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Horseback Riding for Beginners

Crafted in Carhartt had the opportunity to spend a few days with the talented wranglers of Rankin Ranch in California. These experienced cowgirls have horseback riding tips for beginners they’d like to pass along.

Why It’s Important to Learn with a Trainer:

  1. Guidance. It is important to have guidance when learning about horses and riding to make it a safe and enjoyable experience. An experienced riding instructor can help you build a solid foundation and skill set to begin this new adventure.
  2. Communication between horse and rider. Every horse will pose different challenges, and an instructor can be vital to helping a beginner rider work through these situations. A horse will typically have an easier time teaching a beginning rider when an instructor is present.

What You Should Look for in a Riding Instructor:

  • • Find an instructor who is experienced in the discipline that you want to learn (ie: English, Western, etc.).
  • • Be upfront with your instructor about your past experience and your goals in working with them to make sure that their program is a good fit for you and that they have horses that can accommodate your skill level.
  • • Spending time at their riding facility and watching others take lessons from them could help you decide if you would enjoy their program.

What to Wear Horseback Riding:

  • Long pants to protect the rider’s legs from saddle sores, brush, and sun.
  • • A leather belt.
  • Button down, long sleeve shirt for further protection from the elements.
  • • A hat with stampede rings to provide protection from the sun and keep your hat in place.

Proper Posture for Horseback Riding:

  • A rider’s shoulders, hips, and legs should be in a straight line. As you ride, your legs should hang down from your hips in a position that would allow you to land on your own two feet if your horse wasn't there to hold you.
  • A rider’s legs will wrap around their horse’s body like a wet wash cloth wraps around the edge of a bathtub. If their stirrups are too long, the rider will likely stiffen out their legs to try to reach the stirrups. If the stirrups are too short, the rider will likely get cramps in their hips and thighs, also contributing to stiffness. Stiff legs contribute to an off balanced rider prone to tipping.
  • A rider should imagine having weights on the back of their heels that are slightly pulling their heels down close to the ground. Nothing excessive, just a slight pull to the ground. This ensures that the rider is conscious of keeping their boot from sliding through the stirrup. A beginning rider will need to be reminded of this often.
  • How the rider carries the reins depends on what type of bit is in the horse’s mouth. If using a snaffle bit, you ride with one rein in each hand. If riding a grazing bit, you carry the reins in one hand.

Horseback Riding Tips for Beginners:

  • Often times the best way for beginners to calm their nerves is to spend time with a horse on the ground grooming and interacting with the horse. It takes time to become comfortable and confident around horses.
  • When greeting a horse, you should always move slowly. Walk up to the horse’s shoulder, neck, or side of their head. Never walk toward the front of a horse’s head or directly behind them, for these are horses’ blind spots. While approaching a horse you should talk to them so that they are aware you are coming. As you reach the horse that you are greeting you should gently pet them, stroking the direction of the hair growth, watching their expressions as you do so.
  • Every individual has different needs when mounting a horse. You can use the stirrup and swing a leg over the back of the horse or utilize a mounting block if available. If using a platform, it is important that the horse is familiar and comfortable with the process to make it safe for horse and rider.
  • Stirrups are an important part of the saddle that help riders keep balance. It is important that stirrups are the appropriate length and that the left and right stirrup are even in length. Riders should keep their feet in the stirrups for the duration of all trail rides.
  • To make a horse move forward the rider should make sure the reins are loose and squeeze the horse’s side with one’s legs. You can also give the horses a tap or kick with your legs to give the horse a bigger, more obvious cue that you would like to move in a forward motion. Verbal cues are also used with many horses. A click or a kiss can get the horses attention and cue them to go forward. You always begin with small cues and increase until you get the response that you are asking for.
  • To stop your horse you should sit down/back in the saddle slightly.You should also slowly pull back on the reins to put a slight pressure on the bit in the horse’s mouth. It’s best to not jerk on the reins quickly. The verbal cue that is most commonly used is the word “Whoa,” to cue a horse or let them know that you would like to stop. Once a horse is stopped, you should release the pressure on the reins. If you continue to hold the reins tight, the horse will likely start to move backwards. When riding horses it is all about pressure and release. You apply the necessary amount of pressure to get the response you are asking for and then release that pressure as a reward.
  • The reins are their steering wheel and their brakes all in one. Your reins are used to steer your horse in the direction that you would like to travel. There are different styles of reining, including neck reining and direct reining, but not all horses are trained to neck rein. With direct reining, you ride with both hands and turn the horse’s head in the direction you would like to go by tightening the rein on the side of the desired turn. Pull left to go left and right to go right. If a horse has been trained to neck rein, you hold the reins together in one hand and move your hand in the in the direction you would like to go. The light pressure of the right rein against the horse’s neck signals it to turn left, and vice versa. As with any direction that is being given with your reins, it is all about pressure and release. Only put as much pressure as you need to get the desired response.
  • You should never ride at a speed that you are not comfortable with. Some horsemen prefer nice walking rides, others enjoy going at faster speeds. No matter your ability level or experience level you should never push a horse to go faster that it will willingly go. Horses, much like people, all have different speeds and comfort levels.
  • There are four main classifications to a horse’s speed or gait. Walking is the slowest gait for a horse. During a walk a horse will move each foot individually to move forward; this is called a four beat gait. A trot is the next gait for a horse. It is slightly faster and a bit bouncy. In this gate the horse has two feet on the ground and two feet off of the ground at a time. The opposite feet are moving at the same time, the right front leg will be moving forward at the same time as the left hind leg. This movement is what causes the trot to be bouncy and is what is called a two beat diagonal gate. The third gait in a horse’s movement is the lope or canter. This movement is a three beat gate where three of the legs move at the same time and the fourth leg (always a front leg) moves separately creating the reaching motion and faster speed. The last gait for a horse is the gallop or run. This is very similar to a lope just slightly faster. This speed has a gait like the walk, a four beat gait, where each leg moves independently.
  • Beginners should start with a walk to become comfortable in the saddle before continuing on to a trot or lope. As you begin to move into trotting and loping, it is good to do so in controlled settings and with guidance to gain experience. This could be done in a round pen or arena with a riding instructor or at the ranch with a wrangler out on the trail.
  • There are several ways to dismount a horse. You should start by making sure you are in a safe area and comfortable dismounting alone or have someone hold your horse for you. If dismounting alone, hold your reins and the horse’s mane in your left hand to ensure that the horse does not begin to walk off while you are dismounting. You always dismount on the left side. Stand in the stirrups holding the horn or pommel for balance and pull your right foot out of the stirrup. Lift and swing your right leg over and around the back of the saddle, doing your best not to kick the horse’s rear on the way over as this could cause them to spook or begin walking. Then, if you feel comfortable that you can reach the ground, you would lower your right leg to the ground while your left foot remains in the stirrup with a bent knee. You then remove your left foot from the stirrup. If your horse is tall or you are not confident in your balance, the best option is after you swing your right leg over the saddle, balance your weight on the saddle using your upper body strength and remove your left foot from the stirrup as well. Using the horn and the back of the saddle, you would lower yourself with both your feet below you, to the ground. Dismounting should be done in one fluid movement.
  • In the event that a horse is spooked by something, the rider should remain as calm as possible. Never let go of the reins or intentionally take your feet out of the stirrups. Both the reins and stirrups give you control and balance, which are both necessary for riding and even more important in a situation where a horse is afraid.
  • It is always important to be aware of your surroundings because this might allow you to see something that might spook your horse prior to it happening. Be present in your riding experience with good posture and a proper hold on the reins at all times to better respond to a horse being spooked or even just stumbling.

If you’d like to learn more about Rankin Ranch, visit their website, to see why they are the perfect folks to teach you everything you need to know about horse riding.

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