I interviewed Stephanie Proffe, who teaches horseback riding at Fox Tail Farm in Smithtown. I love horseback riding and go at least once a week. Right now my favorite style of riding is English style.
I asked Stephanie questions that you would probably like to know if you want to become a beginner horseback rider. I have been taking lessons with Stephanie for three years. Stephanie has been riding horses for 21 years and has been teaching for 10 years. She has taught many students during that time and still keeps in touch with many of them.
I asked her what type of horse she thinks would be good for beginners. She told me: "A good horse is a good horse — I don’t judge too much based on a breed. Some breeds are better depending what you are asking of them as far as a riding discipline, so that should be taken into consideration. Age is a factor, also. I would not typically use a young horse to teach a new rider. Young horses are learning as well, so a more educated rider is better suited. A horse that has a steady, smooth gait and is very confident in the job you are asking of them are great qualities."
I also wanted to know what was the first thing she usually taught to beginners. Stephanie said that she spends a lot of time working on posture with beginners. A strong position on a horse is key to safety. There are terms that we use when riding that may not make sense to people who don’t have a knowledge of horses so we go over “horse language.” She likes to conclude each lesson with questions about our riding equipment or about the horse so the rider has more of an understanding other than just riding.
I wanted to know what is a good age to get in the saddle and start to learn about horseback riding. She told me that she has started basic riding as young as 4. It depends on the individual and their attention span. Generally little ones are on a line, almost like a leash, until they gain enough strength to ride on their own.
Since most of us can’t ride a horse every day, I was wondering if there were off-the-horse exercises kids should work on. Stephanie told me that horseback riding is hard to imitate off the horse so the more time in the saddle, the better. However, a strong core is important, and some leg exercises like squats are good for strength. Stretching is important for some riders who have tighter muscles.
Most people want to know about cost. A half-hour lesson costs upward of $60 on Long Island, though that varies. Stephanie said, “Horseback riding is not an inexpensive sport, but what the horses give back to us is priceless.”
Finally, I wanted to know how she inspires kids to start horseback riding. Stephanie told me that horseback riding has so much to offer. She grew up riding and learned so many life lessons through it, such as gaining confidence and assertiveness, learning general first aid, learning what hard work actually means (cellphones down) and much more. The horses are so good at reading energy so if you’re having a bad day, maybe hugging a horse will help.
Tara Dungate and Veronica Weeks' fifth-grade class, Bretton Woods Elementary School, Hauppauge