Horseback Riding Basics

Horseback riding is a long standing activity which really started out as a necessity as far back as ancient times. As you probably know, horses have always been thought of as a working animal, hence the term ‘workhorse’, and they were also utilized as a means of transportation. Even though ranchers and the like still utilize them in this way, horseback riding has become a very popular sport with quite a few new categories based from it such as competitions and rodeos.

If you’re new to horseback riding, you’ll want to know the differences of the two basic styles which are Western and English so that you can decide which is best suited to your interests. The bottom line is the same for both methods and involves staying on top of the horse while using some form of communication to (hopefully) get it to do what you want.

Western horseback riding is much different from the traditional English riding style. Instead of focusing on perfected and conditioned form, the western technique relies more on the horse’s natural step which results in a more casual and fluid motion. As you might guess, this style is what is utilized for long and/or rigorous trail rides like those that you would experience at a dude ranch.

Additionally, the western trained horse is taught to move away from pressure, including weight. This means that the rider’s weight is on the outside of the horse. If it’s a well-tuned team of horse and rider, the rider would be sitting pretty much in the middle of the saddle. The principle is that you are steering the horse into the direction it is supposed to go, instead if positioning your weight where you expect the horse to follow.

English style horseback riding is based on highly organized disciplines and requires the use of an English saddle, which is more lightweight than a Western saddle. There are specific techniques that English style riders are trained with because these are the methods used for judging equestrian shows and competitions. An English trained horse is meant to do everything exactly as the rider instructs it to as this style was designed to show that while the horse is at its peak fitness, it also remains obedient and submissive to its rider.

Most beginning riders feel more comfortable with the Western style because it offers more of a sense of security as the Western gear is larger and heavier. Also, Western generally uses a longer stirrup which allows for better contact between the horse and its rider. Of course, the choice for which horseback riding style you prefer is ultimately up to you.

Even if you are an experienced horseback rider, there might still be a few things you could learn to help make your ride safer and more enjoyable. Especially for novice riders, there are definitely lots of things to keep in mind to not only enhance the pleasure of your experience, but also for safety reasons. Following are some tips to help you prepare for your ride.

* Always check your equipment thoroughly and make any necessary repairs before you head out. Take along some string, a pocket knife and strips of leather because if your tack fails, you might be able to make at least some temporary repairs enabling you to ride home instead of walking.

* Avoid riding alone, especially for younger and beginner-level riders. If you have even a minor accident and you’re alone, you could end up in serious or possibly life threatening situation. Also bring along a cell phone or walk-talkie.

* Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. If it’s too warm for long-sleeves, bring along a lightweight jacket that will protect you from scrapes and sunburn. Covering your arms and legs will also help to keep the bugs from biting you.

* Take some bug repellent with you. Insects flying around your face and your horse can really be an annoyance. Keep in mind that most animals don’t like the sound of aerosol spray cans, especially close to their ears. Purchase repellent in a small plastic pump bottle or in a lotion version. This way, you can apply some repellent to your face and hands and also on the horse’s face and ears.

* Wear hard-soled boots with a small heal. Try to avoid wearing boots with deep arches or large treads because they can cause your feet to get caught in the stirrups.

* Wear protective head gear because not only can a riding helmet provide protection in the event of a fall, but you might also encounter tree branches or other hazards along the way.

* Wear sunglasses to help provide protection against ultraviolet rays and dust or dirt that can fly up and get in your eyes.

* Bring one of those compact, waterproof ponchos with you. They are small enough to fit in your shirt pocket and are good to have in case of a sudden rain.

* Fanny packs around your around your waist are okay for smaller items you want to take with you, but don’t wear a back pack because they have a tendency to throw off your balance and can also get caught in tree limbs.

There are several different kinds of horseback riding lessons you can take, depending on where your interests in the sport lie. There are clinics devoted to every age group and include training for competition riding, lessons for the recreational rider, ranchers, and even classes on learning how to deal with problem horses. You can take one-on-one or group lessons or special classes taught by internationally renowned horseback riders.

As a beginner-level student, both children and adults interested in gaining the fundamental knowledge of horseback riding skills will learn basic riding terminology, safety tips and general skills. The length of the horseback riding lessons vary, but most are normally for around one hour or so. Usually, when you arrive for your lesson, you will be given an initial assessment of your skills. Then the you and the instructor can evaluate what goals you want to reach and set up the type of lessons you’ll need based on that information.

Here are a few different categories of horseback riding lessons available, based on levels of experience, to help you determine which area you fall under with definitions of some of the common horseback riding terminology you may not be familiar with yet.

* Post the Trot: Setting the horse’s pace while trotting
* Cantering: Slower than a gallop but quicker than a trot
* Seat: The manner in which a rider sits in the saddle
* Soft Hands: Light but firm hold, totally in control of the reigns

Beginner: A person who has limited experience, is unable to post the trot and does not canter.

Novice: A rider who is capable of mounting and dismounting the horse without assistance, can apply basic aids, is comfortable and in control at a walking pace and who can ride at a moderate trot and short canters.

Intermediate: A rider who has a firm seat, is confident and in control at all paces including posting trots, two-point canters and gallops, but does not ride regularly.

Strong Intermediate: An intermediate rider who is currently riding regularly and is comfortable being in the saddle for at least six hours a day.

Advanced: All of the above, plus an independent seat, soft hands, and capable of handling a spirited horse in open country.

There are numerous horse stables across the United States and internationally that offer lessons at various levels. Browse around online to find one in your area, and be sure that you choose an instructor who you feel comfortable with so you can get the most out of your learning experience.