FORT RUCKER, Ala -- No matter what their skill level, the Fort Rucker Riding Stables provides a place for horse enthusiasts, young and old, to saddle up and hit the trails.

The stables, located on Hatch Road just south of the Silver Wings Golf Course, offer riding lessons throughout the year. The one-hour lessons are taught in a one-on-one format and are available for anyone ages 7 and older.

"Horseback riding is a marvelous way to enjoy nature with an equine companion," Martie Haverfield, recreation aide at the riding stables, said. "It is good exercise, and the experience of 'talking to a horse' through body language helps a person understand and accept an animal as a friend, companion, partner and working friend.

"Relax and look forward to becoming 'part' of the horse," she added. "The horse looks to the rider for direction, and responds to leg pressure, voice, seat movement, and weight position and hands controlling the reins."

Lessons are $30 per person with the owner's horse, or $40 per lesson with an instructor-furnished horse. Lessons are available Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Horseback riding can be a great experience for families, according to Haverfield, and families are welcome to take advantage of the lessons. However, lessons must take place on an individual basis.

"Families can sign up for separate lessons and watch each others' lessons, but the instructor must concentrate fully on one rider if they are young or a novice," she said. "A horse usually weighs about 1,000 pounds or more and can easily hurt a rider if they don't know what they are doing. An instructor will teach safety first, and what to do in an awkward or potentially dangerous situation."

According to Haverfield, riders will first be taught to be comfortable and unafraid of the horse, and will learn the proper way to mount, sit and direct the horse.

"Always remember a horse will usually try to do what the rider is asking if they ask in a way the horse can understand," she said. "Body language and some voice commands are usually what a horse understands. If the horse doesn't understand your language, don't blame him, you are the one not being clear in what you want of him. Don't expect to go galloping through the woods after your first few lessons."

Although the lessons are ideal for first-time or inexperienced riders seeking to improve their abilities, seasoned riders are always welcome.

"Even the Olympic competitors still take lessons," Haverfield said. "The day you think you know it all is the day you are probably going to get hurt. You might as well stop riding at that point."

For riders who wish to use their own horse, Haverfield stressed the importance of trailer safety when transporting the horse.

"Trailer safety is essential," she said. "Never trailer the horse with saddle, bridle, etc., on the horse. Make sure the floor is solid and safe -- no sharp points, etc. The trailer should be big enough that it fits the size of the horse.

"A saddle should fit the horse as well as the rider," she added. "Pads should be clean and comfortable, so they won't pinch when the saddle is put on. The bridle should not pinch the head. The bit should be positioned properly in the horses' mouth and not be severe."

How should riders dress for lessons? Haverfield suggested comfortable, but practical attire.

"Riders should wear long pants and a shoe with a hard sole --- no tennis shoes, sandals or flip-flops," she said. "Your foot could easily slip through the stirrup and that can be a serious problem. Dress accordingly for the weather and the activity that you will be doing. Young riders should always wear a hard hat (helmet). Always check and double check the tightness of the girth. It should be snug, but not pinch, and positioned properly on the horse. Check all leather for dry rot and weakness."

According to Haverfield, progress can be made in just a few lessons if the rider is focuses and dedicated to learning.

"It depends entirely on the dedication, determination and willingness to learn," she said. "Most people can be competent enough to sit on the horse comfortably at a walk, and direct the animal after two or three lessons.

"However, it is seldom wise to ride alone unless you are experienced," she added. "Too many unexpected things can happen and, remember, there is safety in numbers."

For more information, call 255-0021 or 255-4305.