5 Horseback Riding Tips for Beginners
Updated: Feb 13, 2020
I have been lucky enough to be married for 10 years to a wonderful man. When we met, he was not a 'horse' person nor even a farm person. (He is my city boy turned metro farmer!) However, he has always been supportive of my love and passion for horses. We have owned multiple farms together, and he is very involved in the day-to-day operations, often helping me with barn chores when he isn't working. When I am sick or busy with our girls, he always picks up the slack in the barn, no questions asked.
Up to this point, he has not expressed any serious interest in having his own horse. He always joked it was "my thing." But to my shock, he was browsing on Facebook the other day and a beautiful black draft/cross mare popped up on his timeline. He immediately showed her to me, and that day we drove 2 hours to try her out. I think it was love at first sight for both of them. Raven, as we fondly named her, is now a member of our ‘pasture puppies.’ She is an absolute saint, and I look forward to watching her and my husband blossom together.
This post is lovingly dedicated to the beginning of his riding journey. You can read tons of horse-riding tips for beginners, but these are a few sensible suggestions that will help you at the beginning of your riding journey:
1. Be safe
Even with the gentlest horse, riding can be dangerous. You are working around a 1,000+lb animal, so accidents can happen. If something spooks your horse, you could easily find yourself on a run-away animal or thrown off completely. That's why it's essential to always dress appropriately. Wearing a helmet while riding, regardless of your experience level, is critical to your safety. It's also important to wear riding boots with excellent traction on the bottom anytime you are working around horses. A boot made of sturdy leather will help protect your toes in case your horse accidentally steps on your foot. (If that happens, don't try to pull your foot out. Instead, push on the horse and he will move over.) Good traction is important to help prevent you from slipping while working around your horse as well as keeping your feet firmly in your stirrups while riding.
2. Take short rides at first
If you are not used to riding, a long ride can make you sore and stiff all over, especially your inner leg muscles. Riding is a sport, and it requires correct posture, a good seat, core strength, and leg strength. As a beginner, it will take time for your muscles to adjust.
3. Be consistent
Being fair and consistent is the best way to keep your horse respectful to you as the leader. You need to set clear rules and consistently yet gently enforce them. A common beginner slip-up is allowing your horse to stop at the gate every time around the arena. If you let your horse slow down, drift, or stop near the arena entrance, he will continue this behavior until you as the rider break that habit.
4. Use your whole body to ride
The first aid when riding is learning to move your horse forward. This forward energy is created from the pressure of the rider's legs. Using your lower leg and calf, firmly squeeze until the horse begins to move forward. Next, you will use your seat to follow the motion of the horse. To turn your horse, you will use your entire upper body. First, your head, neck, and shoulders should turn toward the direction you want the horse to go. By doing this, your weight will naturally shift to slightly heavier in the stirrup of the direction you want to go. Next, you will use your hands on the reins to indicate to the horse the direction you would like to turn. When you are ready to stop your horse, you will sit heavily in your seat, gently pulling back on both reins and saying WOAH.
5. Be light-handed
Your hands are one of the primary methods of communication with your horse. When you have light hands, you have gentle and responsive hands. Your hands are part of the direct connection between you and your horse through the reins and bit. The rider's hands should move softly, without jarring or hitting the horse in the mouth. Observers should barely be able to see the communication between the rider's hands and their horse.
Sally Swift, the amazing equestrian and author, uses excellent imagery in her book, Centered Riding, to help her students understand light hands. "Imagine you are holding a little bird in your hands instead of the reins; would you squeeze with a death grip? No, because you'd kill the bird! If you imagine a little bird fluttering about in your hand, you will hold the reins lightly, gently, calmly."