By Robyn Moore
Some people grew up dreaming of riding horses, and others dreamt of owing their own horse or riding like their favourite childhood “Western” star. Some were lucky enough to have childhood experiences with horses, either on the family farm or taking lessons at the neighbourhood stable. Many of these people, tired of letting life get in the way of their dreams, are eager to check off “learn to ride” on their bucket list or dust off their boots and get back in the saddle.
It’s a trend that Cheryl Tycholis of Diamond Willow Stables in Calgary sees, “Adults are now able to go back and pursue the passion that they would have enjoyed as a young adult or as a child growing up. They’re coming back to it as it was a positive, happy time in their life.
“If you’ve spent any time around horses, it’s a spiritual thing, a very calming thing, a very relaxing thing. It’s like what a pet brings to a person. They bring a lot of comfort and a lot of peace. (Riding) is downtime, peaceful time, relaxing time and then it can be as physical as you can endure,” adds Tycholis.
Taking horseback riding lessons is a recreational sporting activity like swimming, soccer, hockey, or yoga. They all have associated costs and class times to schedule. Price, fear, busy schedules and not knowing who to call or how to get started are some concerns that hold adults back from pursuing riding. But there are benefits to taking riding lessons that go beyond simply having fun and fulfilling childhood dreams.
Lynda Tennessen, instructor and Lesson Program Manager at Whitemud Equine Learning Centre Association (WELCA) in Edmonton, notes many reasons why adults should get in the saddle: “It is a form of exercise and it gives balance and agility. It works on the core muscles. It works on coordination and self esteem. It’s very social, so you get a bond with your lesson group and bond with your animal,” she explains. “You also get to understand how amazing horses are. And it teaches you how to deal with something that has a different brain. It’s the same thing with dogs — you have to learn to speak their language in order to have a good bond with them.”
Horses are fundamentally different from dogs: horses are prey animals, not predators. They operate on fear and rely on that fear instinct to survive. When thinking about becoming involved with horses, Lynda says, “I would recommend that they do not buy (a horse.) Do not lease. You need to take lessons and you need to take courses. They are prey animals so you really have to understand their background. If they are scared, they run. If they can’t run, they fight.”
As large animals that have the potential to injure humans, it is important to find a stable that does everything it can to ensure the rider’s safety. Ask for references and make sure that the instructors are knowledgeable. There are accreditation programs for riding instructors through organizations such as Equine Canada and the Certified Horsemanship Association. “People need to do their homework and find a reputable place that is going to keep them safe and that uses the best horses they can,” says Lynda.
Cheryl agrees, “Safety is paramount and the way that stables run their program is paramount.” Both WELCA and Diamond Willow Stables have strict guidelines when hiring instructors and even stricter vetting processes when it comes to selecting their lesson horses.
There are many ways to enjoy horses, whether on the ground, in the saddle, or behind them in a wagon. Different activities and disciplines with horses range from jumping to penning cattle to trail riding to mounted shooting. The possibilities are endless once you get the solid foundation provided by a reputable and safe lesson program.
One of the programs at Diamond Willow Stables is a Women’s Riding Club. “It’s like a social thing for a lot of women as well as physical,” says Cheryl. “Rather than going to a health club, this is their health club. They get together prior to lessons or after for coffee, lunches, a glass of wine. They create a social ambiance around their riding. And they really enjoy the social aspect of riding together because you can learn together.”
So, if you’re thinking of beginning riding lessons, or starting to ride after an extended period, take a drive out to the stables in your area. Many are open to the public or will give you a tour if you call ahead. “We welcome families to come out for a drive. Walk around and see if there is a program that works for you,” says Cheryl.
Lynda’s parting advice is: “Be safe, do your investigating, and make sure it’s fun!”
ALBERTA STABLES OFFERING ADULT RIDING LESSONS:
Laughing Horse Ranch
Calgary, AB (South)
Adult lessons and cattle penning clinics
T: (403) 931-3119
Hillside Acres Equestrian
Beginner western lessons, cattle sorting and monthly gymkhanas
T: (403) 933-2660