When done properly, horseback riding feels exhilarating and wholly rewarding for both the horse and its rider. The wrong approach, however, can leave you flying through the air while your horse vows to never let that happen again. Fortunately for everyone involved, horseback riding is not rocket science. You just have to keep these five fundamentals in mind to make sure every last ride goes to plan.
1. Safety First – Always
Did you know horses are prey animals? Since they’re so big, it’s hard to believe, but they are. And that means that they are easily spooked and flighty by nature, which means every ride comes with huge risks.
To reduce the risk of getting hurt, you’ll just need to:
- Wear a good-fitting helmet every time you ride
- Put riding boots on before even going out to the stable
- Take your time in properly tacking up your horse
Also, as you ride, remember to scan your surroundings for anything that could spook your horse. Barking dogs. Plastic bags flapping in the wind. Butterflies. Watch for potentially alarming objects, and then avoid them to keep your horse from freaking out.
2. Mount with Care
Before you can ride a horse, you’ve got to launch yourself five feet up yet still gently land in the saddle. As you can imagine, this is much easier said than done, especially the first few times.
To get past the learning curve, enlist someone to hold your horse or tie their reins to the fence. Then, stand on the left side of your horse and put your left foot in the stirrup.
In one smooth movement, push off with the ball of your left foot and swing your right leg up and over. If you fail to make it up, give your horse a pat and try again.
3. Whoa There
Horses don’t come with a brake pedal, so there are no emergency stops allowed. Instead, you have to communicate your desire to come to a halt well before it’s time to do so. Although clear verbal commands are an important part of the equation, body language is key.
To tell your horse to stop, you’ll want to:
- Lean back in the saddle while tensing your leg muscles
- Tell your horse, “Whoa there,” in a calm, clear voice
- Gently pull the reins back to apply pressure to the mouth
Never yank on the reins or use them to regain your balance. The excess pressure can prove painful to the horse and land you on the ground.
4. Trot, Canter, Gallop
Once you’re ready to start moving forward, you’ll want to tell your horse it’s time to walk with a quick squeeze. To do that, keep your feet in the stirrups and squeeze your horse with your heels to let them know it’s go time. If your horse doesn’t get the signal, try again or give a couple of light heel bumps.
After your horse starts walking, you can urge them to go faster as soon as you’re comfortable. Another squeeze will get your horse trotting around the ring at a steady pace. Want to go even faster? Give another squeeze for a fast canter. Galloping comes next, but you should first make sure you have an even surface and enough space to run like the wind.
5. Give Back to Your Horse
Once you’re done riding your horse, it’s time to head back to the stable. You’ll want to dismount carefully, and then turn your attention to caring for your horse. Remove their tack, put on a halter, and walk them gently around the ring to cool off. After that, they appreciate getting groomed before heading out into the pasture for a snack and plenty of rest.
Over time, you’ll get more comfortable riding your horse. Just don’t ever forget the five fundamentals of riding or you could get swiftly reminded of them by these majestic 1,000+ pound creatures.