Saddle Up!

Anyone can take up horseback riding, and nearly everybody should. Here's how to get started with this rewarding three-season activity.
Saddle Up for Horseback Riding

Horseback riding always seems like such a romantic adventure, doesn't it? Whether your frame of reference is medieval knights and maidens romping through a forest, Liz Taylor riding her heart out in National Velvet or the insert-season-here Bachelorette galloping up to one of her many admirers, horseback riding comes across as a sport for people with a passion for life.

Horseback riding offers something for everyone — including a workout that helps you develop muscles you never knew you had. "Riding is an aerobic activity, and you'll also use major muscle groups such as the abdominals, obliques, gastronomies and thigh muscles," says Sam Whale, of the British Horse Society. If you're craving a new activity and love animals and the outdoor life, then horseback riding could be your next great passion.

Get on that horse
Riding schools are located across the country, so you shouldn't have to go far to find lessons. It's best to visit the school before you book. Schedule just a half-hour lesson at first, so your body can ease into the sport. And don't be surprised by seemingly personal questions: "When you book a lesson at a school, you'll be asked what your height and weight are, so you can be assigned a suitable horse," explains Laura Baines, of the British Horse Society.

Joint suppleness and flexibility – especially in the ankles, knees, hips and shoulders – are essential in horseback riding, in order to sit on and give commands to your trusty steed. "You'll be sore for a while at first, but if you stretch before and afterwards, and warm up and cool down too, you'll ease the pain," says Whale.

During your lessons, you'll learn to sit on your horse while it gently walks, trots or canters. Once you've mastered the basics, you can then take this sport as far as you want: some people take up show jumping; some ride in hunts; some ride faster horses in races (point-to-points) while serious equestrians can take up three-day eventing, which combines racing across country with show jumping and dressage — a very precise way of exercising a horse's gaits and carriage.

Riding requires courage, good judgment and common sense, especially when progressing to more difficult levels. The rewards are significant though; you will have gained a sporting hobby that allows you to enjoy nature nearly year-round, interacting with your new four-legged best friend.

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