Overview from part 1 finding a Good Instructor/Barn:
Are you willing to put in the time, effort, and financial commitment for horseback riding? Is the farm you want to ride at a good fit? Are their safety standards high, instructors good at what they do, and are people having fun? If so, jump right in! Horseback riding is like no other sport and it’s so much fun!
In part two of this series we discuss the riding lesson and how you will progress, a clear plan to meet your goals for consistency, and the next step towards owning your own horse through leasing. *The timelines discussed here are averages, if anything you will need more time in each stage and that is totally fine!
Once you have found a barn that meets all your needs you should schedule one private lesson a week to start. People always ask me what’s the best amount of lessons and I say as much time as you can get on the back of a horse, but initially once a week is great.
Being physically fit can only help you so when you aren’t riding be sure you are upping your fitness level with good core and leg work along with general stamina and cardio fitness.
The first 3 months are going to be spent learning and retaining basics of good position in the saddle and also learning how to take care of your horse for riding at a basic level (catching, leading, grooming, and tacking). If you are taking once a week lessons that is only going to be 12 lessons at this point.
During these first 3 months you will be learning a lot, I follow the Pony Club rating system as a guideline (pictured below). D-1 being the basics before moving onto D-2, and mastering D-2 skills before moving to D-3 skills. There are more ratings beyond D-3 but for the purposes of this article these will be the ones we focus on.
Your instructor might have a different path (and that is great as there is no one way to do it) but it should look similar.
If you feel like you are stuck on something and are getting bored be sure to ask your instructor why they are teaching what they are, they could have a great reason for it and if they don’t it will get them thinking about how to make the lessons better. We all can get stuck in a rut sometimes. If this is happening often it could mean you need to find a different instructor.
At the end of 3 months I suggest if you are going to transition to twice a week or more lessons to do it around this time, but many people are happy taking once a week lessons and if this is you that is great! Horse’s and horse ownership is definitely a lifestyle and requires a lot of time, effort, and money.
At around 6 months you should be hitting some major milestones with your riding (at the D-1 and D-2 levels) and I would suggest finding ways to practice without the watchful eye of an instructor. This can be done in two ways: Catch riding and leasing.
Not all barns offer catch riding but a lot of barns do offer leasing. So what’s the difference?
Catch riding is an informal practice time. You tell your instructor you want an extra ride without a lesson to practice.
Leasing is more formal and is an agreement between the horse owner (leasee) and the person wanting to lease (leasor). The lease agreement designates what days and times you are allowed to ride the horse and for what period of time. Most leases are 6 months to a year, but at some facilities you can do it month to month. Leases are great because you are riding the same horse each time, multiple times a week.
Different types of leases:
Full leases: you get 6 days a week riding on the horse (1 day a week off for the horse)
½ leases: you get 3 days a week and it generally is split between another rider
¼ lease: you get 2 days a week (less common)
Pre-requisites for leasing: feeling comfortable and confident in catching, leading, grooming, and tacking your lease horse. Along with a D-2 level of competency (minus cantering- I find that readiness for cantering is dependent on many factors and some riders are quite safe and ready to lease even if they aren’t cantering yet)
If leasing isn’t in the budget and you’ve been around the barn enough that maybe you could see if there’s other ways to pitch in or work off some of the lessons/leasing by helping around the barn by clean stalls, feeding horses, or other duties around the farm to get more time around the horses. There is always something to do on a farm!
Ideally your lease horse is a lesson horse that is used to beginners and safe. A lot of lesson programs lease out their lesson horses when they aren’t being used in a lesson.
Sometimes it’s an all-inclusive set fee so you’re not having to worry about farrier or vet or any other extra expenses.
Others are set up as a split from the horse’s hard costs and can vary month to month if the horse needs special shoes, needs the vet out, needs a new supplement, etc.
Just make sure you have everything in writing on which party is to cover what expenses and what the expectations are.
One thing is for sure- leasing is cheaper than buying. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, it’s always cheaper to lease a horse than to buy one. Most beginners will not be able to sell their horse for a profit (shoot, it’s even hard for professionals to sell a horse for a profit with the high overhead costs). And some owners will subsidize the lease payment to make leasing more attractive.
I recommend leasing for at least 6 months to a year before deciding to purchase. With part of that being as a full lease. With a full lease you are responsible for that horse’s welfare without going all in. Lease horse goes lame? You aren’t stuck with what to do. You outgrow the lease horse? You don’t have to sell it. Etc.
At the end of your 6 month – year long lease you have now been riding for at least a year to a year and a half and can have a reasonable assurance that this is the lifestyle for you or not. Some people get into it and realize they can commit to once a week lessons and that’s the perfect fit for them, others realize leasing is the way to go with the responsibility level and lower cost overall.
Why buy a horse? Why not lease forever? That’s a great question and honestly I feel people should lease a horse for as long as possible before buying because you can get the ride on some really nice horses that you wouldn’t be able to afford on your own. Owning is best when you want complete control over what happens with your horse. Where it goes, how much it can be ridden, what shows you are going to, and you don’t have to share.
Do not buy a horse with the intent on making money if you decide to sell it later on. Your first horse is still a learning process for you and you should buy an older horse with enough life left to teach you the ropes, not an “investment” or anything young that needs a lot of training. As the saying goes – How do you make a small fortune in horses? Start with a large one!
In Part 3 we will discuss how to go about looking for and purchasing your first horse! How exciting!
Worry less and ride more!