A Strathmore-based ranch is offering learn-to-ride clinics for residents of Langdon and southeast Rocky View County who are interested in learning the basics of western-style horseback riding this spring.
The Humblehorse Ranch hosts the one-day clinics for beginner and out-of-practice riders on select Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. from March through to June, and starting again in September.
Certified western riding coach Becky Skuter has been coaching at the ranch for about 17 years. She said she started the introductory riding clinics in March as a way to help people in the community build confidence around horses.
“It’s a major accomplishment when you’re able to control a 1,500-pound animal and actually become a partner with them,” Skuter said. “It’s awesome stress relief getting out and riding with other people.
“It’s an opportunity to experience things that you can’t doing anywhere else,” she added. “A horse can take you places that you can’t go in the tops of mountains – it's just an amazing all-around experience.”
The ranch offers clinics for participants in different age groups, including one for youth aged eight to 14, and another clinic for ages 15 and older.
Skuter said the clinics are a great intro for people who have worked with horses before but want to get back into it, or for those who have never experienced anything to do with the animals.
“I have a herd of about 26 horses, so [participants] get to watch the whole herd run in, they get signed up with a horse for the day and then they’ll get a chance to do a full ground program – learning the behaviour, safety, and everything on the ground,” she said.
The session also touches on theory, safety, tack, round-pen training demonstrations and more, followed by a chance to get on the horse and go for a ride.
After the clinic is completed, participants will receive a certificate of achievement proving they have completed level one of the training. They can then choose to take additional lessons at the ranch or pursue other riding clinics.
“[Participants] have a better idea what they’re jumping into rather than singing up blindly into a four-week riding lesson and they’re already committed,” Skuter said. “It gives [participants] confidence – it gives a really good base.”
According to Skuter, all equipment from the helmet down to the riding boots will be supplied for the participants at each clinic. The ranch will also provide a pre-packaged lunch as part of the program.
“They can basically bring themselves and get a chance to meet other people in a similar situation as them,” she said. “[The clinics] bring everyone together to mingle and get back down to the basics, and get a good understanding of the horse, horse riding and everything that goes into it.”
As far as COVID-19 safety protocols are concerned, the ranch complies with Alberta Equestrian Federation requirements and will be limiting participation at the clinics to 10 people at a time – divided into groups of five. Skuter said she encourages participants to stay home if they are feeling signs or symptoms of illness, as the ranch will refund any money or provide placement at a later clinic.
“Safety is our number-one priority and riding is a non-essential service, but it’s something that is, as far as I’m concerned, essential to your mental health,” Skuter said.
She added the ranch will be implementing social distancing both in the arena and in the bunkhouse, but masks will not be required to be worn outdoors unless the participant chooses to wear one.
“When you are on a live animal, [instructors] need to be able to read your emotions and your face – if you’re terrified, scared, or can’t properly verbalize, that becomes a safety issue,” she said.
Skuter said the clinics are a great opportunity for people to improve their mental health after the toll of the pandemic.
“I think we can all agree that the pandemic has changed a lot of people’s lives, it’s taken a lot away as far as being able to mingle, and people have suffered from depression,” she said. “This gives an opportunity to get back to the basics, [be] outside in nature and help build people’s confidence back up.”
“The horses are so therapeutic – you usually leave with a big smile on your face.”