All you need to know to finally get in the saddle
The very first time you see a horse you will think one of two things:
If you don't like horses, that's ok. You can now save yourself a lot of money and take up another hobby.
How do you feel about stamp collecting?
On the other hand, as exciting as collecting stamps might sound, should you end up hopelessly in love with horses, your life will never be the same.
Your horse will challenge you, and you will thank them for it.
The Joy And Benefits Of Horseback Riding
From the outside looking in, horseback riding may seem like it's all horse and no rider. But riding a horse is much more involved than just sitting and letting the horse do all the work.
From the beads of sweat dripping down your face to the aches and pains from hours of work, riding horses can be a very rewarding experience for the physical and mental health of the rider.
Here's the thing:
Most people might not consider how much of a real workout riding a horse can be. It challenges you to strengthen and stretch out your muscles by working on your legs, abdominals, shoulders, and back. Additionally, it also helps with your overall balance and coordination.
The movements required to command or cue a horse are based on your body awareness. It takes a clear mind, right balance, and strong legs to stay on the back of a horse.
But the joy of riding isn't all about the workout; it goes beyond all that.
Although riding can be frustrating and challenging at times, most people find it very relaxing and therapeutic.
And here's the truth:
When you ride you are not just riding a horse, you are making a connection. You absorb his movements as if they were your own. You even change the way you breathe to match up with his as you and your horse become one living being.
"When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes." -- William ShakespeareWhether you ride in the show ring or just in the field. The companionship and solace that a horse can give is unmatched
Horses of many colors
Before you ride, you should know what you're riding.
Just like man's other best friend, the dog, there are nearly countless horse breeds from around the world. All of which fall into several different categories or types.
A few of these types are the larger built draft horses, stock horses for working livestock, ponies, and the lightweight horses for everyday riding.
Yes, a pony is just a small horse.
Throughout the history of horses, the many breeds that make up the different types were specially bred to perform particular tasks. Most of these tasks were the strict purpose to serve the needs of humankind, such as transportation and hard labor. In the past, people required the use of the horse for many important jobs.
Truth be told:
We may no longer need to use the horse as the main source of transport or income, in fact, they cost us a fortune! But we still find enjoyment in the beauty of the breeds and their different unique qualities.
Here are just some of the most common riding breeds that you might run across:
There is probably not a single stable that doesn't house this breed of horse. The Quarterhorse is the most popular breed in the United States. The breed's official registry, the American Quarter Horse Association, is easily the largest in the world.
This breed is the most popular mount for trail rides, and western competition events, such as barrel racing, cutting, and roping. They are also known as the fastest at short distances and are often used as racehorses.
The Thoroughbred was first developed in England and was instantly prized for its agility and speed. It's best known for its use in horse racing. The breed is versatile making it a very commonly seen breed in most stables.
Where it is true that the Thoroughbred is the perfect horse for racing, they're also often used for dressage, jumping, polo, and fox hunting competitions.
One of the most famous horses in the world is the Arabian. The breed is in high demand for its distinctive head and muzzle shape and the way it carries its tail. No other breed of horse comes close to the look of the Arabian.
And you might be interested to know:
Arabian horses have been a favorite breed to use in just about every horse competition. From horse shows and English dressage to racing and even western pleasure, these horses are a renowned and loved breed.
American Paint Horse
The Paint is made up of a unique combination of the characteristics of the western stock horse blessed with the many color variations of a pinto. Most people consider the paint nothing more than a "color breed," but the American Paint Horse Association recognizes them as an actual breed.
And that's not all:
Paints have a distinct bloodline requirement just like all other breeds of horse. They excel in many western riding disciplines and often used in western pleasure events.
If you watch or compete in dressage events, you will likely run into the Tennessee Walker. Originally bred to be used as work and war horses during the civil war, they're commonly used today as pleasure mounts.
Tennessee Walkers are often seen in the show circuit for their natural grace and smooth performances.
One of the most expensive breeds in the world, the Andalusian is a Spanish breed used in most equestrian events and competitions. It was initially used in war times because of its natural strength.
With its long thick mane and tail, it's prized for its noble appearance which makes it a favorite in the show ring. Today the breed is used for dressage, jumping, shows, and sometimes even driving competitions.
Listing all the known horse breeds is impossible. Most breeds are localized or have been included in other breeds over time, so the exact number is unknown.
The language Of The Horse World
It's time to learn a whole new language.
Well, kind of
For new riders, it's not only important to learn how to understand your horse but to also understand and be able to recognize the terminology of the equestrian world.
While there's no test at the end...
if you're going to ride, you should know the basic lingo.
Above the Bit: The position of the horse's head when it is held above the rider's hands.
Aged: A horse that is 15 years old or over.
Aids: Any method used by a rider to communicate with the horse. These can be natural or artificial
Artificial Gaits: Un-natural gaits that have been taught to the horse.
Bit: Part of the bridle that is placed and held in the mouth of the horse which allows a rider to control and guide the movements of the horse.
Blinkers: Shades that attach to the bridle to prevent the horse from becoming distracted by hindering the horse's ability to look to the side or behind.
Bridle: Equipment that is placed on the head of the horse for the purpose of controlling it.
Broke-in: A trained and safe to ride horse.
Cadence: The rhythm of the stride of a horse.
Cannons: The horse's lower legs, from the knee to the ankle.
Canter: The three-beat gait that falls between the trot and the gallop
Colt: An uncastrated male horse that is no older than four years old.
Dismount: The action in which a rider gets off of the horse.
Disunited: When a horse performs a gait incorrectly
Dressage: The physique and ability training of a horse
Equestrian: A person who is involved in showing or competitive horse riding
Equine: A horse
Filly: A female horse who is no older than four years old.
Foal: A newborn, male or female horse, that has not been weaned.
Forefoot: The front foot of the horse.
Gait: The movement and speed of a horse.
Gallop: The four-beat fastest gait of a horse.
Gelding: A castrated male horse.
Get: A stallion's offspring.
Hand: A measurement used in telling the height of a horse, with one hand equaling four-inches.
Harness: Equipment that is used to attach a plow of a carriage to a horse.
Hindquarters: The buttocks or upper rear legs of the horse.
Hoof: The hard outer layer of a horse's foot.
Horse Shoe: A metal protective cover that is nailed to a hoof of a horse.
Impulsion: The movement of a horse that is driven by the hindquarters and back legs.
In Foal: A pregnant female horse, or mare.
Jodhpur: Riding pants that are thicker at the hips
Jump: An obstacle that requires the horse and rider to jump over.
Lame: A horse with hindered movements because of an injury or pain.
Maiden: An unbred female horse.
Mane: The hair that grows from the neck of a horse.
Manege: An elliptical or rectangular training area for horses.
Mare: A female horse that is four years or older.
Mount: The action of getting on a horse.
Near Fore: The front left leg of a horse.
Near Side: The left side of a horse.
Off fore: The front right leg of a horse.
Offside: The right side of a horse.
Pony: A small full-grown horse.
Purebred: A horse bred from horses of the same breed.
Put Down: When an injured or ill horse is euthanized.
Rein In: Pulling on the reins to bring a horse to a stop.
Reins: A strip that is attached to the bit and bridle to allow the rider to directly control the horse.
Remount: The act of getting back on a horse after falling or dismounting.
Saddle: A seat for riding that is fastened to the back of a horse.
Saddle up: To fasten a saddle on a horse.
Side-saddle: A horse riding position in which both legs are on one side of a horse.
Sound: A healthy horse.
Stallion: An adult, uncastrated male horse that is four years old or older.
Skittish: A nervous horse.
Tack: Accessories and gear used for riding
Unsound: A unhealthy horse.
Walk: The natural first gait of movement
Weanling: A foal that is younger than a year old, but is no longer nursing.
Yearling: A horse that is one-year-old, and no older than two.
In sports, most athletes are required to wear proper clothing according to their job. It's just as important to wear the correct clothing and gear when riding and working around horses.
But don't worry:
You can easily find what you need from tack shops or shops that specialize in running or athletic gear. Sometimes you can save money by finding used equipment online.
Here are the most essential items of clothing that every rider needs:
$50.00 and up
The helmet is the most important piece of gear you need to purchase. A riding helmet will protect your head in the event of an accident while working with horses.
Make sure you are very precise when you make your choice. You want your helmet secure but comfortable enough to wear for an extended amount of time.
The helmet must be ASTM-SEI certified.
Although you can save money by getting used gear, your helmet is the one piece of equipment that you should always buy new. A previously used helmet could have unseen damage and might prevent it from providing you with the necessary protection.
$100.00 and up
A nice comfortable pair of equestrian or western boots are needed when you work around horses. Riding boots are important to prevent the rider's foot from slipping through the stirrup of a saddle.
Riding boots will also help protect your feet in case they are accidentally stepped on by a horse.
$20.00 and up
Some people might not see the importance of using riding gloves, but they're good protection for your hands. They will protect you from things like splinters, the cold, and help you get a better grip on the reins. They are also very useful at keeping your hands clean.
Breeches, tights, jodhpurs, and chaps:
$50.00 and up
It is a good idea to invest in a pair of pants for horseback riding. Breeches, tights, and the more professional used jodhpurs are recommended. They are very flexible, comfortable and feel good in the saddle. Chaps are also often used when riding during the winter months. They're thicker and will provide warmth to your legs.
Although wearing jeans might not sound like a bad idea, the denim material can rub the saddle, and cause wear on the leather.
$15 and up
Although there's no particular equine required shirt you need to get for horseback riding, it's good to make sure that you wear something comfortable. You want your shirt to have some room to stretch so you can move with the horse, and not feel restricted as you ride.
Button style shirts are not recommended, because the material can be stiff, and your horse could inadvertently eat the buttons.
If you're working or planning to do any competitive riding, you will want to shop beyond the casual gear. Competitive riding is as much showmanship as it is horsemanship. You will be spending a bit more for the best looking equestrian show gear.
But since we're just beginning -- start there.
For new riders, most of the horse tack and gear needed for your lessons is provided by the stable. But it's also important to have the knowledge on where you can buy tack as well.
Horseback riding is a dangerous sport, and there is a great deal more to protecting yourself than just wearing a hard hat.
It is essential for all riders to understand the risks and always think of safety first.
Make sure you are wearing a proper riding helmet and safe footwear
Never throw your hands in the air.
Ride the right horse
Avoid looking at your horse.
Do not grip or kick the horse too hard with your legs.
Don't ram your feet too far into the stirrup.
Do not pull back too tight on the reins.
Always ride with a friend
Stay away from the rear end of the horse.
Don't hold your breath.
So what are you waiting for?
Get Into Position
There is a right and wrong way to do everything. Riding a horse is no exception to the rule.
During the first time riding your horse, be mindful of how you hold yourself and don't forget that you are sitting on the back of a living animal. The use of improper posture can confuse your horse and make it harder for him to understand your commands.
The foundation of becoming a good rider is to learn a few basic and simple positions before you are ready to mount up.Head, and shoulders, knees and toes...
Don't worry!It's not as overwhelming as it looks (or sounds)! Eventually, with enough time and practice, it will all become second nature to you
Ready To Ride
Now that you have the correct gear, can recognize all the basic terms, you know the risks and have prepared yourself with understanding safety precautions. It's finally time to learn how to ride.
Learning to ride isn't like riding a bike or tying your shoe-laces. In the beginning, you'll often feel left behind in the dust. This is because your horse not only knows what you know. But he also knows what you don't.
Let us go over the gaits you will learn:
First, you must correctly tack up your horse if your instructor hasn't already done this for you.
"A great horse will change your life. The truly special ones define it..."
- Author Unknown
Now that we've gone over the basics of riding, it's finally time for you to ride. It should come as no surprise that the first step to riding your horse is learning how to get on him.
You want to begin by standing right next to the side of your horse.
Some riders choose to face towards the back while others turn more to the front. Either way is fine as long as you stay clear of the head and rear ends.
First things first:
Take both reins in your left hand and gather them up. Try to keep the reins that are furthest away from you a little tighter to prevent your horse from turning his neck.
A common mistake that most first-time riders make is using the wrong leg. If you are attempting to mount with your right leg, always start with the opposite hand, your left. If you switch it up, you may end up sitting backward and left wondering where the head of your horse went.
For the first few times, it might be wise to have your instructor or someone else present in case you need them to keep the horse calm and steady.
Because the reality is:
Some horses get bored easily, and multiple mounting attempts can make the horse uninterested in waiting around.
You should be able to mount from ground level without any issue. But some horses are taller than others. If you're struggling, it can sometimes be easier to use a mounting block for an extra boost.
Another alternative is to temporarily lower the stirrups so that your boots can reach them better.
Just remember, if you do lower the stirrups, do not forget to re-adjust them back into the proper length once you have mounted.
Time for lift off
With both reins firmly in your left hand, it's time to lift your left foot into the stirrup. As you do this, be sure that the ball of your foot is resting in the middle base of the stirrup. Take your right hand and grab onto the cantle of the saddle for support.
Do not pull yourself up with your arms.
As you sit yourself down in the saddle be considerate and gentle. Don't just allow the full weight of your body to drop at once suddenly. This could be extremely uncomfortable for your horse and may even startle him.
You're on your horse!
Once you're firmly seated, carefully balance out your body and let go of the cantle. Gather up the reins in both hands to get a nice feel for them. You will be learning how to use them soon.
The ground may feel as if it is 30,000 feet below you now, but you don't care, you are on top of the world.
But sitting is only the beginning. Now let's walk.
Riding the walk
Now, for the moment you have been waiting for, it is time to get your horse to move.
For the first gait, known as the walk, you want to use your lower legs and give your horse a slight squeeze behind the girth. This action will catch his attention and let him know that it is time to get to work.
At the same time:
Push forward slightly in your seat for an additional cue of motivation.
If your horse doesn't want to move on the first attempt, go ahead and try nudging him again. Tell him that it is a beautiful day for a ride.
Some horses will require more motivation than others.
If that still doesn't work, urge the horse with your heels. Remind him that you are the boss and he needs to listen.
You are sitting on an animal with thoughts of its own. Understand that you are never in full control.
You will never win an argument with a 1,000-pound animal by using force.
Once your horse decides it is time to go and responds to your cues, your hands need to leave a little slack on the reins. Allow your horse to extend his neck to move forward naturally.
"A man on a horse is spiritually as well as physically bigger than a man on foot." -- John Steinbeck
Congratulations! You are riding the walk.
You will notice that when your horse begins to walk, it's accompanied by a slight rocking movement from side to side. Keep your balance. Just relax and allow your body to flow along with the rocking motion naturally.
Whenever your horse begins to slow down as if he is about to stop, cue with an additional gentle nudge to encourage him to keep moving forward.
Since your horse isn't moving very fast, riding the walk also creates the perfect opportunity for you to practice safe halting.
Cue for your horse to begin the walk by nudging him slightly with your legs and allow him to gain a little distance. Then take the reins and pull back slightly to make him slow down to a halt.
Think of it as a fun game of "red light, green light."
But remember not to pull back on the reins too tight even when making your horse stop. He could go backward or rear up.
Continue to practice walking and halting your horse until you feel comfortable to move on. Learning how to ride the walk properly is essential. It allows you to strengthen your overall balance, coordination, and security.
And not only that:
It's preparing you for the more complicated and complex gaits that are to come.
Learning to trot
Advancing to the second gait, known as the trot is pretty straight-forward. Once you have your horse in the first gait, the cue for the trot is the same as it was for the walk.
While your horse walks, you want to squeeze your lower legs against him, applying more pressure than before. If he doesn't respond, It might require you to give the horse a gentle kick with the heels of your boots.
And this is important:
Don't kick too hard, your horse might skip the trot all together and go right into a full gallop!
You'll know he's trotting if you feel your body start to bounce wildly all over the place.
The trot is known as a "two-step gait," which means that when the horse moves, he steps with diagonal pairs of legs. Your horse will lift the left forefront and right hind leg at the same time he raises the right forefront and left hind leg together.
Getting your horse into the trot is only the first thing to learn when it comes to riding this gait. If you are riding Western style, all you need to do is sit deep in the saddle, relax and become one with your horse.
No matter how jumpy it may be.
English style trotting, on the other hand, requires different techniques.
Posting the trot
Riders use the rising trot, also known as "posting" with the purpose of smoothing out the jolts and jarring movements of the second gait. It is intended to make riding the trot more comfortable for you and your horse.
Here's how it's done:
The best way to start with posting is to train on a lunge line or inside a closed area like an arena or fenced-in ring. This way, you can learn to move with your horse without worrying about steering and guiding him around.
With your horse in a constant, steady trot, remain flexible and feel for the bumps. The key to posting is discovering the rhythm of the bouncing or the upward and forward thrusting as you trot.
Posting is the action of rising up and out of the saddle for every other stride your horse takes.
Check this out:
Your stance should look similar to that of a martial artist, and you should feel as if you are standing for a moment before lowering back down. You want to keep your hands still and your head level while the rest of your body moves in tune with your horse.
Don't feel discouraged if you're still getting bumped around. Posting the trot takes a lot of time, work, and patience to master. With enough practice, you will be posting effortlessly without the support of stirrups.
The canter or lope
The third gait, the canter, also known as the lope, is much faster than the trot but slower than the gallop.
Although it often gets confused with the gallop by most people.
Unlike the gallop, the canter is a "three-beat gait." Meaning that when your horse is in the middle of the canter, you can hear his hoof beats three times with every stride.
A waltz, if you will.
You want to begin with your horse in a steady and calm trot. Allow him to keep this pace for a few moments before you attempt to cue the canter. When you're ready, keep your hips flexible and squeeze both of your legs to apply more pressure to the girth of your horse.
What you want to do is...
The right lead
One factor you might take into account when you are riding the canter is the lead your horse is using.
As you begin to canter, the right foreleg should be stretched out in front of your horse further than his left. This motion is known as the canter lead.
If your horse is on his right lead, the hoof beats of his footfall will occur with the left hind leg hitting the ground first.
If your horse does not have the right lead, you can correct it by slowing him back down into a calm trot. Once he is at the steady trot, you can cue for the canter again.
You have to commit this to memory:
Having the correct lead is important for you and your horse's comfort. Your horse should always be taking the lead on the outside forefront leg, making the inside forefront leg do most of the work.
Learning how to ride involves learning to control your horse in all three gaits; the walk, the trot, and the canter or lope. It's the basic progression of moving from the slowest gait to the faster one that follows.
Where the canter or lope is faster than the trot, the gallop will be faster than the canter. The gallop is the fastest gait that a horse can move and it only occurs for one of two reasons:
You should never gallop in a closed arena, and you won't see it being used for any dressage equestrian competition. It's purely for the thrill of riding your horse at his full speed.
Use caution! After all, you're a beginner:
New riders will want to avoid asking their horse to gallop until they have mastered all the previous gaits. It is also imperative that you only gallop with a horse that you know or have worked with extensively.
Giving your horse his head
"In the end, we don't know what horses can do. We only know that when, over the past thousands of years, we have asked something more of them, at least some of them have readily supplied it." -- Jane Smiley
Galloping requires you to give your horse his head. That basically means that you are allowing your horse to run. This is a risky thing to do on a horse you don't know but can be a fantastic feeling for the experienced rider.
The gallop is a gait so fast that your worries will not be able to keep up.
To cue for the gallop, you need to make sure your horse is in a slower gait. It's essential to build up the speed gradually, or you may lose all control. You must always start at the trot and proceed into a steady canter before breaking out into the full gallop.
But know this:
Asking for your horse to gallop requires more than just a few little nudges. You will need to lean forward during the canter and slightly raise your body from the saddle. And put pressure on your horse with your legs to make him go faster at a steady rate.
It takes strength.
Don't be tempted to go too fast.
The trick to staying on your horse during the gallop is to ride as fast as he does. Feel the movements of his strides and flow with them. This is the true beauty of being one with your horse.
After the ride
After the lessons are over and it is time to take a break, you still have one more job left to do. The most important job when it comes to riding horses.
You must take care of your horse.
Before you dismount, you need to ride a slow walk once again. Loosen up your grip on the reins and allow your horse to walk at least 10 to 15 extra minutes freely with little to no restraint.
You do this because:
Like you, your horse is just as sweaty if not more, and needs to take this time to cool off. Horses that have worked hard deserve to cool down as much as any athlete does.
After dismounting, make sure your horse doesn't feel hot and that his breathing is no longer rapid. If either of these are present, continue walking him on the lead for another 10 minutes or until he cools down more.
Once he has calmed and cooled down, offer him a bucket of lukewarm or cool fresh water to prevent dehydration. Horses can lose two to four gallons of sweat per hour while working hard.
Hold onto the halter and remove the bridle carefully allowing your horse to drop the bit from his mouth. Make sure he is security hitched up to remove the rest of the tack, such as the saddle and the saddle pad.
After all, the task has been removed:
Give him a few loving pats and begin to groom him down.
You should have a grooming kit clean and ready to use. The set should include a curry comb, soft brush, hoof pick, stiff brush, a sweat scraper, and a clean towel.
Now it's time to say goodnight.
Lead your horse into his stall and put him away. Remove his halter and make sure he has everything he needs.
At The End Of The Day
Unfortunately, we all have to get off our horses sometime.
Nothing can compare to the feeling of riding a horse. From the perch of a horse's back, you will see a different perspective of the world. You will become completely immersed in the natural environment and notice things you never paid attention to before.
No matter what your preferred riding style is, whether it be for pleasure rides or high-end equestrian competitions, there is one thing that is universal between every rider.
Our unconditional love and respect for the horse!
What is your experience with horses?
Do you have a favorite breed?
Tell us about it in the comments!