Movie stars make horse riding look incredibly effortless—as if it’s no big deal to hop up on the nearest wild mare and gallop off into the sunset. Surely it’s not painful to ride bareback at a steady trot, and surely the horse will take directive of where you want to go, right?
Not exactly. I can attest that, like most Hollywood portrayals, this is quite inaccurate.
The other day I went horseback riding for the first time in my life at the Aberdeen Hayfield Equestrian Centre. Being 5’2”, I was understandably nervous about mounting an animal more than twice my size that weighed a ton (literally). However, riding horses is something I’ve been wanting to do for quite a long time and never worked up the nerve to learn; since studying abroad is all about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, I figured now was the perfect time to try my hand.
The Hayfield Equestrian Centre was about fifteen minutes out from the university, so when we arrived I was not surprised to find myself in the sprawling green outskirts of the Aberdeen countryside. Outside the city, Aberdeenshire is composed of small towns with a lot of open land in between, which makes for an enthrallingly scenic ride whether you’re in a car for fifteen minutes or on a train for three hours.
The equestrian center was huge; if I had to guess, they had at least thirty horses. I couldn’t stop smiling as I went up to several stables and let my hand get sniffed by warm, furry muzzles. My riding instructor for the day told me I would be working with Flynn, a wizened horse with a reputation for being nice—perfect for a beginner like myself.
Flynn was much taller than me, so to mount him I had to climb up the stable’s stairs and hop over onto his back. Once my feet were in the stirrups and I was settled in, I actually felt comfortable and balanced as we began a slow walk. However, once we began trotting, it was a whole other story. I could feel myself precariously bouncing on the saddle, and the muscles in my legs tightened desperately to keep a grip on the horse’s sides. The instructor let me use one hand to hold onto the front of the saddle while my other hand held the reigns, but even with that extra support I was acutely aware that I could fall off if I wasn’t careful. One thing the instructor kept telling me, which I think is vital for all newbies to know in horseback riding, is that you must maintain the right posture. Your back needs to be as straight as can be, your chin needs to stay up, and you have to keep your legs as relaxed as possible.
By the end of the lesson, I was finally feeling more confident about how to direct Flynn to turn left and right, and switch from walking to trotting (which I struggled with greatly in the beginning). When I dismounted, my legs felt like jelly, I was completely exhausted, and I knew without a doubt that I was coming back the next week. Hopefully with persistence and practice, I will be just as skilled as the actors in those Western films— only time will tell!