Horse Riding

What are the basics of horse riding?

Horse riding requires a combination of skill, knowledge, and understanding of your horse. Here are the fundamental aspects you need to know:

Mounting and dismounting

Properly getting on and off a horse is crucial for your safety and the horse’s comfort. Using a mounting block is, in my opinion, is essential to save your horse’s back from imbalance, excessive stress and injury.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Approach the horse calmly and confidently.
  • Adjust the stirrups to the appropriate length for your legs.
  • Stand facing the horse’s shoulder and hold the reins.
  • Use a mounting block and the stirrup to aid in getting on.
  • Swing your right leg over the horse’s back and settle into the saddle gently.
  • When dismounting, ensure you have a secure footing, swing your right leg back over, and step down gently.

Balance and posture

Maintaining balance and the correct riding posture is essential for your safety and communication with the horse.

Here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Sit up straight with your shoulders back but relaxed.
  • Keep your heels down and your feet parallel to the horse’s sides.
  • Maintain a deep seat in the saddle, using your hips and thighs to absorb the horse’s movements.
  • Look forward in the direction you want to go.

Aids and cues

Communication with the horse is primarily through aids and cues.

These include:

  • Leg aids: Squeeze with your legs to encourage forward movement and use your calves to guide the horse in different directions.
  • Hand aids: Use the reins to steer, stop, or slow down the horse – don not pull on the reins because this will make your horse hard in the mouth and less sensitive to rein cues. Light pressure on one rein directs the horse in the desired direction. Squeezing your hands around the reins and deepening your seat stops your horse.
  • Seat aids: Shift your weight slightly to signal the horse to turn or change speed or direction.
  • Voice cues: You can also use verbal commands like “whoa” to stop or “walk on” to encourage movement.

English vs. Western reins

If you ride English, you’ll mainly use plough reining, which is where you hold each rein in one hand. If you ride Western, you’ll mostly use neck reining, which is where both reins are held in one hand.

The basic commands for steering with plough reining (English):

  • To turn left, look where you want to go, open your left hand out towards the left and open your left hip (move the knee just off the saddle), aid with a light squeeze from the left leg. Hold light pressure on the right rein (outside rein) to prevent the horse from drifting in or out of your path, or popping his shoulder out, and keep to the designated path.
  • To turn right, use the right rein and leg in the same manner as described above.
  • To stop or slow down, apply even pressure on both reins (not pulling) and use your seat to sit deep in the saddle.
  • To go faster, use your legs to encourage the horse to move forward.

The basic commands for steering with neck reining (Western):

  • To turn left, look where you want to go, move whichever hand is holding both reins until the right rein rests against your horse’s neck and open up your left hip, aid with a light squeeze from the left leg.
  • To turn right, use the left rein and right leg in the same manner as described above.
  • To stop or slow down, exhale, lean back and sit deep in the saddle. Western horses will often also have voice cues trained, such as “woah” for slowing down.

Building trust

Building a bond of trust with your horse is paramount. Spend time with your horse outside of riding, groom them, and learn their behaviour. Do lots and lots of groundwork.

Trust between rider and horse is the foundation of a successful partnership.

Do horses like to be ridden?

Horses can be trained to accept and even enjoy being ridden, but whether or not they inherently like it is a more complex question. Horses are social animals and have been domesticated for thousands of years for various purposes, including riding. When handled and ridden properly, many horses can form strong bonds with their riders and find pleasure in the activity.

Above all else, know the signs of pain in your horse and know when they are being overburdened.

However, it’s important to consider the following factors:

  1. Training and handling: Horses need to be trained to accept a rider and respond to cues and commands. Proper training, positive reinforcement, and consistent handling play a significant role in ensuring a horse is comfortable and cooperative while being ridden.
  2. Rider skill: The rider’s skill and ability to communicate with the horse also influence the horse’s experience. A skilled and considerate rider is more likely to make the riding experience enjoyable for the horse.
  3. Health and comfort: Horses must be physically sound and comfortable when ridden. Ill-fitting tack or medical issues can cause discomfort or pain, which can lead to a negative association with riding.
  4. Variety and exercise: Horses benefit from mental and physical stimulation. Riding can provide both, but it’s essential not to overwork or bore a horse with repetitive activities.
  5. Individual differences: Just like humans, individual horses have unique personalities and preferences. Some horses may naturally enjoy being ridden, while others may tolerate it but not necessarily find it enjoyable. Again, a lot of that comes down to how the horse has been trained to ride.

Many horses do form positive relationships with their riders and seem to enjoy the activity, but it’s crucial to prioritise their well-being, comfort, and health when engaging in riding or any equestrian activities.

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