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Dear Dana: What insight can you offer for stable selection for a first-timer?

By DANA HOKANA / Horsetrader columnist - December 15th, 2009 - Q&A Dear Dana

DEAR DANA: My 6 year old niece loves horses and appears ready to jump into lessons. My sister is thrilled that I’m getting her involved. I may be putting too much pressure on myself, but I want to be sure her first experience is a good one. What insight can you offer for stable selection for a first-timer? Or, for that matter, the style of riding?
Gina, Phoenix, Ariz.

DEAR GINA: It’s awesome that your niece loves horses and is excited! I am impressed that you are putting thought into how to get her started. It is important to give her a positive, safe experience. I strongly recommend that you are careful and thoughtful in your selection, as I am sure you will be. Anyone can hang a sign and say they are a horse trainer, but that does not mean that they are qualified or have experience and it does not mean that they have horses gentle and safe enough for a beginner. You need to investigate thoroughly and put your niece in the best hands possible! Here are some tips to selecting a stable:

First, decide if you want her to start English or western, as many stables will specialize in one or the other. I think that either style of riding is fine as long as your niece is learning from a qualified instructor and is put on extremely safe horses. I ride primarily western, so of course I would lean toward western riding. I also like the fact that the western saddle is larger and may offer more support. However, a qualified English riding stable with good horses and instructors is fine, too. Once you have made your decision as to the riding style, you can look into stables.

I show Quarter Horses and the American Quarter Horse Association offers referrals through the Professional Horseman’s Association. You can start there. The members of the Professional Horseman’s Association have to be qualified in some areas to be a member. If they can’t help you, they may be able to refer you to someone who can. Go and interview prospective stables. Look for signs of professionalism, such as cleanliness and good care of the horses. Also be sure to ask if they carry insurance. Get references from people who have taken lessons.

I also recommend you watch a lesson and see if you are comfortable with what you see. Safety is number one! I would ask what horse they are going to put your niece on. Quiz them about the safety of that horse. One bad experience can turn her away from horses forever. Make sure they go slow with her. Most riders on the first ride should only walk and, maybe in some cases, jog. Don’t let anything be rushed! Also, talk directly to the person giving the lesson to see if their personality style will work with your niece’s personality style. Really shy, timid kids may need an extremely encouraging, soft instructor. I have seen instructors that are negative and harsh. Stay away from them. Look for someone who will be positive, encouraging, and make it fun!

Short sessions are also better than a lesson that is held too long. Ideally, you want to end each lesson with her wanting more! I also recommend that the lesson program covers ground work and care for the horse on the ground with an emphasis on safety. I also like to see new riders taught on proper use of their hands, as well as exercises to improve their seat and balance!

I recommend that the first few lessons be private lessons. You want all the attention on your niece! Also look at the arena she will be riding in, is it quiet without a lot of chaos or uproar going on that could spook the horse? Is the ground good? Professionally run facilities are for the horse and the rider, and they are organized, neat, clean, and the ground is cared for in the arena.

I hope this helps you and best of luck to you and your niece!


P.S. – My Complete Guide DVD Series, including 101 Safety Tips, is perfect for you and your niece and will give you a lot of valuable information to have a positive start in horses!

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