Most Common Mistakes made by Beginner Riders
What It's Like to Go Horseback Riding
"So, How long have you been riding?" asks Alessandro, the stable master who looks like Brad Pitt's long-lost Italian cousin. I want to say, "All my life, just give me the reins," but the truth comes out. "Not long — 2 years," I admit shyly. I was never one of those "horsey" girls. Lived in the city all my life and never rode in all my 35-plus years. But I recently moved to a house next to a stable in Queens, New York. I always thought riding sounded romantic, so I started taking lessons. "So you ride English?" he asks with a smile gauged to make me melt into a puddle at his boots. "Yes," I reply confidently, mentally reviewing files from riding lessons squeezed between work and family obligations. I mount my friendly quarter horse — who stands only about 5 feet high — with a leg up from Alessandro, and get ready for action.
The horse takes off at a brisk trot down a Tuscan country road bordered with lush Chianti vineyards. Now I'm "finding my seat," as horse experts call it. My mind is on keeping my back straight, like a ballerina's. My heels are down, my thigh muscles working hard so that I stay firmly on my horse without holding anything but the reins. I'm concentrating on good balance — or "centered riding" — and on what my horse is thinking. Is his footing sure going down this rocky hill? Is he eyeing that patch of wild raspberries growing precariously close to the edge of the road? I keep my reins firm but comfortable enough for both of us, and try to anticipate his moves. Controlling this huge and powerful beast with knowledge, skill, and empathy gives me a rush of self-confidence that lasts far longer than the ride itself. When I dismount at the end of the trail, my blood is pumping. I'm glowing with sweat, all my muscles are wonderfully sore, and I feel like I can conquer the world.
After riding on trails in far-flung destinations and here at home in the American Southwest, I've finally become the horsey girl I never was as a teenager. I've fallen in love with the empowerment riding gives women. I've also learned that peak experience trail riding is something even novice riders can accomplish. With a skilled guide, beginners can trek safely through rain forests, desert terrain, mountains, rivers — just about any landscape imaginable. I've ridden with 80-year-olds, kids, and the physically challenged. "It's like swimming through air," said one of my trail buddies, a 70-plus-year-old on her first ride.
I know the high she felt. There was a moment on my last trail ride, through the Belize rain forest, when all the skills I had learned — balance, control, and connection to my horse — fell into place. Chico was responding to my commands almost before I made them. He lifted me, as if I were a feather on his back, up through a precarious muddy path and into a cool green canopy of palm trees. My body seemed an extension of his — all his muscle, speed, and strength were mine too. The Native Americans of the plains had an expression: "Stealing horses is stealing power." For me, mastering a horse is mastering myself.
Video: The It List Ep 10 Horseback riding at The Ranch
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