When it comes to learning how to ride a horse, most people usually have one of two reactions: they think it’ll be a breeze, or they’re scared to death. As with most things, the truth is somewhere in between; you want to have a healthy respect for the potential danger involved while having fun.
Another common misconception is that riding a horse isn’t a physical sport and the horse does all the work. Riding is very physical for the rider, and each level requires a certain level of skill and expertise to pull off safely. This is why we wanted to educate our readers about the time, patience, and determination it takes to learn how to ride a horse and become a skilled equestrian.
1. Basic Safety
We love horses more than anyone, however, we also recognize and respect the fact that they’re very large animals that have the propensity to be afraid of a plastic bag — so practicing some level of caution is needed. The first and most important tip is to always stay alert. This is imperative to not only your success with riding horses but for your overall safety; we understand how distracting and fun learning to ride can be, but remember, you’re working with a huge living animal that has the potential to behave unpredictably. Keeping an eye out for other animals, changes in behavior and weather, and even behavior changes in other surrounding horses play a factor in keeping you and the horse safe.
Finally, wearing proper riding boots are a must when it comes to basic horse riding safety because they’re designed to ensure riders don’t get trapped in the stirrups if they’re thrown, need to ditch, or bail. In fact, the biggest risk factor isn’t getting thrown from or stuck in the saddle, it’s getting dragged behind it. Not only that, but the thick leather material and reinforced toe area helps protect your feet and toes from being trampled by horses, and let us just say that a tennis shoe will not protect you, in the same way, a quality riding boot will when you have an 840-2,200 pound animal stepping on you!
2. How To Get On A Horse
One of the most intriguing and frightening traits about horses is their size, and if you’re a new rider, you may have wondered how you would even get up there. With a little practice and following our tips and tricks, you’ll find that mounting a horse can be relatively simple.
First things first: make sure you always have someone else there to hold the horse while you’re mounting it. Second, always make sure the saddle is fitted nice and snug — otherwise, it will slip and roll when you’re trying to get on. When you’re ready to get on the horse, always stand to the left of it because it is used to people working and mounting them from this side. If you try mounting one from the right side, you risk spooking the horse because it’s not accustomed to humans standing there.
To mount the horse, place your right hand on the cantle (the raised back of the saddle), and place your left hand on the horse’s neck, then place your left foot in the stirrup; making sure just the ball of the foot is resting in the stirrup. Hoist yourself up using your left foot, then swiftly swing your right leg over to the other side of the saddle. As you kick your right leg over, make sure not to accidentally kick the horse and startle it, and place it in the stirrup on the right side of the saddle.
At this point, you should be fully seated on the horse, and if you need to make any size adjustments to your stirrups — now is the time to let your trainer know. Once you have both your right and left foot in the stirrups of the saddle, you can congratulate yourself because you’ve just successfully mounted a horse!
3. How To Stop A Horse
Learning how to stop a horse is a critical component of riding a horse and for your safety, which is why it’s crucial to know how to stop a horse before you even get on one. It’s also important to remember that stopping a horse isn’t like stopping a car; they need to be slowed down before they can come to a full stop — so there is no slamming on the brakes when it comes to learning how to ride a horse.
To begin slowing down, sink all of your weight into the saddle by leaning back and tensing up your legs. Let the horse know you’re wanting to slow down by saying “whoa” in your normal, calm voice, and gently pull back on the reins. Don’t yank or pull hard on the reins, slowly alternate between tightening and releasing them; you don’t want to hurt the horse by pulling too hard. There is a bit connected to the reins that apply pressure to the horse’s mouth so you can maintain control of its head, and if you yank or pull too hard, it’s painful to the horse. Taking this into consideration, if you need extra balance, feel free to hold on to the front of the saddle or on the horn — but whatever you do, don’t try to get your balance using the reins because this also hurts its mouth.
Once you get the horse stopped, release your grip on the reins and give the horse a loving pat on the head and neck as a reward.
4. How To Walk A Horse
After you’ve mastered getting in the saddle and stopping a horse, it’s time to learn how to walk a horse. Stay as relaxed as possible (horses pick up on human energy and emotional cues very well) and make sure to have both feet firmly planted in the stirrups, and both hands on the reins. Gently give the horse a squeeze with your legs to signal it to start walking. If you happen to have a lazy or stubborn horse, he may need a little more encouragement, which you can give with a couple of soft heel bumps.
Sit tall, and make sure to look between the horse’s ears as you walk, not at the ground. After the initial leg squeeze to signal to the horse to begin walking — don’t repeatedly squeeze. As you’re walking, you’re going to want to keep your legs loose and relaxed, with your heels firmly planted in the stirrups.
5. How To Jog On A Horse
Also called trotting by many equestrians, jogging on a horse is what jogging is for humans; you’ll experience some bouncing with jogging. Once you feel like you’re comfortable walking a horse and ready to give jogging a go, gently squeeze your legs again to signal to him that you want to begin to jog; if that doesn’t work, lightly give him a gentle heel bump. For some, jogging can feel a little awkward or even scary, but it’s so important to not squeeze or hold on to the horse with your legs — no matter how scared or tense you might be, and to remain calm.
Keep a firm grip on the saddle horn to keep yourself stabilized, and your heels inside the stirrups, and your weight into the saddle. If you feel you need to stop, refer back to step 3: How To Stop a Horse.
6. How To Post On A Horse
This funny-sounding term actually makes it much easier for beginners to learn how to ride and improve their skills that involve slightly rising out of the saddle to keep you from bouncing, and to match the horse’s natural movement. To do this, you’ll need to use your leg muscles and knees to keep pace with the bouncing by sitting and rising (keeping time) with the two-beat gait.
Understandably, perfecting this will take time and practice, but as you improve your skills and develop the muscles used for posting — it will naturally get easier. As always, make sure you’re sitting down on the horse slowly and gently so you don’t hurt his back or startle him.
7. How to Lope On A Horse
Once you have the jog and post nailed down, it will be time to advance on to the lope. One of the first things you’ll notice when you lope is that you’ll bounce around much less than when you jog. To start loping on a horse from a jog, do not make the common mistake of making your horse jog faster before you start to lope — you’ll need to make a clean transition to the lope without increasing the speed of the jog.
To do this, ask the horse to lope by moving your outer leg back several inches, then initiating a gentle squeeze with both legs. Balance yourself using the horn of the saddle, and make sure to refrain from pulling on the reins unless you need to slow down; in which case, you’ll softly pull back the reins to signal the horse to begin jogging again.
8. How to Gallop On A Horse
We need to caution that galloping needs to be done by an experienced rider, and we strongly advise any beginner or intermediate rider from trying to gallop before they’re ready. You need to know how to control a horse at slower speeds before graduating to the fastest pace; otherwise, you risk hurting both the horse and yourself because of the difficulty and skill needed to control and stop a horse.
Once you’re ready, you’ll find that galloping isn’t all that different from loping except your horse elongates its body more to cover more ground, faster. To begin galloping, you’ll want to start from a lope and make sure you have full and total control of yourself and the horse. Then you’ll slightly lean forward and rise out of your saddle to cue the horse to start galloping; lightly squeezing your legs to cue for more speed while keeping your weight planted in the stirrups to keep you balanced.
9. How to Dismount A Horse
Regardless of your riding level (beginner, intermediate, expert), you’ll need to know how to properly dismount a horse. Like we learned with mounting a horse, it’s important that your horse stays put and doesn’t move or wander away on you. Make sure your horse is completely stopped and there aren’t any other horses around. With a firm grasp on the reins, loosen both feet from the stirrups, lean forward, and pivot your right leg up and over the horses’ backside — making sure not to kick him.
Drop to the ground via the left side of the horse. Remember, he’s not accustomed to people being on his right side, and we don’t want any freak-outs, meltdowns, or injuries.
When you first set out on your horse riding journey, you’re likely filled with excitement and maybe a little fear or trepidation at the prospect of being in control of and riding a very large animal very fast. If you follow our basic tips and follow the instruction of your trainer — it will go a long way in making sure that learning how to ride a horse is a fun and safe experience.
At Colorado Trails Ranch, we are experts at introducing new and intermediary riders to horseback riding. All of our wranglers are highly qualified experts that have years of experience instructing people from all skill levels, and we would be honored to provide you with the guidance and knowledge you need to become a world-class rider.