Learning to Ride in The Classical Way – Part 3
By Anne Wilson
Once we have found a riding school which seems to practice good classical techniques, we must consider what we need in order to make our lessons comfortable and safe.
The two absolute essentials are a hard protective hat, preferably carrying the latest British Standard Kite Mark. Your hat will need to be fitted carefully and secured with a chin strap or harness. This is best done at a shop selling protective head gear, as the assistants should be trained in how to fit them correctly. An ill-fitting or poorly secured hat could be useless if it does not stay in place when you really need it.
The second essential is appropriate footwear with a heel. These boots do not need to be expensive long leather boots, or even rubber ones. Short jodhpur boots with a heel are perfectly good for the purpose; do not need to be too costly and can be worn as casual wear for many country pursuits, such as dog walking, visiting fetes, shows etc. Wellington boots and trainers are not suitable, as they can be dangerous by trapping the foot into the stirrup during a fall, thus causing the rider to be dragged. This is why a good heel is essential; i.e. to prevent the foot from slipping through the stirrup.
Your trousers really need to be flexible, as you will need to bend your knees and widen your hips without feeling restricted, so ordinary jeans are not the best for the job. However, if you happen to possess a pair of very stretchy jeans then they may suffice. Jodhpurs are the obvious leg wear of choice as they are made to stretch and are reinforced on the inside of the leg, preventing chafing of the skin. Here again, they do not need to be too expensive; they can often be found on special offer even at some low-cost supermarkets.
You can buy half-chaps to fit on the lower leg. These compliment Jodhpur boots nicely; often almost giving the illusion of long riding boots. They can also combat chafing of the skin. However, this is a personal choice and not an essential.
What type of top you wear is really a matter of personal choice. In summer a plain T shirt or polo shirt would be most appropriate. In winter you will need something warm, wind and rain proof. It does not necessarily have to be a made for purpose riding jacket, but make sure it has a two way zip. You usually need to open the bottom of the zip when mounting and dismounting. Please be careful not to damage the saddle with the zip – this would not be popular with your trainer. It is also a good idea to avoid any billowing or overtly rustling type of cagoule, which can frighten some horses.
Gloves are a good idea for winter wear and some instructors may insist upon them all the time. Personally, I do not like riding in gloves, except in the bitterest weather, because I feel it encumbers my dexterity and finesse on the reins; but this is a very personal choice. Obviously if you are going to wear gloves, they need to be made for the purpose; otherwise your fingers will be far too restricted.
For your initial lessons you should not need any other equipment. Speak to your instructor or the proprietor of the school about this before attending for your first lesson. This will avoid any misunderstanding or embarrassment.
This series of photos shows how to mount with minimal interference to the horse’s back. The rider eases her weight into the saddle gradually and gently, before finally sitting upright – Alexa with Ike. Photos: images by alex
Any good riding school will give you plenty of assistance and instruction on how to mount for the first time. Hopefully they will have a high enough mounting block with good stability, so that you do not have to haul yourself up onto the horse’s back. It is also advisable to have two helpers; one on the far side to hold the saddle in position and one on the near side (where you will be mounting) to assist you during your first few mountings.
Always speak to the horse first; approach at the horse’s shoulder so he can see you coming. Horses have good peripheral vision but cannot see immediately in front of them due to the position of the eyes on the side of the head. Obviously they cannot see directly behind the quarters; so never approach a strange horse from behind in case he takes fright and kicks.
I quote the instructions on mounting from my book ‘Riding Revelations – Classical Training from the Beginning’:-
“The instruction given in most riding manuals and at most riding schools will be to stand on the left hand side of the horse (the near side), facing the tail, place your left foot in the stirrup, with the inside of the stirrup turned clockwise towards you, place your left hand on the front arch, or pommel, of the saddle, with your right hand on the far side of the cantle at the back of the saddle. Using a slight hopping motion gradually turn your torso and left toe towards the horse (being careful not to dig the horse’s side as you do so). The toe should be pressed downwards to avoid digging into the horse. Then, with a last, firm push off, lightly spring up, swinging your right leg over the horse’s back. As you do this you move your right hand from the back of the saddle to the pommel (the front of the saddle) and gently lower your seat into the saddle. You then place your right foot into the right stirrup, with the stirrup leather turned outwards. If you have turned your left stirrup clockwise towards you before inserting your foot, the leather on that side should now be turning correctly outwards.”
Never take hold of the pommel (the front of the saddle) and the cantle (the back of the saddle) at the same time, and pull yourself up. This drags the saddle across the horse’s back, can really damage his back or spine, and can also twist the tree of the saddle.
Next month we will look at how to sit in the saddle.
Anne Wilson is a freelance classical riding trainer, based in Bedfordshire; trained with Sylvia Loch and holder of the Classical Riding Club Gold Award Certificate – Phone 01234 772401 or email:- email@example.com
See Anne’s book ‘Riding Revelations – Classical Training from the Beginning’ available from www.blacktent.co.uk