Preparing for Your First Lesson

You’ve always wanted to ride a horse, and now you finally have the opportunity as your first lesson is soon approaching. No doubt, you’ll be feeling some anxiety as you don’t know what to expect, but that feeling is normal!

The first thing you need to do is make sure you have the proper attire. At the beginner stage, your only concern should be safety and comfort. Leave the show ring attire to the pros.

You will absolutely need a certified helmet. Lesson facilities typically provide these helmets for the first few lessons, but they expect you to purchase one should you intend on riding beyond two or three lessons. (Keep in mind, if you borrow a helmet, they are “general” use and have been worn by others. Though they may be sprayed and treated before your use, you might prefer to start with your own helmet regardless.)

Bicycling helmets are not appropriate and are not tested to the same safety and impact measures as horseback riding helmets. A good facility will not let you use a helmet that is not ASTM/SEI certified, and do not let any tack shop owner talk you into otherwise. Make sure you look for the label that ensures the helmet is certified, and your riding school should do the same on the day of your lesson.

The next thing you need besides the helmet is a pair of shoes with a smooth sole and a square heel. (Picture cowboy boots or jodhpur boots, but you don’t have to spend a large amount of money on real riding boots just yet; you can find smooth soled ankle boots with square heel in many shoe stores.) A preferable boot comes above the ankle and offers some ankle support. Army boots, dockers, sneakers are all entirely unacceptable for riding wear. Army boots have a thick tread, and, if you fall off, your foot could get caught in the stirrup and you can suffer serious injuries. Alternatively, wearing something that does not have a square heel could allow your foot to slide all the way through the stirrup and become caught that way, with your heel up in the horse’s side, which is dangerous. Just remember: no treads, smooth sole, square heel.

Now, what will you wear for riding pants? This can be a dilemma for some new riders for a few reasons. One, most pick standard jeans, but, here’s the rub-jeans with their loose fit and inner seems may give you a rub on your inner thigh, knee or calf. They can also rub in a way that slides them up your leg, leaving your calf bare and rubbing against the stirrup leather. Conversely, running pants tend to be somewhat slick on the outside and cause you to slip in the saddle. To prevent rubbing, you need pants that do not have inner seems, and to prevent them from riding up all over, they need to be fitted so they stay in place. Thick tights may be your best bet, or use women’s pantyhose under your jeans. (And, yes, I’ve known male students to do so when necessary.) You can also use long john bottoms under your jeans in winter, but just be sure to tuck them well into your socks so they don’t ride up. You can try thick tights with leg warmers in the winter, especially now that leg warmers are back in style. If you decide to continue riding, you may wish to purchase an inexpensive pair of riding tights or breeches. Riding jeans also exist, and they are made to not have an inner seem and to be fitted and stretchy.

Depending on the temperature, you need to select your outwear knowing that a: you’ll be outdoors and b: your instructor will want to have a good view of your form in order to show you how to sit correctly. That means you should avoid bulky ski jackets that will make you look round shouldered even if you’re not. Form-fitting outwear can be combined with a layer of long johns, turtleneck and fitted sweater for a clean look that will work.

Now that you have your certified safety horseback riding helmet, your smooth-soled shoes with a square heel, your pants that won’t ride up and rub your legs and your fitted outwear, you are ready to show up to your first lesson already looking like you know what you’re doing! Good luck and happy trails!

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