Looking for a great way to enjoy winter with horses? The University of Connecticut’s Animal Science Department offers a winter riding program to the public. Dressage, hunt seat, and Western lessons, for advanced beginner through advanced riders. Sign up now as spaces go quickly for sessions, Jan. 2 to Jan. 18, 2018, held at UConn Storrs campus. Yes, there is an indoor arena.
There are enormous long-term benefits to riding – for life, in business, and for emotional and overall wellbeing. “The Impact of Equine Activities on Youth Development Study” conducted by the Pennsylvania State University Department of Dairy and Animal Science in co-operation with the American Youth Horse Council, 4-H, the American Quarter Horse Youth Association, United States Pony Clubs and the National High School Rodeo Association in 2006 outlines key findings. “Youths who learnt horsemanship skills showed better decision-making, thinking, communicating, goal-setting and problem solving. Working with horses helped them develop positive values and life skills that are transferred to a young person’s daily life. Read the full report linked here (PDF) or a story about the findings here.
(For those who ride or have been around horses, the lessons learned go far beyond any report. To learn the language of equines and explore on horseback gives unsurpassed confidence for life challenges and in the business arena. Exposure to horses is very good for people of all ages.
To get in the saddle, riders-to-be must fulfill certain age requirements and fill out forms (see below). Alena Meacham is director of riding program and coach of the equestrian hunt seat, dressage, and Western teams. After earning her degree in equine business management from Johnson and Wales University, Alena was fortunate enough to intern with Olympic Silver Medalist Ann Kursinski and then went on and trained with many Grand Prix jumper and dressage trainers from the U.S. and Europe. Alena has a strong foundation in both balanced seat riding and forward seat riding. She has won numerous championships in both hunters and jumpers and is currently competing 1.20 meter jumpers at USEF Arated shows. To reach her, call (860) 486-3377 or email Alena.Meacham@UConn.edu.
Here are some of the frequently asked questions from the UConn program. (Snd remember, the only “dumb” question is the one you don’t ask.)
1. What is the difference between Western and hunt seat?
Most simply, the difference is in the saddle. Western riders learn a seated position and work in slower gaits. Western uses a saddle with a horn – the purpose of which is for a cowboy to tie a rope to when roping. Hunt Seat learns jumping position and posting at more forward gaits. Both styles of riding focus on the form and balance of the rider on the horse. With Hunt Seat, the riders eventually learn how to jump fences.
2. What type of clothing and shoes should I wear?
Comfortable, fitted clothing should be worn. No flapping clothing, scarves or jewelry. Riders should wear long pants, shorts should not be worn. Boots with a 1” heel and ankle support or riding boots should be worn – sneakers are not allowed.
3. Are hunt seat and English the same style of riding?
Yes, both terms refer to the same style of the riding.
4. What is the age requirement to ride in UConn’s summer riding program ? Do you make exceptions?
The minimum age is 11. If riders younger than 11 have had past experience an exception may be made only by the instructor. Riders need to be mature and tall enough to tack horses and fit on the saddle and into stirrups. Any exceptions need to be approved by the instructor before the first lesson. Contact the instructor at (860) 486-3377 for further information.
5. If I rode last season in UConn’s summer riding program, how do I determine which level to register for?
If you have been riding regularly since last summer there is a good chance you would be comfortable signing up for the same level as last year or the next level up. If you haven’t ridden since last summer, it would be wise to repeat the last level you rode in last summer and to start-up lessons slowly. Use the first three week session as a refresher course.
6. What is taught in the beginner class? Will we get to ride?
Beginner riders in their very first lesson will learn to tack up; learn how to work around a horse and learn how to clean the horse. After the completion of three weeks of beginner lessons, riders will know how to walk, trot, and canter, depending on the number of lessons and individual development.
7. What do the following terms mean?
Lope: A long, easy swinging stride. It’s an easy canter. Leads: Term used to indicate the horse’s leading leg in canter i.e. “right lead canter” or “left lead canter”. Diagonals: The horse’s legs move in pairs at the trot. The left diagonal is when the left foreleg and right hind leg move, the right diagonal is when the right foreleg and the left hind leg move. Canter: A smooth easy pace like a moderate gallop. Three-beat gait of the horse in which one hind leg strides first (the leading leg), followed by the opposite diagonal pair and finally the opposite foreleg. Called the lope in Western Riding. Trot: A horses gait in which the legs are lifted alternating diagonal pairs. A one – two rhythm.
8. Does UConn provide helmets and saddles? Can we bring our own?
Yes, we provide helmets and the tack necessary to ride, but it is recommended you bring your own helmet. Please leave your own saddle and tack at home. Our tack is fitted to each horse and using your own tack must be approved by the instructor.
9. Can two riders sign up for the same time and split the lesson?
No, the same rider is to show each week for their own time slot.
10. Are classes canceled due to poor weather and how do we find out about cancellations?
Classes are not canceled due to poor weather because UConn can hold lessons in the indoor Horsebarn Hill Arena, but please call Alena’s cell phone for questions on weather cancellations.
11. Do riders receive a refund if they miss a class due to illness or a schedule conflict? Can they make up the lesson missed?
No refund is given to riders who miss a lesson, but there may be opportunities available when a rider could make up a lesson in their current three-week session. The riding instructor would make this decision.
12. Do riders have to sign up for a two- or three-week session or can they just attend a few lessons in a session and just pay for only those classes attended?
Riders need to sign up for a full two- or three-week session at a time and pay for the entire session in advance. A deposit is needed in advance to reserve a space and payment of the remaining balance is made at the first lesson. We do not offer a “pay as you go” plan.
13. If the lessons are only one hour, how much of that hour will riders actually ride?
Actual riding in each lesson will be 45 to 50 minutes.
14. Where is the UConn Horsebarn Hill Arena?
The arena is located on Horsebarn Hill Road at the UConn Storrs, campus on the east side of Route 195. For more detailed directions, visit and view campus maps online.
15. Are the lessons considered private? Or are they semi-private?
They are group lessons, in which there will be 6-8 riders in each lesson.
16. How can I get on the mailing list for the next year?
Email your name, mailing address, and email address to UConnHorseRiding@UConn.edu to be placed on next year’s mailing list.
17. Can a rider register in all sessions throughout the summer?
Yes, the riding lessons are structured so that a new rider can sign up as a beginner in the 1st 3-week session and if the rider feels comfortable after 3 weeks they can continue on and register for the advance Beginner Level. Note, if you are determined to ride in more than 1 3-week session you should register for each session in advance. We require a deposit of $75.00 to reserve a slot in each session. Deposits will not be refunded upon cancellation. Lessons fill up quickly.
18. Can a rider use the same horse throughout each session? No, unfortunately we cannot guarantee that you will be able to ride the same horse throughout your session.