I want to learn to ride but don’t know where to start
Jane McGuire

I want to learn to ride but don’t know where to start

What to look for in a horse riding course

First published date July 28 2014 Amended date July 28 2014

From beginners’ lessons to equine care qualifications, there are loads of horse riding courses to be found here on Hotcourses. Whether you want to race at Ascot or show jump at Hickstead, horse riding is a great way to have fun and keep fit at the same time. Whatever your level, there are some important questions to ask when searching for your perfect course. When it comes to what to look for in a horse riding course, we instantly turned to our junior writer Jane, who has been in the saddle for longer than she can remember.


My first riding lesson was a rather exhilarating experience; aged five, sat on top of a tiny pony called Conker, I still remember asking what I was meant to hold on to when he started moving. Seventeen years, three ponies, a few broken bones and many rosettes later, I have never looked back. Getting into the saddle can seem terrifying, but there are many options out there for complete beginners, or those returning to riding. Even now, only riding my own pony, I still take lessons, as it’s easy to pick up bad habits when riding alone. Before you get going though, be sure to know what to look for in your horse riding course, and do your research to find the one that is best for you.


How long will I actually spend riding?

Sounds like a stupid question, but I significantly remember spending most of my lesson stood in the stable at one yard. Without question, stable care, grooming, tacking up and mucking out are all important skills to have when looking after a horse, but if you are a beginner this should not take up more time than the actual ride. A great way to practise these stable skills (without buying your own horse) is to volunteer at your yard – always a sociable environment and often a way to get discounted lessons.


Are the classes varied?

If you were learning to swim, you wouldn’t only practise one stroke. Obviously trying to show jump straight away is not recommended, but make sure that your lessons will teach you a mix of disciplines as you improve. Flat work is a great starting block, where you learn how to control your horse, ride through transitions (walk, trot and canter) and ride circles, but you don’t want to be stuck there forever.


How big are the class sizes?

Private tuition is brilliant but often rather expensive, so group lessons are a popular option. Before signing up for group tuition, be sure to ask for the maximum number of people joining you; it is often the case that the more people, the more time you spend stood watching and waiting.


Is there the opportunity to ride outside in the summer?

First things first, to ‘hack out’ means to leave the yard for a lesson, so riding through fields or at a normal pace along roads or riding trails. By far my favourite thing to do, once the forest opens for the summer, hacking outside is a great option for you and your horse. Remember that horses are intelligent, wild animals that would not choose to spend their entire life in a stable; sheltered from the sun by the trees, with plenty to look at and logs to jump the forest is an exciting change of scene.


Does the yard have a competition team?

Show jumping competitions are a great way to put your lessons to practice and experience the thrill of learning a course, being cheered on by a crowd and (if you reach the heats) racing against the clock. Do not miss out on these opportunities just because you don’t own your own horse.


Are there opportunities to do my qualifications at the riding centre?

There are many options when it comes to the widely recognised British Horse Society qualifications. Leading from beginner level to world class qualifications, taking exams can often help push you to work that bit harder in your lessons. Not all riding centres run the tests, so make sure you ask if this is something you are interested in.


Can I rent equipment on the yard if I do not have my own?

As I may have mentioned, horse riding is an expensive hobby. Not having a horse is a given when it comes to beginner lessons, but being able to rent hats, body protectors and boots when you start is often helpful. Horse riding is not for everyone (both my brothers hated it), so avoid buying everything before trying it yourself.


Is there more than one arena for me to ride in?

Riding inside all summer can be sweltering for both rider and horse; on the other hand, having lessons cancelled because the outdoor school is water logged is just as annoying. A school with an indoor and outdoor arena (the large fenced off area where your lesson will take place) may be hard to find, but is a big plus in the long run.


Are my instructors experienced?

It’s unlikely you are going to be taught to jump by the Olympic equestrian superstar, John Whitaker, but if your instructor has competed for years, this is something to ask about as they will be able to give you first hand advice. Don’t be afraid to try different instructors, the right one will push you to progress and help you overcome difficulties.


Will I be able to ride different horses?

Like all animals, building up a relationship with your horse is important. Sometimes however, you just won’t get on. Also, as a beginner it is important to learn on a number of different horses so you don’t pick up bad habits. Remember to make sure the stables have several horses at your level and that you have some choice in which one you ride.


Five important lessons to learn:

Horses can be unpredictable, there are however a few big no-nos to remember.

  1. Never walk behind a horse – Your hands and your voice are your most important aids when communicating with your horse. Never walk behind him without telling him you are doing so with a simple touch on the hindquarter you are leaving from. Despite being a lot bigger than you, a frightened or angry horse can very quickly turn and spin or kick out.
  2. Always approach a horse from the side – Horses cannot see straight in front, so always approach from the side to avoid startling them. Horses can easily be frightened, so avoid shouting or making sudden movements towards them. As unpredictable as they can be, learning to know your horse will build up trust and you will soon get used to each other.
  3. Always be safe – Horse riding can be a dangerous sport, so don’t take risks. Always wear a helmet and a back protector when jumping (I learnt this the hard way), also don’t learn in trainers as they can easily get stuck in the stirrups.
  4. When feeding a horse, it is important you hold the food flat in your hand to avoid accidental bites.
  5. Ask for help – If you are not sure, ask. Mistakes can be dangerous for both you and your horse, so whether it’s an unfamiliar strap on the bridle, or a loose shoe when grooming, double check with someone else on the yard.


If you fancy getting up on the mounting block and having a go for yourself, have a look at all the different options on offer. Be sure to ask the right questions and most importantly, have fun! 

Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire received her BA (English) from the University of Loughborough. A yoga enthusiast with a sweet tooth, in her spare time you will probably find Jane in the gym or online shopping.