Only 100 years ago, horses were the prime mode of transportation, and 200 years ago they were the only mode, other than walking or sailing. Riding brings back the one-ness with nature that riding evokes. It is important to keep in mind, that while humans may be "the boss," the horses typically weigh 500 kilograms (1100 pounds) and they can easily have their own way if not carefully finessed
There are two styles of riding, each with its own type of saddle: western and English.(which has a smaller saddle). There is also show jumping and dressage, which are Olympic equestrian events.
For those wanting more horseback riding than an hours or so, a dude ranch is an option. There's many of them around, and they can give you an immersion program into the day to day life of a cowboy. One piece of advice: book a few hours of riding beforehand to get your butt used to sitting in a saddle, to reduce saddle sores when you're doing it all day long. In some areas, you can take an escorted rising tour, where you travel on a horse and stay in various types of accommodation (ask about this!) on the trip.
In show jumping, riders and horses must jump a specially designed course of 15 to 20 obstacles, with "faults" (i.e. penalty points) if the horse refuses a jump, brings down the highest element of an obstacle (fence), or if they exceed the time allowed. If either the horse or rider falls, the pair is eliminated. The ultimate goal is a "clean" or no fault round. The sport evolved in the late 18th century from the sport of fox hunting. Some literature suggests Grand Prix ("big prize") style show jumping began in Paris in 1866, and in 1906 equestrian sports were added to Olympic competition.
Dressage is a sport to demonstrate harmony between rider and horse, performing routines with high levels of balance, rhythm, energy and precision. In dressage competition, riders perform individually and they ride in a pattern which includes several changes in pace and direction. This is a judged sport.
Typically, you'll need a horse, and the tack (saddle, bridle, etc), but there are lots of places you can rent a horse by the hour.
Appropriate clothing for riding includes jeans or other comfortable rugged pants. It will be rubbing a lot against the saddle and horse, and you certainly don't want them to rip when you stretch your leg over the horse (women might wear pantyhose under the pants to reduce chaffing). Shorts are NOT recommended, and depending on where you are riding, a long-sleeved shirt is strongly recommended to protect against bug bites. Footwear should be cowboy boots, or any boots or shoes with a good heel to stay in the stirrups. If you wear glasses, or sunglasses make sure they have a strap, so they won't slip off your head. Headgear for shade and bug protection is also advised; if you don't have a cowboy hat, a baseball cap or other hat with a cord (like a Tilley hat) will do fine. Many riding stables now require (and provide) helmets for kids, as a safety precaution. If you are riding English style, you will need jodhpurs or breeches and riding boots.
This is cattle country, and more than two dozen guest ranches that offer horseback riding in the surrounding hills and mountains, as well as a number of riding stables.
You can watch horseracing at Stampede Park (McLeod Trail & 17th Ave. S.E., Calgary); call (403) 261-0214, and at the Millarville Race Track south of town at (403) 931-3411 which has been holding races since 1905.
Spruce Meadows is one of the world's premier show-jumping venues, is just south of the city, just west of Highway 2 off Marquis of Lorne Trail (Hwy 22X). The jumping season runs from mid-June to mid-September.