For any rider the choice of riding school can be difficult but particularly so for the first time rider wishing to take those first lessons.
There are two organisations that set standards for riding schools: the British Horse Society (BHS) and the Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS). Any riding school approved by one or both of these organisations ensures that they meet the standard required by these organisations. Therefore it is always best to locate a school which has been approved by one or both of these organisations. Riding schools are inspected every year and so any approval should be current.
The BHS and the ABRS both set riding instruction examinations. The BHS Qualifications start at BHSPTC and progressing through BHSAI, BHSII, BHSI to FBHS. The ABRS qualifications start at ABRS ITA, progressing through ABRS TC, ABRS AT Diploma to ABRS Principal's Diploma. The level of instructor at any riding school may vary but even the lowest level of qualified instructor is able to teach basic riding to a beginner or novice rider. It is only when progressing to a higher level of riding that the level of instructor employed by a riding school may become more important.
Even with an approved school and a well qualified instructor horse riding can be dangerous due to the unpredictable nature of horses and ponies. Therefore it is important that instructors have had first aid training and preferably hold a current first aid certificate. This will ensure that if the worst happens they can administer the first aid necessary to the rider.
Riding schools usually offer a variety of lessons from private, where one rider is taught by an instructor, to semi-private where two or three people are taught in the same lesson or group lessons where larger groups of people are taught in the same lesson by one instructor. Prices vary with private being more expensive and group lessons being cheaper. However, for first time riders private lessons are preferable and although more expensive a lot more will be learnt in a half hour private lesson than will be learnt in a one hour group lesson. Many schools will not teach beginners in group lessons, preferring to teach beginners on a one-to-one basis.
The facilities at riding schools varies and whilst some will have outdoor schools for teaching, others have covered or indoor schools and the size of the schools will vary. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of school - indoor schools are warmer during the winter but some can become very dusty in the heat of summer. Most outdoor schools have all weather surfaces and so unless the weather is terrible, riding lessons are carried out all year round.
It is always a good idea to visit any riding school before booking that first lesson as this will give an idea of the school in general. Although it is not possible to keep any stable yard spotless a tidy and well organised yard will indicate the level of pride that is taken by the owners and employees in their work and you will also have a chance to have a look at the horses and ponies.
If it not possible to visit before booking that first lesson and the booking is made by phone the riding school will need to know your height and weight so that they can ensure that they select a suitable horse or pony for your lesson.
Warning: Riding uses the muscles you never knew you had! Therefore it is best not to be over-ambitious and just to book a half-hour lesson for the first time. Be prepared for some aching in the day or two to follow until you've had a couple of lessons and your muscles have got used to it.