lunge a horse. This is when the horse moves around you in a circle at the end of a long rope known as a lunge line.


Mount and dismount


Image credit: bambe1964

Learning how to mount and dismount the horse properly from the get-go will have a great impact on your future riding. The technique varies between English and western riding, and beginners may need assistance when mounting for the first time.

After you’ve mounted successfully, you’ll learn how to start, change directions, and stop the horse while in the saddle, using the reins as well as verbal and physical cues.


Horse gaits – walk, trot & canter


Image credit: Páteo Lusitano Performance Center

Beginners usually start by being lunged in a circle, usually in an arena. The instructor will control the horse using a long rope, while you concentrate on your position, on finding your balance in the saddle and developing an independent seat and hands.

Some holidays prefer to give lunge lessons for learning the various gaits. Others take participants out on short trail rides for this.

As a beginner, you’ll start with the walk and slowly progress to a trot, a slightly faster and bouncy gait in which the horse alternatively lifts each pair of diagonal legs.

In a trot, you’ll move from a seated to a standing position. This transition occurs naturally due to the pace. The challenging part is learning to absorb this motion and not lose your balance. You’ll practice proper foot position in the stirrups and how to move in harmony with the horse. Over time, you’ll find your rhythm in a trot.

Being able to trot is a sign that you’ve developed confidence and balance in the saddle. You can finally try the canter, which may feel fast and hard to control at first, but that’s usually because beginners are too tense. With practice, you’ll learn to be in sync with the horse’s movements.

Depending on how comfortable you are trotting and cantering, you might even get to try a short gallop.


*Cover image credit: Palac i Folwark Galiny

Ready to take life by the reins? Go on a leisurely hacking holiday for beginners and discover your surroundings from a different perspective!

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