Everything you ever wanted to know about horseback riding lessons – from your first lesson to becoming an instructor.
Horseback riding lessons are many people’s first experience of horses. Unlike generations past, few of us have lifestyles that allow us regular contact with horses. Instead, horseback riding has become a rather unusual hobby, often accessible to only a small portion of people. In this article we’ll talk about some benefits of taking horseback riding lessons, how to prepare for your first lesson, what to expect, what to know before getting started, and how to begin riding lessons- plus what lessons might look like as you develop your skills as a rider.
The Benefits of taking Horseback Riding Lessons
The positive effect of horseback riding on humans’ well-being is well documented by both countless personal stories and through academic peer-reviewed research (check out this massive research study analyzing years of research). In the last few decades, therapeutic riding has grown increasingly popular as a treatment for many disorders including mental health issues, developmental disorders, Autism spectrum disorders, and even chemical dependency and addiction.
For those of us without the challenges of a diagnosed illness or disorder, horseback riding can boost well-being, mind-body connectedness, and physical fitness.
Lessons: Getting the Benefits of Riding without Buying a Horse
Horseback riding lessons are an excellent way to get the mental and physical benefits of horseback riding without the expense and hassle of purchasing, owning, and managing your own horse. By taking horseback riding lessons, you can have the opportunity to learn how to handle horses, grow your skill as a rider, and learn in a supportive environment – all great preparation if you do one day decide to buy a horse.
Physical benefits of horseback riding lessons
Riding is an athletic pursuit that most people don’t really understand the extent of until they spent time really riding (that is, the active riding involved in horseback riding lessons rather than the passive riding of a guided trail ride). Horseback riding lessons grow strength and cardiovascular endurance.
Being an active rider stretches muscles, engages the core, and strengthens legs, abdominal muscles, and our back. Riding lessons can grow muscles that improve posture (even when we’re out of the saddle) and can increase endurance. Properly riding a trot or canter can be taxing for both horse and rider, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself out of breath after your first time riding your horse at a faster speed and a lesson!
Emotional benefits of horseback riding lessons
I like to tell the riders that I work with that their horse will challenge them emotionally because horses are fully emotionally authentic at all times. If you pay attention, you’ll learn to know exactly what your horse is feeling at any given moment – and your horse, as they pay attention to you as their rider, will know what you are feeling.
Unlike friends, family, or other people in our life who often expect us to act in a certain way and manage emotions in a way that helps them stay comfortable, horses invite us to be fully present to our emotional experience. Over time, a relationship with a horse can help us be more present to our own emotions and authentically express them.
Mental health benefits of horseback riding lessons.
I have written at length about the positive benefits that horseback riding lessons can have on girls’ self-esteem and body image. Beyond the topic of that article, horse riding lessons provide some of the essential elements that research indicates are core to mood-boosting activities: being outdoors, moving our bodies, and interacting with animals. According to peer-reviewed academic research (click on any of the previous links to review), all of these things are associated with improvement in mood or reduction in mental health symptoms.
Social benefits of horse riding lessons
Even though horseback riding lessons will be mostly about you, your riding, and your mount, horseback riding in the setting of a riding stable provides a safe social environment. I qualify with the word “safe” because it can provide a sort of structured social interaction that is easier to manage for people with social anxiety than open-ended social experiences.
For example, while life often puts us in very difficult social situations like meet and grets with new coworkers, icebreakers at a school orientation, or the total unknown of navigating a party- riding lessons gives people with social anxiety a chance to interact with people in a much less stressful way. In a riding stable, that might look like 10 minutes of brushing a horse under the instruction of a riding instructor, walking a horse around an arena with other people learning how to steer a horse for the first time, or talking with other riders after class about the lesson.
Having something to do alongside other people can help us make social connections without the pressure to make conversation. Group riding lessons are especially helpful for adding to the social benefits of horseback riding lessons.
Paying for horseback riding lessons
Horseback riding lessons can be expensive. But there are some ways to manage the costs of learning to ride if you aren’t able to afford the cost of regular horseback riding lessons.
How much do horseback riding lessons cost?
The cost of horseback riding lessons varies dramatically around the world and even from geographic region to geographic region within the United States. Horseback riding lessons at a competitive showjumping stable in San Francisco or upstate New York may cost over $100 per 45-minute lesson, while horseback riding lessons at a casual, hobby-oriented riding stable in suburban Texas or Georgia may cost as little as $30-50 per 45 minute lesson. Group lessons or lesson-packages may make riding lessons as low as $25/hr in some areas.
The price of riding lessons varies widely, and if you are in an area that has multiple riding stables with horseback riding lessons, you can shop around to find the right fit.
Many times, the most expensive riding lessons are taught by highly competitive, horse show-oriented riding instructors. If your interest is simply to learn to ride for fun, not for show, you don’t need to pay for expensive competition-oriented lessons, training, and coaching.
Why are horseback riding lessons so expensive?
Horseback riding lessons are expensive because horse businesses are notoriously low-profit. Bundled into the cost of one 45 minute riding lesson is the cost of purchasing a horse, training a horse to be safe for beginner riders, horse feed, horse shoes, and veterinary care, as well as expenses involved in running a stable – like a mortgage on the property, building maintenance, and liability insurance to protect the riding stable. An additional cost that makes riding lessons expensive is the expertise and time of a good riding instructor.
Good riding instructors are both excellent, experienced riders who understand horse training, and good teachers who understand the fundamentals of human psychology and education. A good riding instructor manages the mechanics of riding, new riders’ nerves about riding or trying a new gait, all with the capacity to make the riding experience fun.
Tips for making horseback riding lessons more affordable:
If you’d like to take horseback riding lessons but find that they are a little out of you or your family’s budget, there may be options. Some options to reduce the cost of horseback riding lessons include:
Working student arrangement – One common way that young riders are able to afford frequent riding lessons is by becoming a working student. A working student might arrive a few hours early or stay a few hours late after their horseback riding lesson to do barn maintenance, chores, and other manual labor around the farm.
Many students enjoy grooming horses, cleaning stalls, and cleaning tack and equipment, so this arrangement often works out well for both stables and riders. For adults, one version of a working student arrangement can even include bartering a professional skill or services for riding lessons.
Group or package discounts – Ask the riding stable if their fees change based on how many students are in the lesson, or how many lessons are purchased at once. Often, stables have a pricing arrangement so that when purchasing, for example, six lessons upfront, the seventh lesson is free. Purchasing lesson packages overall reduce the cost of riding lessons.
Alternately, if the stable doesn’t offer group lessons (which are typically less expensive than private lessons) you can ask around to see if another rider at the barn would like to share a private lesson (you probably won’t be able to spit split the cost of a private lesson in half, but the cost for two of you to ride should be less than the solo price.)
Providing your own lesson horse – Either through purchasing a horse or sharing a horse with someone else (called a “half lease”), supplying your own horse can reduce fees connected to using a riding stable’s horses.
What to expect from Horseback Riding Lessons
Many people aren’t sure what to expect from horseback riding lessons. They might wonder how long it will take to learn to ride confidently, ride a gallop, take their fist horse jump, or enter their first horse show. While the timetable for learning will vary from one rider to another, here are some things you can expect for you or you child’s first lesson:
The first 10-20 minutes of your first horseback riding lesson will probably consist of:
- learning how to groom and put equipment on your horse (called tacking up).
- basic safety instructions.
- mounting a horse correctly.
The rest of the first lesson will be spent learning to:
- correctly and safely hold the horse’s reins
- Sit in the saddle with your legs and upper body in the right position
- Riding around an enclosed area at a walk,
- Steering the horse using the reins and your body.
Virtually all first-time horseback riding lessons will take place in an enclosed arena or corral, so you don’t have to worry about your horse running away.
Don’t be surprised if your riding instructor keeps a long lead on your horse (called a lunge line) throughout the whole lesson. This European method of teaching new horseback riders allows a rider to focus 100% on balance, posture, and movement without the added complication of steering your horse.
You can expect a safe horse
Any good riding stable will assign you to a safe, quiet, and probably very old horse for your very first riding lessons. A good first-lesson horse has likely taught many new riders and should be patient, slow, and quiet. If you are put on a horse for your first lesson that seems nervous, jumpy, or agitated, it’s a red flag that you may be shouldn’t return for another lesson at that stable – as this type of horse is inappropriate and unsafe for a brand-new rider.
You may wonder what breed of horse is will be used in your riding lesson. The most common breeds of horses used for horseback riding lessons are Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, and Arabian Horses- not because these breeds are particularly safe for riding lessons, but because they are the most common breeds in the United States. Some stables may use other breeds of horses, including Haflingers, Shetland Ponies, and even rare breeds like Bashkir Curly Horses.
Expect to Stay at a Gait Until you are Bored
You can expect to learn to ride your horse at faster gaits as you are ready. When you’re comfortable, balanced, and feel a little bit bored walking your horse around the arena, your instructor will teach you how to signal for a trot. Most riders master the walk and are ready to try trotting by the end of their second or third horseback riding lesson. Your instructor will teach you to sit the trot or post (rise out of the saddle with each stride).
The canter is the next faster gait from the trot. The canter is much faster than a trot and can make siders feel out-of-control and panicky if they try it too soon.
How fast your instructor moves you up to the canter will vary a lot from rider to rider. If you are in weekly lessons, generally fit, and have reasonably good balance, you’ll probably start cantering about 2 to 3 months into weekly horseback riding lessons. For tips on learning to canter with confidence, refer to our article on learning to canter. With time, you’ll learn to control a horse’s pace within each of the three gaits.
When to expect to jump your horse in Riding Lessons
Many riding stables have a rule that you must ride for one year before beginning to jump in your riding lesson. This is because learning to jump horses is more likely to cause a fall, and requires very good balance and the ability to control a horse. By spending a year in the saddle developing muscle tone, coordination, and the muscle-memory to use your body properly while riding, you’ll be ready to move on to jumping-focused riding lessons in about a year – although, like all timelines, this can vary widely from rider to rider and from stable to stable.
Not all horseback riding lesson stables offer jumping lessons, so if this is your goal as a rider ask early or be prepared to change to a new riding stable when you are ready to begin jumping,
Riding lessons at any age
Often, riding lessons are seen as an activity for children and teens, but as the research on the benefits of horse-human connection pile up in academic journals, more and more adults are seeking horseback riding experiences without the expense of purchasing and owning their own horse. If you’re an adult thinking of taking riding lessons, you’re not alone – at any riding stable around the world, you are likely to ask encounter other riders who started riding lessons in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and even 50s and 60s.
Learning to ride as an adult may be slightly more physically challenging or even involve more emotional blocks (as adults, we are more inclined to be aware of the risks when learning to ride compared to kids) but it’s a hurdle many new adult riders overcome each year. There are even clubs, organizations, and riding groups designed specifically for adult beginner riders. If you are lucky enough to live near a bustling riding stable, you may even be able to find a group lesson just for adult beginner riders.
Choosing how often to go to horseback riding lessons
Because horseback riding lessons are a physical activity that’s more fun the more conditioned your body becomes to the activity, it’s best to take riding lessons at least one time a week. Once a week horseback riding lessons help ensure that muscles stay conditioned and growing stronger. While you may be sore after your first few lessons, if you consistently ride at least once a week, the soreness will go away after future lessons- However, if you take riding lessons less than once a week, you may find yourself stuck in a loop of soreness after every single horseback riding lesson.
Soreness after horseback riding lessons
It’s normal to feel sore after horseback riding lessons. Horseback riding stretches muscles and tendons in the groin, back, legs, and even abdomen that other activities don’t stretch. It’s been said that only the sports of horseback riding and swimming use every single muscle in the body!
After your first few riding lessons you can expect to dismount feeling a little wobbly and weak in the knees. By evening, you may feel soreness encroaching. A long soak in a warm bath with Epsom salt really can be helpful for reducing the stiffness.
The next day after your riding lesson you’ll probably feel very sore, but the soreness will decrease with each riding lesson. After about 2-3 weeks of weekly riding lessons, you’ll probably stop feeling sore after most horseback riding lessons (even seasoned riders sometimes feel sore after a very long day in the saddle or doing a muscle-building riding activity like riding bareback or without stirrups).
Saddles Sores after Horseback Riding Lessons
If you find that horseback riding leaves physical sores on your body – chapped, rubbed, or chafed skin on your groin, inner legs, or buttocks- you’re dealing with saddle sores. Saddle sores can typically be resolved through a change in the type of clothing and equipment you’re using.
It’s typical for new riders to begin lessons without specialized clothing or equipment, but if you develop sores or chafing while riding, it’s a cue that it’s time to invest in riding clothing like riding tights, breeches, boots, and half chaps. Adding a power or gel-based skin lubricant can also reduce the friction that causes saddle sores. Read our recommendations for skin lubricants plus some other tricks to avoid saddle sores in our article on how to permanently resolve saddle sores.
Be sure to tell your riding instructor about any sores you got while riding, since sometimes saddle sores can be caused by riding in a saddle that doesn’t fit your body.
Are horseback riding lessons worth it?
Many riders, and especially the parents of young riders, wonder if the expense of horseback riding is really worth it. It’s easy to spend a small fortune on outfitting a rider with the right equipment and paying for lessons – and that’s before investing in horse ownership or competitions! As a riding coach, former horse-crazy kid, and mental health professional, I deeply believe that horseback riding lessons are worth it. If a young rider feels strongly drawn to taking horseback riding lessons, and a family is able to afford that privilege, they should. Why? Horseback riding has enormous benefits for all riders but especially young riders – including giving kids an analog, embodied experience, fun-based fitness, face-time with friends with shared interests, and a healthy, supportive place to grow into an individual beyond their immediate family.
Riding lessons encourage mind-body connection and emotional maturity in a way that’s different from other sports. For young female riders in particular, horseback riding lessons can offer a huge boost to body image.
What is the best age to start horseback riding lessons?
Horseback riding is a sport that can be adopted at any age. While there’s no hard and fast cut-off, there are age ranges where riding lessons are the most fun, developmentally helpful, and good for us. In our experience, kids who start riding between the ages of 7 and 10 tend to be the riders who have the most fun with their horses and learn to ride fearlessly.
People who learn to ride horses as children or younger teens are often able to learn more intuitively (with their bodies rather than their brains). For adults who have a fully developed brain that can fully grasp of the risk of various sports and activities, the awareness of the potential of a fall can actually make it harder to develop confidence in the saddle.
Kids who learn to ride a horse while they are young, develop balance, a deep seat, and confidence to ride before the awareness of risk enters their brain – which tends to make them more confident, safe, riders in the long run (it also makes it harder to convince them to wear helmets, but that’s another conversation!)
Many kids don’t get interested in horseback riding until they are 12, 13 or even 14 – and it’s not too late to start horseback riding. If your 12 or 13-year-old starts riding lessons, they’ll be in good company with other newly novice horseback riders their own age.
Like most sports, you’re unlikely to make the Olympic team if you start as a teenager or adult, but that’s rarely the aspiration of folks who are drawn to the experience of horses and the fun of horseback riding.
What to wear to horseback riding lesson
For your first horseback riding lesson, it’s okay to show up to the barn in a casual top, leggings, or jeans, and some sort of boot with a heel. If you enjoy your lesson and choose to continue horseback riding, you’ll need to purchase some riding clothes to make riding more safe and fun, but for your first lesson long pants and boots, are typically the only requirement (along with a helmet, which your riding stable will assign you before your ride).
For more information on the types of clothing you might want to invest in for your or your child’s riding lessons, check out our article on what to wear horseback riding – including specific outfit ideas for both English and Western horseback riding lessons.
Choosing between English and Western horseback riding lesson
Often, because there aren’t an abundance of riding stables in the US, we don’t get to choose between English or Western riding lessons. Whatever stable is local typically has a preference for one or the other and teaches only that type of riding.
If you do have the opportunity to choose between English and Western styles of riding, it may be helpful to read our article on the difference between English and Western riding. It’s okay to take the first few lessons in one style and then switch to the other (in fact, many English stables starting very young kids will put them in Western saddles until the young rider begins to develop better balance).
Most people who want to trail ride or do rodeos will start with Western riding lessons, while riders with goals for jumping horses will start in English riding lessons. Many riders ride interchangeably in both styles, although there are slight differences in posture and the cues given to a horse, particularly at higher levels of training and competition in each of those disciplines.
How to Start Horseback Riding Lessons
Time Required 2 hours
Research local riding stables
Begin by researching local riding stables. A web search can turn up options for local riding lessons, but the recommendation of other professionals you trust can be the best way to find good, safe riding lessons.
Call or email and ask to visit
Horseback riding lessons are a big investment and it’s important to know in advance how the riding instructor will make lessons fun and keep you or your child safe as you learn to ride. It’s okay to ask to visit the stable and watch a lesson. This will allow you to get a feel for the conditions that horses are kept in, the way riders are coached, and what your first riding lesson may be like.
Scheduling this visit before your first lesson can help you make a good choice, plus visiting in advance will give you a chance to get used to the process so you’ll have less anxiety at your first horseback riding lesson.
Schedule a Lesson
Once you feel good about the stable you have chosen, schedule a lesson. It’s a good idea for your first few lessons to be private lessons where you can have one-on-one attention from a riding instructor.
Plan and outfit
For your first riding lesson, you won’t need special clothing, but you will need to put some thought into what you wear.
Choose clothing that is comfortable and provides good coverage (long pants are essential and long sleeves are generally recommended unless it’s very hot). Your clothing should be stretchy or loose-fitting enough to allow a full range of movement – like swinging your leg up and over the horse during mounting. Click here for specific ideas for outfits to wear to a horseback riding lesson.
Show up with a learning mindset
No one is born an expert horseback rider. Approaching horseback riding as something that it’s okay to be bad at will free you up to learn with a more open mind.
It’s okay to not be good at it – no one naturally has a secure seat in the saddle at first! Give yourself permission to be a learner and to have fun in the process of learning!
Evaluate how it went and if you want to continue at that barn.
After your first lesson, ask yourself how it went. Did you have fun? Was your instructor kind? Did they explain things well? were you paired with a horse you felt safe with? These questions can help inform whether you choose to continue riding lessons at the first place you tried or whether you to try a new stable.
Estimated Cost: 75 USD