Horseback riding: The basics
Why ride: If you want contact with animals while engaging in sport, if you like the outdoors, if you feel comfortable holding the reins and wearing spurs.
* Where: There are horse stables all over Israel. Contact information for many of them can be found on the Israeli horse portal (www.soos.co.il). The most common riding style is western (American), although some stables also teach the English style. The differences are in the equipment and the treatment of the animal.
* How long: Each ranch offers half-hour introductory sessions, which include explanations about the horse and about riding. In the first few lessons, students ride accompanied by a guide, until they gain confidence and feel comfortable with the horse. After about four lessons, riders can venture out alone on the ranch. After about a dozen lessons, some students may leave the ranch.
* Cost: At the Haela Ranch (www.haelaranch.com) in Nes Harim in the Jerusalem hills, a 45-minute lesson is NIS 120. Group lessons once a week for a month are NIS 400. The Avital Ranch (www.avitalranch.co.il) at Moshav Beit Yitzhak in the Sharon region offers private lessons (NIS 900 for 10 half-hour sessions) and group lesson (NIS 750 for ten 45-minute sessions). Those who want to continue riding beyond the basic lessons pay by the hour. Some people purchase a horse (starting price is NIS 15,000) and keep it in a stable. At this point the hobby can become expensive, due to both stable fees and maintenance costs.
* Equipment: The necessary equipment is no simple matter. Many ranches require their students to buy their own gear (helmets, boots) in advance. Some ranches are more amenable, and provide the gear for the first lessons. Equipment includes that for riding and for caring for the horse. A simple, inexpensive saddle is around NIS 600. Other needed accessories include stirrups and reins, which add another few hundred shekels. Spurs are at least NIS 150, as are riding pants. Simple riding boots start at NIS 100. Caring for the horse is also not cheap, although not as expensive as the gear.
* Why ride: If you want contact with animals while engaging in sport, if you like the outdoors, if you feel comfortable holding the reins and wearing spurs.
* Factoids: Cicciolina arrived at the Italian senate riding on a horse (Nero did so as well, a few hundred years before her). Famous horses include Ed, the talking horse from the television show; Sea Biscuit, who starred in the fine film with Toby McGuire; and Negro Caballo, the most wonderful horse of all from Erich Kastner's book "The 35th of May."