Horseback riding conjures up images of glorious battle scenes. Cowboys riding off into the sunset. The wealthy, wearing riding jackets and jodhpurs prancing around manicured dressage rings. It could also bring back more personal memories of being a horse-crazy child who dreamed of getting a pony for a birthday present or of trail riding on family vacations. In addition to being very relaxing and a great way to explore trails inaccessible by car, riding a horse, especially on an English saddle, is a great way to tone up your legs.
Wish you could go riding? You don’t have to own a ranch in Kentucky or Montana to get into equestrian sports. There are some great ways to get involved with horses here in Tampa. You can ride casually on the weekends, ride competitively or even do some pretty interesting adventure rides in Florida and around the world.
Horseback riding seems simple enough, especially if you’re riding a trail horse. Basically you sit on a horse, which follows the horse in front of it and then you dismount the horse and go home. But it’s actually a little more complicated than that, even without considering animal care. To begin with, there are two kinds of saddles: the Western saddle and the English saddle. The Western saddle, as rider and contributor to About Horses Jayne Perdigo says, “was designed for cowboys who spent long days riding the range and working cattle. Leather Western saddles are much heavier than English saddles, but the weight of both saddle and rider is spread over a larger area of the horse’s back, which makes it less tiring for the horse.” This is the kind of saddle you’ll see on a trail ride. An English saddle is smaller and lighter. There are different variations used for polo, dressage and jumping, among other sports. The saddle is the only part of the equipment, or tack, that the horse wears. However, the type of saddle you use indicates the type of riding in which you can participate.
Lynda Fowler, owner of In the Breeze Ranch, Tampa, offers these basic steps for riding in a Western saddle:
Standing on the left side of the horse, place your left foot in the stirrup. Place your left hand on the horn or the saddle.
Swing your right leg over the horse and put it in the right stirrup.
Adjust the length of the stirrups (you can ask your instructor or guide for help).
Place the reins in your dominant hand and use the other hand to hold on to the horn of the saddle. To make the horse turn left, move the reins left. To make it turn right, turn the reins right. If you want the horse to stop, pull the reins toward you
To get off the horse, simply swing your right leg over the horse and to the ground. Remove your left foot from the stirrup.
Of course, that’s not all there is to riding a horse, but it is a good start.
EQUINE SPORTS AND ADVENTURE
There are many ways you can compete on horseback. If you like to compete, the step is to takelessons. In the Breeze offers lessons Saturdays at $30/hr. The lessons are for Western riding, which is the foundation for rodeo sports, such as barrel racing and cattle roping. Western riders also compete in events in which they ride precise patterns around a ring and are judged for their posture and how well the rider and horse work together. Adventure riders use Western saddles as well. Check out http://www.equestrianvacations.com to try some adventure riding.
English riding is also the foundation for many equine sports. In dressage, for example, the rider and horse show off their skills by completing a series of tests in a ring before judges (and they get to wear cute outfits). In show jumping, the rider and horse complete a series of jumps with the goal of clearing the obstacles without touching them. In polo, riders put a ball into a goal using clubs. The event is a cross between golf, soccer and horse racing. Endurance riders race long distances in extreme locations, such as the Sahara desert. It’s a more regulated, safer version of the recent movie, Hidalgo.
There are also some quirkier equestrian sports. One is the ride-and-tie event, in which two runners and a horse complete a distance by “leapfrogging.” The first person rides to a point, ties the horse and then starts running to the next point. The second person starts running until he or she reaches the horse, then rides to overtake the runner and tie the horse at the second point.
Also interesting is the Modern Pentathlon, an Olympic sport in which athletes compete to see who is the best in five events: cross-country running, swimming, dressage, fencing and marksmanship.
Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to equestrian sports. If you want to know more, check out www.equinesearch.com . Get out there and try a local trail ride, and until next time, Happy Trails.
Tereza Zambrano is a junior majoring in international studies.