Learn About Horseback Riding

Christopher D. Cervantes, Los Angeles; Certified Horse Trainer
••• Chris Cervantes, a Certified Trainer in Los Angeles County, teaches riders of all ages how to safely enjoy the benefits and joys of horseback riding. Chris Cervantes

As a professional trainer I am asked all the time, "Am I too old to ride?" The short answer is no. Horseback riding is something that can be enjoyed at all levels, in a wide variety of ways, long into the golden years. The long answer: You're never too old to start -- but let's get real, shall we?

The brutally honest (long) answer is if you start riding later in life, in say, your mid-forties, without any real prior training experience, you are going to have your work cut out for you getting into shape without a trainer.

Horseback riding builds and tones large muscle groups, and is great for cardio; and contrary to popular myth, the horse is not doing all the work!

If you come into the sport already in good shape from playing a variety of sports or are currently physically active, you will find already being fit will help you tremendously. However, even if you are fit, riding is a sport that requires the use of muscles that other sports may not ask too much of. A trainer will teach you to ride the correct way, reducing the risk of injuring your muscles and joints.

The Hard Reality of Falling Off a Horse

Another important consideration that is sometimes hard to think about is that you are going to fall off the horse. Whether you ride in lessons with a trainer, or on your own for any extended period of time on a regular basis, you will eventually fall or fly off the horse. It doesn't' matter if you are on the safest horse, in the most controlled environment, and have been riding for years, at some point or another you will fly.

Let's be real, when you are forty-five you don't bounce like you did when you were ten years old, right? As we age, our reflexes slow down and we are not as supple. But you can reduce the risk of serious riding injuries (to you and your horse) by working with an experienced trainer and always wearing a safety helmet.

Horses Are Not Exercise Machines

Horses are just that -- horses. They are animals, not machines, and we cannot pop in a quarter and expect that every time we ride they will do as we want when we want. This is a hard concept for a lot of people to really comprehend. Although a skilled trainer can influence a horse to do as they wish much better than an amateur who rides once a week for ten years, even trainers sometimes fall or are bucked off their horses.

Horses Have Different Personalities

The horse is a living breathing animal and just like humans have good days and bad days. Just like people, horses can get stiff and sore. They can become tired and frustrated with people learning to ride on them making the same mistakes over and over. And, just like people, horses have different personalities.

Some horses have little tolerance for inexperienced riders, while others are more forgiving of their riders' mistakes. Ask any trainer; a great school horse that is gentle and patient is hard to find. If a horse tolerates beginning amateur riders he is worth his weight in gold and we will take him!

A good trainer will try to pair you with a horse that is suitable for your skill level.

How Much Time Can You Devote To Riding?

The ability to practice frequently is a huge factor in how fast you will progress in any sport.

If you can ride at least several times a week it will do wonders for your riding. Remember, practice makes perfect!

If you can only swing one or two lessons a week that is fine, but you might not progress as quickly as you would like. Let's remember Rome wasn't built in a day. Riding takes lots of time, patience, and practice, but a good trainer can help you get the most out of each ride no matter how often you take lessons.

Knowing What You Want Will Help You Get There Faster

All my students ride for different reasons so I ask them questions about what they want to get out of riding. The answers they give affect how I teach each student.

Here are a few things to think about before investing time and money in horseback riding lessons:

  • Why do you want to ride?
  • Do you want to show?
  • Do you want to casually learn at your own speed, and in no rush?
  • Do you want to learn to jump, or does learning dressage movements or reining maneuvers excite you more?
  • Is this going to be more of a casual past time, if not, how many days and hours a week can you commit to riding?
  • Would you rather trail ride at a rental barn or take lessons at a training barn?
  • Is your ultimate goal to have your own horse?

These are great things to communicate with your trainer because the reasons you want to ride will be unique. Based on your answers, a trainer can help you set reasonable goals and expectations based on what you want from riding.

Don't Be Afraid To Try

I admit that some of the things I have mentioned may sound a little harsh, but the cold hard truth is not as hard as the ground. As a trainer, I feel a responsibility to all riders to be upfront -- even if it means popping that pretty pink bubble of galloping bareback, carefree through fields on a perfect horse.

So, if you don't mind the risk of taking a tumble now and then, want a fun and rewarding way to shed a few pounds and get back into shape, and love the sound of whinnies from a magnificent four-legged creature, then taking up riding is just what you need.

Whatever your age, enjoy it. Farms and riding stables can be found practically everywhere, even in many big cities. If you are fortunate enough to live in a very urban area, horses are everywhere.

Riding is not just a sport to get your body fit; there are treadmills for that. Riding is a great way to get out of this fast-paced, cement-covered, cell-phone-service world, even if it is for just an hour or so. Spending time with horses reduces stress and gets your heart and soul fit as well. In fact, you will fly, but I promise, not always off your horse.