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:
- Walk: A slow, safe pace
- Trot: Bouncy
- Canter or lope: Faster than the trot
- Gallop: Where did everybody go?
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.
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.
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.
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…
- Increase the pressure on the inside leg until you feel your horse lift his shoulders and take a sudden dive forward with his hunches.
- Decrease your squeeze but continue to keep slight constant pressure on your horse, encouraging him to maintain the speed and lead
- Slightly shorten the grip of the reins to allow your horse a little more freedom but always keep a gentle contact as your horse strides into the canter
- Sit deep in the saddle while keeping your back straight and absorb the movement of the horse. You want to maintain an upright position and avoid any swaying that could make your horse off-balanced.
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 have completely lost control of your horse!
- Or you have asked your horse to gallop
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 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.
- Clean off the sweat and salt on your horse with the sweat scraper.
- Rub the curry comb in a circular motion to bring up any dust and dirt.
- Use the stiff brush to brush off the excess dirt.
- Now you want to take the safe brush and go over his entire body, including his face.
- Make sure there are no rocks or anything else stuck in the hooves of your horse by picking it out with the hoof pick.
- After you have finished grooming, you can hose your horse off with a gentle stream of water. Focus on the more sweaty spots left on his coat.
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.