Horses have played an important role throughout human history, both in warfare and in peaceful pursuits. Man and horse have shared a long relationship together and still do in sport
This faithful companion, used as a working animal to pull carriages or plow the land, was also a warhorse in the cavalry. And though the use of horses has become obsolete, horseback riding remains to date, a very distinguished sport.
Types of sports
Sports that use horses are quite varied and each one requires a unique set of skills to master. Apart from the normal trekking and cross-country rides, there are competitive sports that take perseverance and training. Let’s take a look at a few of them:
This requires navigating a course of jumps set up inside a stadium designed for equestrian events. In a show jumping event, the stamina, speed and flexibility of the horse are tested, along with the relationship that the horse has with its rider. Winners are determined depending on the least number of faults accumulated and the overall speed with which the course is completed. Faults are mainly awarded when parts of the fence jumped fall or when a horse refuses to jump a fence.
Defined by the International Equestrian Federation as “the highest expression of horse training” where “horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements”, dressage is a beloved competitive sport. Its main purpose is to develop, through standardized progressive training methods, the horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to perform, thereby maximizing its potential as a riding horse.
Polo is a team sport played on horseback in which the objective is to score goals against an opposing team. Players score by driving a small white plastic or wooden ball into the opposing team’s goal using a long-handled mallet. The traditional sport of polo is played at speed on a large grass field and each polo team consists of four riders and their mounts. Polo is also known as the “Sport of Kings”. Surely you have seen a picture or two of princes William and Harry playing polo.
Rodeo, the ultimate cowboy’s sport, is divided into several activities that include bareback riding and saddle bronc riding. Bareback riding produces some of the wildest action in the sport. Throughout the eight seconds ride, the cowboy must grasp the rigging (a handhold made of leather and rawhide) with only one hand and hold on to his ride till the end. The rider is judged on his control during the ride and on his spurring technique. Saddle bronc riding is the rodeo’s “classic” event. Participants compete to see who can display the best style while riding untrained horses. Each rider must begin his ride with his feet over the bronc’s shoulder to give the horse the advantage. A rider who synchronizes his spurring action with the animal’s bucking efforts will receive a high score.
Advantages of horseback riding
Riding a horse can be beneficial to your health and well being, as it involves a lot of discipline, exercise, the outdoors and being in sync with another creature.
Horseback riding improves respiration and blood circulation as all exercises do. What makes it different is that the activity involves having good posture on the back of the horse for an extended period of time, which translates to better posture overall for the rider. It promotes balance and coordination during the movement of the horse and the motor functions of the rider improves as a result. A seasoned horseback rider will also develop great sensory integration with their surroundings, developing alertness and the ability to perceive and handle emergency situations better.
Apart from the obvious health benefits of horse riding, the emotional aspect of it should not be taken lightly. Countless folks who have taken up horseback riding report the enjoyment they experience during the ride. The sense of enjoyment is derived from both the joy of riding and feeling connected with the great outdoors. The heartfelt satisfaction leads to lower stress levels and optimism in their daily lives.
A horse is a large animal. In order to ride a horse properly, a rider needs to exert control and master the skills required to make the horse respond to your commands. Achieving control over a large animal instills enormous self-esteem and confidence that are beneficial in facing everyday challenges.
10 tips for beginners
Riding horses can be great fun, but as a beginner, there are some important things to keep in mind:
1. Wear the right clothes
Wearing the right clothes is important. Helmets can either be purchased or borrowed from the riding school. Boots are the preferred footwear with a 1-2cm heel, as small heels prevent slippage from the stirrups.
2. Be careful when approaching a horse
Approaching a horse cannot be done from any direction. There is a special technique involved. The horse needs to be approached from the side near the shoulder. Coming straight at a horse means it cannot see you because of its blind spots.
3. Use a mounting block
Mounting a horse from the ground, especially for beginners, is not recommended as it puts a strain on the rider’s back, physical pressure on the horse and also dislodges the saddle.
4. Keep your heels down
When mounted, a beginner needs to keep the heels in the down position in the stirrups so as to be prepared for an occasion when the horse stops suddenly. This is to avoid the possibility of the rider flying over the horse’s head when unprepared.
5. Keep your shoulders back
Maintaining posture where the shoulders roll back and not forward helps to keep the rider’s back straight and avoid the horse pulling the rider forward.
6. Hold the reins properly
For better control over the horse, the rider’s hands need to be still to maintain continuous contact with the reins. The right way to hold the reins is to take one in each hand and hold them between the little finger and the third finger. Keep thumbs on top, facing upward with fingers gently curled around the reins.
7. Don’t look down
When the ‘eyes up’ rule is followed, the rider can plot the course and steer around obstacles better.
8. Work on your balance
Maintaining proper balance on a horse comes with practice and needs to be developed over time. Balance is related to correct posture.
9. Dismount carefully
The rider begins to dismount by first removing feet from the stirrups. Holding the reins with the left hand, the rider leans forward, raises the right leg high to clear the horse’s haunches and the saddle, and pushing forward jumps to the ground.
10. Thank your horse
Always give your horse a pat or a treat after dismounting as a thank you. In many cases you are encouraged to brush down your mount so as to form a stronger bound.
Learn it … enjoy it!
Many clubs in Lebanon offer horseback riding classes as well as unique rides in the outdoors. Take your pick from and make sure to reserve your place before you head out.
The Lebanese Equestrian Club
(Club Hippique Libanais)
The club offers riding classes and obstacle jumping starting from the age of six. For more experienced riders, the main arena is lit specifically for nighttime riding. Private stables are available for horse owners.
Cecile El Solh +961 3 217736
Mechref club offers classes in horseback riding and obstacle jumping starting from the age of 5. For those who fancy a ride in the village, trail tours are available and these last about an hour or two. Make sure to book ahead of time.
Mohammad Al Dana +961 3 505505
Zeghrine Club (Metn)
Zeghrine Club is a professional school that trains beginners in jumping and dressage. The pony club receives children as young as two years old for training. For those who wish to explore the beautiful wilderness of the Metn, the club offers two-hour rides in the forest for more experienced riders.
Georges Francis +961 3 632433
Valley Club Aintoura
The Poney Club at Valley Club Aintoura will teach your kids horseback riding, jumping and dressage starting from the age of seven. For those who wish to try out riding, guided tours are available as well as private stables and classes.
Mona Daher +961 3 522822
Learn horseback riding, jumping and dressage in the beautiful Keserwan area. The pony club trains kids from the age of 4 to 18. Private stables and private classes are also available.
+ 961 9 300500
Aley Equi Club
Aley Equi Club offers horseback riding and obstacle jumping classes, as well as a unique ride in the forest that lasts seven hours. However, the club ensures your riding skills before you embark on this long journey.
+961 5 558112
River Ranch Riding School
This professional riding school offers beginner and advanced classes in horseback riding and obstacle jumping from the age of six. River Ranch’s unique experience is a ride in the river and on the shore. While in the river, the water is sometimes so deep that the horse is immersed in it. On the beach you will enjoy riding over golden sands and crashing waves. These outings however are reserved for advanced riders.
Andre +961 3 811411 or +961 70 118818
Bzebdine Hidden Valley
Bzebdine Hidden Valley takes kids from the age of six to introduce and train them in horseback riding. Nature trails are available for those who wish to ride in the surrounding pine forest.
Tony Germany +961 3 466662
A variety of horseback riding options are offered at El Rancho. You can begin by learning the basics of good riding, enjoy a ride in the forest or if you are a member of the club, you can learn and practice the art of the rodeo!
Jose Daoud +961 3 777086 or +961 1 392880
Spring Hills Country Club
This professional riding school’s main focus is your little ones. They will learn to ride, jump obstacles and dressage techniques with the help of a well-trained staff. Being in the outdoors and bonding with a horse will be highly beneficial for your little tots.
+961 1 681242
Located in Hermel, Crazy Rafting offers the joys of horseback riding for all those who come to their club, seeking adventure and high adrenaline activities. After spending the day, you can take advantage of the riding facilities for free.
+961 3 743051
Joella Kattouah Tabet, owner of Equisystem, sheds light on the most important piece of equipment you can buy for yourself and for the horse.
1. The Helmet
This essential piece of equipment should be the first thing you buy for yourself once you start practicing the sport regularly. Make sure it is light, well aerated, comfortable and fashionable to ensure you will wear it. You should never go horseback riding without your helmet.
2. The Saddle
This is the most expensive piece of equipment you will ever buy for horseback riding. The saddle should be comfortable for you and for the horse. It is usually double sided to fit these requirements. A quality saddle can be passed on from generation to generation, making it a very sound investment!
Where to buy
Le Mall Dbaye +961 4 526101
Zouk Mosbeh (next to Dream Park) +961 9 233758
The Lebanese Equestrian Federation monitors the sport in the country, organizes competitions and takes riders abroad. Though jumping obstacles has been practiced for a long time in Lebanon, dressage has recently been introduced. As a matter of fact, last year the Lebanese delegation won the bronze medal at the Qatar Arab Competition. For those interested in watching horseback riding competitions and performances, the LEF organizes an event every Sunday at various clubs in Lebanon, from horse shows to jumping and dressage competitions.
Check out the program at equileb.com or chl-lebanon.com
The Beirut Hippodrome hosts horse racing every Sunday. Though we do not condone betting, a visit to the hippodrome can be an interesting outing. Horse races have their own community and culture and although you will not see the elegant hats of the international opens, you will certainly meet interesting individuals who will give you some unique pointers. Races take place every Sunday at 1.30pm. There are usually 7 races scheduled.
After passing National Museum, take a left on the highway and turn back after the first U turn. The entrance of the Hippodrome will be on your right.
+961 1 632515