Hiking the trails in Arizona, I have always come across horseback riders that I would stop and pave way for to let them get ahead on these trails. There are numerous, close to infinite, trails in this state with rocky and deserted terrains that create a rewarding experience on the mountains. I’ve always seen these horseback tours a lot around here and they are available almost anywhere by these mountains. I told myself, “One day when I’m confident enough, I’ll try these out!” Horseback riding is a business of its own and this type of outdoor activity can appear nerve-wracking, at least that’s how I felt.
I mean, you are dealing with a large, living animal and like all activities that require you to communicate and handle with animals, you need to be at ease with them. Luckily, we have trained professionals and experts who know horses and understand their jobs to lead them out on these trails. One of my friends out here in Arizona named Caleb works as a horseback guide at Estrella Mountain Regional Park and he offered my friends and me to guide us out here with the horses at the ranch — two of us out of five people in the group have never gone horseback riding before this, including me. It was quite the southwest experience, in my opinion.
Anyways, if you haven’t gone horseback riding before like I did, you might feel like you’re not comfortable and will feel kind of confused. And I get that completely because that’s how I was, but you have to remember all experts and all these trained horse professionals were once in our very spots. So, what you do need to bring along to your first time horseback riding is to be ready to follow directions, along with learning to build a relationship with your horse and just working efficiently on your horse riding skill.
Some History on Horseback Riding
Let’s get back to the beginning a bit to learn more about this activity. People have always had a budding relationship with horses as far back as 3500 BC, probably in Russia and Kazakhstan. According to this NYTimes.com article, archaeologists uncovered horse bones and artifacts that proved there is evidence of demonstrated domestication. While there is a connection of humans who have hunted and herded wild horses for their meat, there is also a possibility, Botai horses were used for work and riding. You’ve also probably heard that horses were once used to pull chariots, carts, wagons, and vehicles long before the cars we know now existed. That’s right, too. Horses were always faster than humans and they made great transportation before the development of steam locomotive around the early 1800s. They have also represented us during war and for many years, we almost forgot how dedicated and how indebted we are to the domestication of these majestic beauties. Now, horses are known for exercise, excursion, and for competition.
So, what can I expect in my first time horseback riding?
Lessons. Lessons. Patience. Lessons. Then getting right to the thrilling excitement and fun of riding on a horse. It also depends on what type of horseback riding you’d like to do: English or Western, or there’s also bareback, which requires no saddle and more skill, balance, and coordination and this is something that isn’t suggested to beginners. You can read about the difference between English or Western here, and we were taught the Western way. Either one does require practice and staying attentive, which both are expected to be used throughout horseback riding.
Usually, if you make it nice and early to your horseback riding appointment, you may have your guide kindly explain the process to set up your horse before you get to the actual riding. Some of the reasons for this is that you want to get to know your horse, you want to learn how to put the saddle on, feel comfortable and fit with your saddle, and learn how to direct your horse in riding because communication and providing trust to this animal is major key.
Once you do get to the trail with your horse, it’s normal to feel nervous and make a few mistakes on how to direct your horse using the rein. (My guide and experienced friends had to correct me a few times!) Listening to their advice is very helpful. It does get really thrilling when the horse gets down on a drop that scoops down on the trail and when you’re right on the edge to the top, but remain calm, because horses do know to get you and themselves around safely. Also, some horses may feel the need to run but that’s where using the right techniques to get them to listen and slow down using your reins will prevent that.
First, dress the part. We all wore jeans with sneakers (close-toed shoes are recommended and best).
We chose which horse we’d like to ride, approached them confidently, and got to know them a bit better. You may have to ask your guide to recommend which horse is good for beginners.
Then we “tied our horses off” and learned a few rope tricks on how to knot them on fences (it might take a few good times to get them down), to keep our horses still while we set up the saddle.
We chose our halters and saddles. We placed it on our horses with the help of our horse guide.
It was intimidating a bit because we had to touch the horse’s mouth at one point to place the reins. We also brushed our horses and gave them a treat.
Our guide showed us how to tie the lead rope onto the saddle with a double half hitch.
Then, we got onto the saddles after checking if the equipment was properly placed and secured, with our guide to double check, and then placed our feet into the stirrups. We were given lessons on how to handle the reins (make the horse turn left, right, and how to make it slow down or stop) and how to keep our balance with our straight postures.
We rode through the trail, learned about all the desert plants by our guide, and witnessed the sunset on the mountains and man, what a sight.
We walked our horses a little more to cool them off. And then, sadly, we petted our horses “goodbye” and gave them a treat one more time.