English riders get 'leg up' in horseback lessons

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Western horseback riding may be the standard style in the Rocky Mountains, but English riding prevails in the rest of the world.

That may be because English riders develop skills that can be applied to a wide variety of horseback sports, from fox hunting to bronco riding, longtime instructor Becky Thayer said.

Thayer will help beginners learn basic English riding skills during a three-hour course that starts Saturday and continues March 19 and 26.

The class is geared toward 5- to 11-year-olds, but anybody is welcome to participate.

"This is more toward entry level, for them to try it and see if they like it," Thayer said.

One of the biggest differences between English and Western riding is the saddle. English saddles have no horn to hold onto and are less bulky, making the horse more sensitive to the rider's leg signals.

English saddles and stirrups typically are easier to fit to the rider.

"For teaching, I vastly prefer English because the saddle doesn't do as much of the work, and the child has to participate more actively in riding skills," Thayer said.

During the class, students will learn how to get on and off ponies, adjust stirrups, hold the reins and use their legs to ask the horse to move.

By the end of the lesson series, students should be able to do a posting trot. Thayer will provide the ponies and helmets for the class.

There will be a maximum of five students per class, and assistants will be available to help beginning riders.

"It's basically about communicating with the pony," she said. "That's what the class is about."

Thayer has been teaching English riding for about 40 years and teaches private lessons on her 500-acre ranch near Craig. She and her horses have established a smooth learning system that helps riders quickly progress without accidents or setbacks, she said.

"My ponies are my best employees," Thayer said. "They know and understand and are totally plugged into the program."

English riding enthusiasts in the area hone their skills in the Yampa Valley Pony Club in Steamboat Springs. Children ages 8 and older can participate in the club and earn credentials and skill ratings through the international Pony Club organization.

Thayer hopes to join forces with other English riders in West Routt and Moffat counties to start another club "down valley" that would accept younger riders.

Western riding may be more popular on the Western Slope, but competitive opportunities are offered at the Routt County Fair and through Alpine Horse & Rider, a regional riding organization. More competitions take place on the Front Range, Thayer said.

Students interested in learning English riding skills or pursuing the sport also can take lessons from Thayer at her ranch. The price is about $20 to $25 an hour for lessons. That price is negotiable depending on how often students ride at the ranch.

Students also may work off the cost of their lessons by doing various chores around the ranch, she said.

For more information, call Thayer at 824-0311.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares, call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com.

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