by Carol Moore Part One: On top of Ole Smokey....now what? You’ve finally committed yourself to that wonderful vacation the whole family has clamored for . . . a trip to a dude ranch! And now you’re starting to get the jitters just thinking about climbing on board that horse for the first time. Well, calm down. We’re going to give you a little “horsemanship 101”, just enough to help you arrive at your destination with a feeling of confidence and desire. Picking the ranch that's right for you If this is your first riding experience, select your ranch carefully. Make sure they cater to the beginner and have some nice easy rides that you can enjoy. Most of these properties will offer a variety of rides, and as your knowledge increases so can the complexity of the trail ride. Most importantly, when you arrive at the ranch of your choice, do not let pride interfere with a correct assessment of your riding skills. If you are a beginner, or have some skills but are a timid rider, let your wrangler know before the horse selection begins.

Children riding at White Stallion Ranch Enjoying a leisurely ride at the White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. Photo by Billy Jones.

A few on-the-ground points Riding is an unlimited field of learning and there are many excellent sources of information that can get you to the same end result. For the purpose of this lesson, we’ll assume that you will be riding western style and we’ll limit ourselves to just one way for each step. Once you feel comfortable with the basics you can expand upon this information. Your horse’s head gear is called a bridle. The mouth piece is a bit and attached to the bit are the reins. By pulling on the reins you create tension between the bit and the curb chain (the little strap that goes under the chin and behind the bit) which controls the speed of your horse. The saddle is what you will be sitting on and the stirrups are what you put your feet into. The cinch is what holds the saddle in place and it should remain rather snug while you are riding. If you have an opportunity to hold or lead your horse, do so from the left side. Do not hold onto the bit, instead give your horse some room and hold the reins a good 18 inches from the bit. Horses consider themselves prey animals and can be claustrophobic especially around the head. They prefer to be petted on the neck or have their back scratched rather than to have their head fussed with.  (read more)