Virginia, once beaming with ranching and agriculture, is the perfect place to saddle up like a true cowboy. You don’t have to be a master equestrian to hit the trails—people of all ages and skill levels can enjoy this old school hobby. But if it’s your first time in the saddle, it’s helpful to know a few horseback riding tips before you start trekking through the Shenandoah Valley.
#1: Choose the Right Stable
The first step is finding a legitimate, reputable local stable with Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA)-certified riding instructors. Lucky for you, Virginia is home to many trustworthy establishments that will happily show you the ropes.
#2: Dress Appropriately
Proper riding gear consists of jeans and boots. If you don’t have sturdy boots, sneakers are the bare minimum. You’ll also want to avoid clothing that could get stuck in the equipment, like scarves or long sweaters. A helmet is also a must, but it is usually provided by the stable (ask when you make your reservation, just to make sure).
#3: Horse Etiquette
Arrive at least 15 minutes before your lesson, so you can get acquainted with your riding buddy. As with any animal, approach your horse calmly and avoid sudden movements. For a proper introduction, offer the back of your hand for him to smell—it’s called the “horseman’s handshake” and it will gain you instant brownie points with your new friend.
#4: Stay Hydrated
You may not be thinking “fitness” when taking the reins, but horseback riding can be a decent workout. Make sure to bring a water bottle to stay hydrated throughout the ride.
#5: Pay Attention
Horses have a good ability to gauge fear or danger—and even the best-trained horses are genetically predisposed to run when they feel threatened. Their sharp eyes can see almost 360 degrees around their bodies and their ears can sense the softest sound. For this reason, it’s always important to pay attention to your surroundings and your horse’s body language, as well as listen to your guide.
#6: Riding Technique
You’ll get a riding technique crash course from your instructor; so if you are a newbie, don’t worry about being overly prepared. And as the well-known adage goes, don’t be afraid to get back on the horse if you fall!