Riding your pony can be a safe and very rewarding hobby. However, you must ensure that you educate yourself about equestrian safety and eliminate the risks.
If you haven't ridden before, it is advised that you take lessons from a professional rider first. Lessons aren't cheap, so finding another inexperienced rider to learn with can help to reduce costs. Your teacher will start you off learning the basics and make you aware of riding safety, covering things that you may never have even thought of! If you haven't ridden in a while and want to get back into it, maybe just a starter lesson to refresh the basics would be best.
You must always wear a helmet!
Horse riding helmets are specially designed for impact to the back of the head, as in most cases the back of the head is where you are most likely to get injured if you fall. Suitable boots are also important — as mentioned above a slight heel of about an inch will stop your foot slipping through your stirrups and a low tread on the soul will allow your foot out of the stirrup in case you fall. If your foot were to get caught in your stirrup you could end up being dragged along by your pony. There are specially designed safety stirrups that break away if you fall.
Be alert when riding
When you take your pony out on a trail, you must stay alert. It can be easy to become relaxed while plodding along and chatting to other riders, so try to stay alert and aware of your surroundings. You'll need to always check the surface you are riding on, what’s going on around you, your distance from other riders and your pony's response to your cues. It's always best to know that in the case of an emergency you know you can react quickly and that your pony can too!
Be road safe
Horses and ponies are easily frightened, and will panic if they hear any sudden loud noises, or see fast-moving traffic if you are on the roads. A lot of riders will avoid roads at all costs, however some trails require going on the roads to get to them. If you know you will need to go on the roads, The British Horse Society provides road safety training and operated a Riding and Road Safety Test. This way, you will be taught everything you need to know and be well prepared for the roads. Always wear high visibility clothing when riding on the roads, and avoid going out on the roads when there's low visibility.
If you are in the field or near stables with your pony, be aware that again, with any loud noises your pony could panic. It's best not to stand behind your pony, because they can kick and if anything frightens them you could risk being struck by your pony's leg. Young children will also need to be aware that they need to keep calm and not run around or shout as this can easily cause your pony some distress. In some cases, if a pony becomes very frightened they can rear up and their instinct is usually to run away.
While you are around your pony, remain calm, talk to him, stroke him gently and always reassure him that everything is fine and don't raise your voice. Try not to make any big or sudden movements either, as this can frighten your pony. Never stand directly in front or behind him as he won't be able to see you. When you approach your pony always come towards his side rather than directly in front.
Make sure that there is always someone else nearby to assist and keep an eye on you when you take your pony out for a ride. This way, there will be someone close by to help you if something goes wrong. As a beginner, you should have someone else with you at all times when you are with your pony.
Leading your pony
When you lead your pony somewhere, always stand by his neck so that he can see you clearly, and lead him gently by pulling lightly on the rope. Never wrap the remaining rope around your hands as you risk being injured if the your pony decides to bolt. Talk to your pony all the time, and use the same words when you want him to do something — for example, to walk forward say 'walk', to lift his foot say 'lift' and he'll soon get used to these words. Never rush your horse and keep your pace the same as his. Check for anything that might frighten him, and if you do spot anything, remain calm and either change direction away from the danger or handle the situation calmly.
When returning your pony to the field or stable after a ride, tie him up before you remove all the tack. Always talk to him and stroke him to show that he's behaved well. When you have taken everything off and finished grooming and washing him, remove his halter and leave him to eat his food. You should find that a happy, calm pony will remain standing beside you until you walk away.