Thomas started riding lessons back at the end of May and has been going weekly for private lessons. The instructor has very reasonable rates, according to other parents whose kids ride elsewhere. And the best part is that she lives just 3.5 miles from us! Probably a mile through the woods, actually, but being on country roads and all . . . I only had my phone's camera to capture his first lesson, so the image is not great.
Thomas chose to ride Cinnamon, a pony, for the first few lessons, and with a Western saddle. Most of the students are girls who ride English. During that first lesson, I could see many times when he was trying hard not to smile and show how excited he was. Patty had him do some fun stuff to get used to being on the pony, including spinning around on the saddle, standing up on the saddle, riding with his feet not in the stirrups, and the very fun "pony carwash," in which she leads Cinnamon in a circle and sprays her and the rider with a hose. This pony does not flinch at anything--we were cheering and clapping before Thomas started riding, trying to get her attention, and she was not the least bit interested in us.
Emily started lessons a few weeks after Thomas, also choosing Western. Now that she's had a few lessons also, the kids help each other with the lessons--Emily will throw a basketball at Thomas while he's riding, and he'll throw it back to her, with Patty controlling the horse's lead, and vice versa. This is supposed to help them remember to use their legs and keep their thoughts on the horse even when something else is happening. They've also ridden Ivan, who is technically a horse, but only by an inch, so he's not huge.
After Emily had taken several lessons, I decided to take one myself. I also went with Western, riding Ivan. I had ridden Western a bit in Italy a looong time ago, and also taken about 3 English riding lessons while in college, and done a bit of trail riding on Western saddles. But that was all at least 18 years ago. I just remember feeling more save in the Western saddle, and the English lessons really tired my legs, having been told not to sit in the saddle at all.
Patty explained some of the differences to us between the Western and English saddles. She said that the Western saddle is harder than the English, first of all, with less padding. However, it does hold you in the saddle better. The horn of the Western saddle can hurt if you have to lean forward for some reason. There are nice diagrammed photos at the above two links.
The English is easier to get out of, important if you think you're going to be thrown, or just need to dismount quickly--you don't have to rise as high to swing your leg over. The English also has stirrup leathers that are not part of the saddle--they can release from the stirrup bar (here's a photo) if you do get thrown off or fall off and have a foot still in a stirrup, which hopefully reduced any injury to your foot/ankle/leg, and also prevents you from being dragged by the horse. The Western stirrup strap won't release. Gulp. There are even quick release (safety) stirrups themselves, which are part metal stirrup and part open with a strong rubber-band-type contraption on the outside of the stirrup which releases when pulled against.
Then there's the Australian stock saddle, a kind of hybrid of both types. That seems to be a nice compromise, and I wish we could ride with that saddle. If I recall what Patty told me, the seat is not as tall as the Western, so easier to get out of, doesn't have the horn, or has a smaller one, has the stirrup bar for safety, but isn't a small saddle like the English, so you are kept in the saddle a bit better. I am only taking lessons about once a month at this point, and would like to try the English saddle and bareback riding as well.
Wow--I've learned a lot in the past few weeks! I'd really love to hear recommendations from you on which style you prefer and why, and also on helmets, other gear, and books and movies that feature riding. The Man From Snowy River, which features an Australian saddle, was already a favorite around here, as is The Black Stallion, which uses racing saddles. I'm sure there are lots of Westerns to choose from, but what are your family's favorites? And what about movies with English riding? Not really interested in fox hunting, btw.
I did find this Amazon Listmania movie list, May The Horse Be With You(Movies for Horse Lovers), and this one of books, My Favorite Books About Horses. So that's a start! But I like hearing from friends, and would especially like recommendations that would appeal to boys.