Olympics 2012: how to get involved in horse riding


The Olympics presents three different equestrian disciplines: dressage, eventing and jumping. As a beginner, you’ll be adding another two: not falling forward as the horse crops grass, and trying to stop the horse trotting wherever it wants using only verbal commands. No longer the preserve of cowboys, toffs and highwaymen, riding enjoys a large and growing participant base among normal people. Unfortunately, it still means wearing jodhpurs.

The basics

The great secret is confidence: horses are unsettled by fear and will make life difficult if they sense it. Once mounted – a “how to” on that would take an article in itself – maintain good posture and relax your legs, with your knees flat against the saddle and the balls of your feet on the stirrups. Hold the reins loosely in front of the pommel. Most horses are trained to start walking when you squeeze with your thighs.

Equipment, costs and practicalities

These depend on how seriously you take it. An hour’s private lesson will be around £65, with group lessons coming in cheaper. Going on a hack (a beginners’ group expedition) is a good way to build familiarity and confidence. If you decide you want a horse for yourself the costs go stratospheric. The animal itself will cost anything from £100 for a youngster to a few thousand pounds for a more experienced horse, and before you buy you’ll also need to have it vetted, which will set you back between £75 and £250 per horse. Add in equipment, livery (£100-150 per week for full livery, £30-40 for DIY stable livery), field rent and hay and you’ve got one of the more expensive pastimes out there. However, riders say the financial burdens are more than offset by the satisfaction of building relationships with such beautiful animals. And you can always rob carriages to recoup your losses.

Health benefits

Improves muscle tone in the thighs, bottom and arms, and works postural muscles in the pelvis and torso – the ones targeted by pilates.

Trendiness factor: 5/10

Overlooking the jodhpurs for a second, “trendiness” doesn’t really apply for sport that boasts the 14th in line to the throne as one of its marquee athletes.

Inside line

Claire Shand, British Equestrian Federation: “Horse riding is a sport that anyone, regardless of age, ability or background can have a go at. It’s a great way to get fit and exercise while having fun, strengthening core body muscles and toning bum, tum, legs and arms to give a relaxing cardiovascular workout. Just half an hour of riding a week can boost your sense of wellbeing and help to keep you feeling healthy; there’s definitely something about forming a bond with a horse that’s good for the soul. Whether you’re looking for a tranquil way to enjoy the countryside or something more involved, there is an equestrian pursuit for everyone and lots of different horse sports to have a go at.
Many people simply ride for pleasure but there are plenty of competitive aspects to challenge the more adventurous. From the thrills of jumping to the stamina required for endurance riding, the skilled discipline of dressage or the fast-paced team sports like polocrosse or horseball, there are a multitude of ways to get involved.
Lessons are important if you’ve never ridden before, as mastering the basics will make riding safer and more enjoyable. Finding the right riding school is an important step in your journey to becoming a better rider. Making a few checks will ensure you are able to ride in a safe environment and are getting value for money at a place that is best suited to your individual needs. For more information please visit hoofride.co.uk.”

Find out more

bef.co.uk – British Equestrian Federation.

horsesport.org – International Equestrian Federation.

Dressage rider Carl Hester talks to the Guardian.

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Over to you

Are you a horse rider? Help us build up this resource by sharing tips, videos, links to clubs and anything else that beginners might find useful.

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