There are hundreds of good stables and miles of riding trails in Southern California, yet many of us don't take advantage of them because we have never taken horseback-riding lessons, or if we did, it was years ago.
J. D. Thornbury, a professional rider and trainer at Calamigos Ranch and Restaurant in Malibu, offers ten guidelines on riding that may encourage some novices to saddle up and hit the trail.
Reins--Grasp the reins gently in one hand, realizing that if the horse should bolt or run, you must bring the reins in, toward the body, to slow or stop it. Move your hand with the reins to the left if you want to turn left and to the right to turn right. A horse is directed to back up by pulling back on the reins once. Take the reins assertively because a horse can pick up any hesitancy on your part.
Stirrups--These should fit properly: You should be able to stand in the stirrups to get some of your weight off your hips. Don't put your feet all the way through the stirrups unless you're wearing cowboy boots. If you should fall off with your foot fully engaged in the stirrup, it could be dangerous.
Mount--Always from the left side, put just the ball of your left foot in the stirrup and take the reins gently in your left hand. Bring your weight up over the horse and straighten your left leg. Don't grasp the reins too tightly or the horse will back up.
Etiquette--Horse "etiquette" is important. Never approach from behind. Always walk in front of the horse, because the horse may react unpredictably if it can't see you.
Avoid conflict--Strive to avoid conflict between horses by not following another horse too closely--especially if the horses are unfamiliar with each other or appear to be unfriendly to one another.
Hills--Avoid anything steeper than a 45-degree slope if you're not experienced or if you don't know the horse. Going downhill, lean backward, holding on to the saddle horn, to minimize the weight directly over the horse's shoulders. When riding uphill, lean forward.
Stay alert--Look out for holes, snakes (especially rattlesnakes) and brush, and assist the horse in maneuvering around them. Horses do look to the rider for direction.
Don't overdo it--Don't ride more than a few miles in the beginning or your memories of the occasion will be colored by your muscle aches.
Children--Horses and kids do mix well, but it's best to wait until a child is old enough--about 5 or 6 years old--and strong enough to make the horse respond. The horse should match the size of the child. Try the child first on a Welsh pony, which has a gentle stride, or a Shetland.
Into the sunset--Go home before dusk unless you know the trail well. At night the horse depends even more on you--the rider--for guidance and direction.