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10 Tips for Beginner Riders to Look Like Experts in the Saddle

by Alberto G. Güitrón

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Are you thinking of going horse riding for the first time? It’s only natural to feel a bit nervous about it; after all, you’re about to ride a relatively large, living animal.

This is why it’s very important to be guided by an expert or a trained professional when you take up horse riding. Not only will they provide the support and reassurance that you need to feel safe and comfortable, but they can also share useful riding tips for beginners. After all, every expert was once a beginner too, right? They will be able to relate to what you are going through and provide personalized feedback.

As one lesson will not nearly be enough for you to be able to ride properly, one of the best (and most enjoyable) ways to learn the basics is to go on a horse riding holiday for beginners.

Not only will you have ample time to build up your horse riding skills but also establish a relationship with your horse, meet like-minded people, and see a new country (or your own) from a different perspective.

If you’d like to get a head start before your first equestrian vacation, here are 10 tips for beginner riders that’ll help you look like an expert in the saddle:


1. Wear proper horse riding equipment


It might be obvious, but regardless of your preferred style of riding (Western or English riding), you don’t want to show up wearing a miniskirt, shorts, or beach sandals. Long pants and proper footwear are essential for horse riding. Any close-toed shoes might do the job, but it would be ideal if you have a pair of low heeled boots, no more than 1-1.5 inches (2.5-4cm), to avoid your feet from slipping through the stirrups.

Don’t wear scarves, purses or any other accessories that could get tangled in the reins, saddle, bushes, or trees. Lastly, it is always recommended to wear a helmet for your own safety.  


2. Greet your horse


Keep in mind that your horse is a living creature, not a vehicle that you can control at your will. The horse could also be nervous, tired or even scared to have someone new riding him. Therefore, to establish a good relationship since the beginning, greet your horse when you’re introduced to him at the ranch.

To greet your horse, extend your arm and offer the back of your hand to him to smell and wait until he touches it with his nose. This simple action is called the “horseman’s handshake” and you could interpret it as a way to ask him for permission to mount him.


3. Mount with confidence

mount a horse

If you’re nervous, the horse can feel it and he might become uneasy too. If you choose to go on a ranch vacation, you’ll find that the horses are typically trained to be mounted on the left side. Most possibly, your guide will be holding your horse’s head while you’re mounting, but if that’s not the case, ask someone to do it so he doesn’t move.

Lift your left foot into the stirrup, hold both reins with your left hand and propel yourself up with your right leg, moving as smoothly as possible. Don’t push the horse down with your arms, this could hurt him; you can put your hands on his back, but just for balance.

» Find out what are the different types of horse riding holidays and which one suits you best. 


4. Don’t slouch. Sit up straight and relaxed


Maybe you happened to watch the Kentucky Derby and felt excited enough to think that you had to hunch to ride as fast as possible like the professional jockeys on TV. Well, keep in mind that a horse riding weekend break is all about relaxation, not at the Grand National.

The best position to keep control of your horse is to sit up straight and tall, relax your back, hold the reins gently, set a foot in each stirrup, and hold your balance to not make your horse feel like he’s carrying a heavier load.

» Horse riding requires strength, balance, and stamina. Luckily, these can also be trained off the saddle by adding these exercises for horse riders to your routine. 


5. Be gentle with the reins


Your riding technique might depend on which style you’re learning, English or Western. In English riding, you take a rein in each hand, while in Western riding you grab both reins in one hand. Whichever you choose, relax your arms and never pull too hard or you might hurt your horse. There’s rarely a good reason to lift the reins above your shoulder level, your arms should normally form right angles at the elbow.

To direct your horse to the left, move the left rein towards the left in a motion similar to opening a door. If you want to steer to the right, just do the same with the right rein. Stop by gently pulling back and pushing the heels down.


6. Don’t hold the saddle horn for balance


When horse riding in the USA or Mexico, you most likely will find a saddle horn in your horse tack, which you can hold on to. However, you should not count on the saddle horn to keep you balanced. If you feel unstable, try adjusting your posture, extending your legs or holding the reins more gently.

If you make a habit of holding the saddle horn, if there’s an unexpected situation along the way, this is an ineffective position to keep your balance and you’ll be more likely to fall. That’s why you should never get used to holding onto the saddle horn even when you’re just walking. It’s better to learn properly from the get-go instead of developing bad habits that could hurt you in the long run.

Note that in the UK or other European countries, the tack does not typically include a saddle horn. Keep in mind that you should also avoid holding the front of the saddle for balance.


7. Keep your eyes where you’re going


Don’t fix your gaze on your horse while you ride. As beautiful as he is, you must always keep your eyes on the trail. Staring at your horse would be the equivalent of paying attention to the hood of your car while ignoring the road ahead (you surely wouldn’t want to be in a car with such a driver).

It is said that you should look ahead through the horse’s ears. But as long as you keep sight of the path while holding a straight posture, that should be enough to have a safe trail riding trip.


8. Stay in tune with your horse


Here’s our best Mr. Miyagi-ish lesson: be your horse. Stay calm and move your body in the rhythm of your horse. Feel the way he is walking and let him rock you from side to side without resisting. If you’re too tense, you might bounce, get thrown off balance and cause some discomfort in your back.

Let the horse be. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can let him do whatever he wants, but you can play the role of a leader, not the one of a dictator.


9. There’s nothing wrong with just walking


Remember point number 4? Read the first paragraph again and apply that mindset for tip number 9. Most horses have four gaits: walk, trot, canter, and gallop. As you might have deduced, galloping is out of the question when you’ve just started with horse riding.

The walk is the steadiest gait and that could very well be the fastest you go when riding for the first time. It’s not worth putting your safety at risk just for the sake of impressing someone (besides, a broken arm, if you fall, is not as impressive as it was in high school).

You can probably start trotting at one point, but anything faster might not be the wisest decision as a novice.


10. Dismount like a pro

Whoa there! Once you’re ready to dismount, make sure your horse is still. Also, it’s much better if someone holds the horse while you do so. Get both feet out of the stirrups, lean forward, swing your right leg over the horse, and jump off.

Just as when you mounted, try to do it as smoothly as you can. Thank your horse, give him some water and embrace the feeling of being back on the ground after an unforgettable experience. You most possibly won’t be able to wait much longer to get back in the saddle!


Want to go horse riding but you think you need a lot of money to do so? Well, you don’t! There are many affordable horse riding vacations where you can experience this amazing activity without having to dig deep in your pocket. 

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