Horseback riding has become such a popular hobby that there is even a worldwide equine tour company called Equitours that offers horse-centric riding vacations.
But before you head out on a tour or sign up for a day-long horse riding excursion, you need to learn the basics. A professional can make riding a horse look so easy, but even actors in movies have to train for weeks or use a stunt double for horse riding scenes.
After all, according to The Horse, your companion in horse riding likely weighs in at anywhere from 600 to 2,000 pounds (272-972 kilograms), depending on breed. So you want to make sure you know what your job is and how to do it, or risk injury or worse.
In this article, learn the basics of horse riding for your both own safety and that of your equine companion.
Before You Ride Your Horse
There are certain things you will want to do before you ever get on a horse for the first time. Depending on your source of instruction, some of these things may be done for you ahead of time while you are still learning.
- Obtain the proper riding gear for yourself (such as boots, gloves, hat, sturdy pants, long-sleeved shirt, dust bandana).
- Learn how to put on your horse’s riding gear (saddle, halter, bit and bridle, et al).
- Learn how to tie your horse’s lead rope.
- Learn how to properly groom your horse.
Here is a video of some great tips for beginner horse riders!
First Steps Towards Riding Your Horse
If you were learning to drive a car, you wouldn’t have to worry about winning the car’s trust. It would sit there in the driveway until you turned the key in the ignition. After that, it would go where you direct it with no argument.
But a horse is a living animal with a mind of its own. Depending on the breed and how much prior training the horse has experienced, it may be more or less willful or stubborn. But you won’t know this when you and your horse first meet.
So before you ever get on the back of your horse for the first time, you need to establish some trust and basic ground rules. In horse riding, this process usually starts with what is called “leading the horse.”
In your riding preparations, you learned to tie a lead onto your horse. This rope will be your tool to start getting to know your horse and vice versa. Your instructor will lead you through a series of exercises to start walking, stop walking, turn, back up and use visual and verbal cues to tell your horse what you want it to do.
Once you have mastered walking, you can try to lead your horse in a trot and practice all of the same maneuvers at this slightly faster pace. You and your horse should practice this a lot before you try riding. If you learn this process well, your horse will already have some trust in you as its rider before you ever try to climb on for the first time.
Your First Mount
A horse can look plenty big when you are standing on the ground. But even if you think you are aware of your horse’s height and size, it can be really eye-opening when you mount up (climb on) for the very first time!
The stirrups on either side of your horse’s saddle will serve as a sort of step-stool to help you get from the ground to your horse’s back. You can also temporarily use what is called a “mounting block” to help you get from the ground to the stirrups and then into the saddle.
Once you are up on the back of the horse, take a bit of time to orient yourself and also check to make sure all of your riding equipment is in place and secure. This is for your safety as well as your horse’s safety.
Of course, you will need to have a firm seat in the saddle or you risk being thrown or falling off while you are learning to ride! Horse & Rider offers these three key tips to staying in your saddle no matter what:
- Picture a foam ball in between your shoulder blades and hold it there. This posture will keep your back erect and your seat balanced.
- Stand up to center yourself. This will show you the right position for your legs and seat so you are balanced while sitting as well.
- Stop using the stirrups and let your pelvis and legs find their own natural secure grip around your horse’s body.
Check out this video of the most common mistakes beginner riders make:
Finally, it is time to go for a ride! Many new riders get so excited at this point that they forget everything they’ve just learned and just take off. You don’t want to do this….it is very dangerous for both you and your horse.
Your instructor will teach you several types of gaits: walking, trotting, jogging, cantering and loping.
Each of these will feel different to you as you sit in the saddle. Some might make you feel sore, so don’t try to do too much all at once. Little by little, with regular daily practice, you and your horse will learn to work together as a new riding team.