Just like when learning any new thing, there are those typical challenges that beginners tend to cycle through as they’re improving their skill.
These are all things I’ve done myself, I’ve discussed with other riders, and have encountered over and over again when teaching someone how to ride.
These are some of the most common challenges I’ve noticed.
How are you holding the reins?
As an equestrian, I’ve noticed that many beginners hold the reins incorrectly, which can hinder their ability to steer and control their horse.
When holding the reins in English riding, it is important to maintain a light and steady contact with your horse’s mouth while also allowing them to move freely and comfortably.
For plough or direct reining, most often seen in English style riding, you will be holding one rein in each hand.
- Place the reins in your hands: Hold the reins in your hands with the reins coming out between your little finger and ring finger, and the excess reins resting over the top of your index finger.
- Keep your hands relaxed: Your hands should be relaxed and flexible, with your fingers gently closed around the reins. Avoid gripping the reins too tightly, as this can cause your horse discomfort and make it harder to feel his movements. It will also tire your hands out very quickly.
- Position your hands correctly: Your hands should be positioned just above the withers, with your thumbs pointing up and your palms facing each other. If you were to draw a line across your knuckles the line would be about 30 degrees above horizontal. You don’t want your thumbs to point straight up, and you don’t want your hand to be flat across. Your elbows, forearms, wrists, and hands should be in a straight line, so there is a direct line from your elbow down the reins to the horse’s mouth. As the horse moves its head and neck as it travels, your hands should follow the movement.
- Maintain a light contact: Use a light and consistent pressure on the reins to communicate with your horse. Avoid jerking or pulling on the reins, as this can be uncomfortable for your horse and make it harder for him to understand your commands.
- Allow your horse to move freely: Your horse should be able to move his head and neck freely while you are holding the reins. Your body should not rock back and forth, but the movement should come from your arms and shoulders, rather like reaching forward, without bending your body forward. Your wrists should not rock but maintain the straight elbow-to-bit line. Avoid holding the reins too tightly, as this can restrict your horse’s movement and make him feel uncomfortable.
By following these steps, you can hold the reins correctly in English riding, allowing you to communicate effectively with your horse while keeping them comfortable and relaxed.
In western riding, the tack is a little bit different and the reins held in several ways, depending on the type of rein.
- Split Reins: hold the reins with hand in the same position as Romal reins, with the free end coming out the bottom of the fist past the little finger. You may split the reins, holding one between your index and second finger. The ends of the reins dangle down the horse’s shoulder, or sit crossed over the neck.
- Romal reins: hold reins in a vertical fist with the reins coming up through the bottom of the fist and back over the thumb. Thumb should be pointing up at 45 degrees. Free hand may carry the end of the reins, leaning against your leg. Romal reins are typically used on older, more experienced horses.
- Gaming or roping reins, shorter than regular Romal or split reins and are one-piece, end to end. Carried similar to split reins with all fingers closed around the reins. The shorter length reduces the chance of hands or props getting tangled in the reins.
Western riders usually ride with less contact than English riders, so you should just feel the weight of the reins, rather than contact with the horse’s mouth.
Pulling too hard will cause the same problems as heavy-handedness with direct reining.
In fact, because horses ridden western are often wearing a curb bit, more severe problems like rearing can occur.
Another common error with reins is pulling back on the reins to steer instead of opening and steering through your body.
This mistake can hinder your horse’s movement and make it difficult to control them.
Remember, you want to move with your horse, not twist and bend to hinder the motion, and this includes rein cues.
How’s your seat?
Next, let’s look at some position mistakes that new riders make.
The first one is the “scared rider”.
This position involves leaning forward and gripping the saddle with your knees, which can cause tension and make your horse more excitable.
It’s essential to maintain a centred and balanced seat while riding to avoid putting too much weight on your horse’s back.
This is something I’ve commonly seen with children, especially when the horse begins to move a little faster.
This is why we spent so much time in children’s classes just doing different exercises as the horse walked.
We’d do all kind of hand movements, swinging them around and flapping them, taking our feet out of the stirrups and putting them back in without looking, we’d scissor our feet above the neck and rump of the horse, turn to sit side saddle and back, simply to get comfortable with the motion of the horse walking.
Relaxing into the movement of the horse and following along is one of the basic skills for a rider and you can never practise too much.
Master this at a walk, start and stop, then move on to faster gaits.
Another common one is the “chair seat,” where riders do the opposite, sitting too relaxed and lean too far back.
This position puts more weight on the horse’s back and reduces control, so it’s crucial to maintain proper posture while riding.
Consider your foot placement.
Beginners often shove their feet too far into the stirrups, which is a safety hazard and makes it difficult to balance.
Keep your stirrup just behind the ball of your foot and avoid putting too much weight on your toes or shoving your foot too far into the stirrup.
Your stirrup should sit just behind the ball of your foot, not directly under the ball of your foot.
When your foot is in the stirrup correctly, the weight of your foot should be distributed evenly across the whole sole of your shoe, making your leg supple and able to absorb the shock of movement.
How to stop bouncing in the saddle?
Bouncing on horseback can be one of the most frustrating experiences for a rider.
Whether you’re a beginner struggling with the trot or an experienced rider dealing with subtle bouncing during transitions or lead changes, it can be hard to know how to stop it.
But fear not, riding is an art of going with movement, and there are ways to initiate good movement and prevent the bounce.
The most common reason for bouncing is excess tension or bracing in the rider’s body.
There are many places where we can tense up in our body, such as the heels, legs, glutes, or upper body.
When we tense up, we create a brace that makes it harder to move with the horse’s rhythm, leading to bouncing.
Therefore, we need to get everything soft and going with the horse to stop the bouncing.
The most common places where riders brace are the heels and the legs.
Sometimes, riders lean too far forward, and their weight falls onto their hands, making them bounce.
Other times, riders grip the horse with their thighs, which causes the horse to stop moving forward, making the rider bounce.
Tense, hard muscles anywhere will make you bounce like a rubber ball.
The solution is to stay centred and balanced, keeping the weight down through the legs and not leaning too far forward or backward.
You want to feel like you’re moving with your horse and that you can stay seated in the saddle, or even in a light seat, without feeling like you’re slapping the saddle.
You want to get everything soft and going with the horse.
Remember to breathe, letting the breath flow throughout your body as you ride.
If you’re stressed before going to a class or for a ride, consider doing some releasing exercises beforehand so that you don’t carry stress into your ride.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced rider, it’s essential to be aware of these common mistakes and work to avoid them.
Proper posture, grip, and balance are essential for effective riding.
If you’re struggling with any of these issues, don’t hesitate to seek advice from more experienced riders or take lessons to improve your skills.