Horseback riding is a great sport and can be fun for the whole family. It can be an event that is a leisurely family outing that happens once in a while or it can be a competitive sport that the entire family participates in at rodeos or other competitions. Either way the safety of the rider needs to be considered and prepared for every time the person rides a horse.
The first thing that needs to be considered is the rider’s skill level being matched to the right horse. If you are a novice rider and have only ridden the horses on the carousel ride at Disneyland, you will need a gentle horse. Do not simply pick out the one that matches your outfit. As the stable master which horse will be slow and gentle enough for you to begin to feel comfortable with riding. If you are a more accomplished rider and can handle having a rougher horse or a more excitable horse, then let the stable master know that as well. Never rush into a stable and pick a horse at random. Always talk to the stable master and take their advice. It could save your life, especially if you are unfamiliar with the horses in the stable.
The next thing is to consider taking lessons. If you have little experience with riding a horse, you will want an instructor. They will help you get into the saddle, get your feet in the stirrups, and help you feel comfortable holding the horn of the saddle. They will help you understand the difference between a walk, trot, and gallop. They will also help you be able to “read” your horse’s emotions by the way that they act. This is a great tool, if the horse is temperamental and has the capacity to throw riders. Knowing as much as you can about your horse and riding will make the sport that much more enjoyable and easy for both you and the horse.
Like any sport, horseback riding has safety equipment that all riders need to wear. The first of these is the helmet. The rider’s helmet should be one that is approved by the American Society for Testing and Materials or the ASTM. These helmets are specifically made for taking hard hits, like from a horse’s kick, and protecting the head from a hard landing if you are thrown from your horse. Every year, riders die needlessly because they do not have their helmets on and they are injured severely. Wearing boots that protect and comfort your feet are also necessary. These should not be the decorative cowboy boots that people see in rodeos, but boots that are made for riding, with a tread of at least 1 inch in the bottom of the boot. The stirrups on the horse should be ones that allow for your foot to fall out and not get caught, in case you fall from the horse or are thrown off. If your foot gets stuck in the stirrup, you could be dragged to death.
When you first start riding, be as comfortable with your horse as possible. Ride slowly and get to know your horse’s feelings, movements, and comfort zone. Remember that the horse is a living thing and will react to noises, like car honks or loud sounds. Be aware of your surroundings and soothe your horse when needed.
Make certain people know where you are riding and how long you plan to be gone. If you have never ridden a trail before, walk it first with a friend and time yourselves. That should give you an approximate time that your horse will walk it. On a first time, first trail, go very slow. You never know what will be in your path so watch out for fallen trees or snakes.
Never ride alone. Ride with friends and be sure to take a way to communicate with people who are not riding in the group, if there is an accident. Cell phones may work, but if you get into a rugged or remote area, you may not have service. Two way radios could be better however you need to be certain about how long their range is. Know your limits and stick to them.