Pairing up with the Right Horse
by Darley Newman
Taking a horseback ride on your next vacation? Ever thought about the horse you’ll be riding? Horses have different personalities, skills and physiques, just like people. You’ll want to convey specific information about yourself and your riding level in order to get paired up with the right horse on your next adventure.
Relay your skill level, height and weight to the stable manager and above all, be truthful. You don’t want to claim John Wayne skills if you’ve never ridden and alternatively, don’t want a dull horse if you’re a more experienced rider. A good host will consider your experience, fitness level, height and weight and take into account what you are hoping to gain from the ride.
Before mounting, always check the tack (the horse’s bridle and saddle) to make sure it’s in good condition. Check to make sure that the saddle is secured tightly, so that when you do mount, the saddle doesn’t slide to the side and so that you can stay balanced during your ride. You can do this by sticking a finger under the cinch or girth, which is the leather or cloth strap that runs under the horse’s belly and connects one side of the saddle to the other to keep it in place on the horse’s back. If you can fit your hand under the girth, it’s too loose. Check the cinch or girth again after you have been riding for a few minutes, as it may loosen a bit once you are mounted and will need to be tightened.
You’ll want to get on from the left side of the horse by placing your left foot in the stirrup and swinging your right leg to the other side of the horse. Some horses are trained to accept riders mounting from either side, but if you don’t know that the horse you are riding is, stick to the horse’s left side. This dates back to a time when soldiers wore swords on their left sides and didn’t want to catch their weapon on the saddle when mounting. We don’t all carry swords when riding nowadays, but training horses to accept riders from the left side is still common practice. Rest your seat gently into the saddle once the balls of both feet are securely in the stirrup. Have your guide adjust your stirrups to the proper level.
Take a Test Spin
When you buy a new car, you take a test drive. Even though an hour or week may not be a long-term commitment, it is still advisable to ride around a bit before packing off for your longer ride. Your host should tell you a little bit about your horse and how best to handle him. Don’t be shy about asking questions, as you definitely want to be able to control your horse on the trails. I always ask if the horse has any quirks or habits, so that I can be prepared for those during the ride. As you take your test ride, check to see if the horse is responsive to your cues, and ask how to communicate accordingly. Some rides start out with instruction before taking off on the trails.
Know When to Dismount
In some cases, all the research and preparation in the world can’t stop you from getting paired up with a horse that you can’t handle or with whom you simply don’t get along. Coping with this situation can be tricky, but if things seem beyond your control, trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to dismount. Ask your guide to switch horses with you for a while, or ask for another horse. There should be back-up horses available. If you are ever paired up with a horse that seems ill or lame, do not attempt to ride him. Either ask to change horses or make the decision not to ride.
Hey, you’re on vacation and you’re riding. Loosen up and have fun. There are bound to be unexpected challenges, as there are with any other adventure activities. Try to take things in stride and enjoy the company of your new found friend. You never know, you may end up wanting to bring your horse home, or if you don’t your kids probably will.
Darley Newman is the host of the Emmy Award-winning Public Television series Equitrekking®, which takes viewers on horseback riding vacations around the world. Equitrekking is broadcast on PBS stations, Create TV and on international networks in over 65 countries.
Learn about equestrian vacations and book a trip at EquitrekkingTravel.com and the Equitrekking.com Vacation Guide.