Back In The Saddle with Stephanie Bell – Coming Back to Riding

There seems to be a trend lately and it is that people who grew up riding are getting back into horses.  A few of these people are all connected to one of our local trainers, Stephanie Bell.  Stephanie has some great thoughts for people getting back into riding and states that one of the great things about riding is that you can always come back to it, no matter how long it has been, even in your retirement years.  Each section has tips for riders coming back after years out of the saddle as well as just a few months.

Lessons and Trainers – Years off:  Review the basics with a trainer.  When looking for a trainer, do some research.  Talk to other horse people you know, look for directories like that sorts trainers by discipline and area, go observe trainers giving lessons to see if they suit your learning style, take lessons from a couple different trainers and ultimately, find someone you trust.

Months off:  Stephanie suggests setting some goals for the new season. These can be anything from riding a certain number of times a week, moving up a division at the horse show, or improving your sitting trot. Depending on your goals, it may be productive to take some lessons and share your specific goals with your instructor.  They can give you feedback on a realistic timeline and plan.  Even if you have your own horse, it might even be a good idea to take a lesson or two on a school horse.  For example, if you are hoping to learn a new movement, it may be helpful to ride a horse that already knows how to do the maneuver and get the feel for it.  Also, ask your instructor for “homework” to practice in between lessons and recreate some of the exercises you felt good about. If you are taking lessons, both private and small group lessons are valuable.  The private lessons allow you to focus on issues specific to you and your horse while the group lessons give you the opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes.  Taking a video of you riding can be very helpful.  Sometimes in riding things will feel very different than they look.

Horses! – Years off:  Initially, school horse lessons are a good place to start.  You can get your feet wet again without a big commitment and you get to try different horses.  If you had been a more experienced rider in the past, it may not take long for you to outgrow school horses.  Leasing or a partial lease on a horse is a good next step.  Leasing is a good way to experience some of the benefits of horse ownership without as much of a financial and time commitment.  Eventually, you may decide to buy your own horse.  When you are looking to either lease or buy it’s a good idea to enlist the help of a trainer – they can help search for, evaluate, and negotiate prices for horses.  They are also great resources for getting you connected with a vet, farrier, etc.  Also remember that if you hire a trainer to help you find the right horse, they have a vested interest in doing everything they can to make sure that horse is a good fit for you.

Months off:  Make sure your partner is up to date with their dental work and their hooves are in good shape and shod, if necessary.  Put together a fitness plan for your horse.  While you’re getting them in shape again there’s a few exercises that are always good to include:  TRANSITIONS!, adjustability – lengthening and shortening stride, bending, and eventually riding up and down hills – even consider riding bareback a little.

Equipment –Years off:  If you still have some of your old tack, it may be time to update.  Some of your items may be just fine, but others may need to be replaced for reasons better than just keeping up with trends.  If you have a saddle you love, it may work – you’ll need to have the tree checked and if an older English saddle, it may need to be re-flocked.  It’s also important to check all of the leather, stitching and hardware.  If you have an old helmet, Stephanie suggests investing in a new helmet regardless of if your old one still looks great.  New safety standards have been implemented in recent years and it’s recommended that helmets be replaced after each fall or number of years.

Months off:  Clean/condition and look over all of your tack to make sure it is in good repair and nothing needs repaired or replaced.  Also, if you ever ride alone Stephanie suggests getting the Horse Rider SOS App (

Fitness– Stephanie believes that a rider’s emotional confidence improves when they feel stronger and have more body awareness, translating into better riding.  When you’re only riding once or twice a week, it’s great if you can incorporate other activities like yoga or Pilates.  These will improve core strength and body awareness.

Your fitness level should relate to your goals – but no matter what they are, improved fitness does translate into improved confidence and better riding at all levels.  There are fitness classes specifically designed for riders – a great way to meet other horse crazy people!

On a final note Stephanie states, “expect riding to be as rewarding as you remember, but there may be some other things you experience differently.  As a child you may not have had much interest in the “why?” behind the exercise.  Typically adults understand the theories intellectually but struggle when their execution isn’t perfect.  It’s important to remember that although riding is and should be challenging, it should primarily be safe and fun- forgive yourself and your horse for mistakes.”

Stephanie Bell’s lesson, training and showing program is called North Star Equestrian LLC (see and operates out of Lone Star Equestrian in Evergreen as well as other venues in the Denver area.  Her students range from 6 to 60’s. She teaches the basics in most all riding disciplines, but the majority of her education and experience is in English. She lives in Englewood with her husband and 4-year-old daughter.  Stephanie can be reached at or 720-209-8361.  Heather McWilliams © 2013.  For past articles, events, business directory and horse properties, go to