Tag Archive: learning to ride

  1. Learning to ride a horse: how to walk and halt

    Leave a Comment facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

    You are sitting securely in the saddle and it’s time to move off in walk. Your riding instructor should already have you in the correct position — so that you can draw an imaginary line from your ear, through your shoulder, hip and heel. Basically this isn’t going to change very much once the horse is on the move.

    There is, however, often a tendency in novice or nervous new riders to lean forward once the horse is in motion. You should resist this urge and sit up straight, looking in the direction in which you wish to go.

    Breathe for relaxation

    Another common fault is to tense up, causing parts of the body to stiffen. To help alleviate this ensure that you take regular breaths, and focus both on your breathing and on certain parts of the body that you know are tense and make a conscious effort to relax them.

    Use your legs

    To get the horse to move off into walk, gently squeeze him with both calves or lower legs. In those with a tendency to be lazy — and you may find this necessary with particularly steady riding school horses — a small kick with both heels will be needed and (worse case scenario) confirmation of your aid with a tap of your whip behind your lower leg. Again, depending on your horse’s temperament, you may need to squeeze with your lower leg to ensure that he keeps up the momentum in walk unless he is particularly keen and ‘forward going’, in which case your legs can relax at his sides.

    If you are just learning to ride a horse, you will notice how much he moves underneath you once he begins to walk. There will be a temptation to mimic the movement, thus exaggerating it with your upper body. To prevent yourself doing this, sit deep into the saddle, allowing just a slight movement of your hips and stomach. Do this and you will be at one with your horse.

    What your arms should do

    Just as your body should slightly rock to the walk movement, so your elbows and arms should constantly ‘give’ with the reins to follow the horse’s head and neck movements. Continue holding the reins so that an imaginary line can be drawn from your elbow, through your wrist and hand all the way to the bit. An inflexible arm will mean that you will be putting unnecessary pressure on the horse’s mouth, which will be both uncomfortable and will send him the wrong signals.

    How to halt

    Horses don’t have a brake pedal and the aids you give your mount should be far more subtle than how you stop a car. Never tug forcefully on the reins or jab the horse in the mouth. Instead, squeeze with your legs, but stop ‘giving’ so much with your hands. The application of this small amount of pressure will be enough to halt a well behaved, well schooled horse.

    Don’t forget to check our top tips for new riders.

    Image: horse and rider by Five Furlongs via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

  2. Basic horse tack explained

    1 Comment facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

    Horse tack can seem incredibly complicated to a beginner — there are bits (if you pardon the pun) and pieces for every imaginable kind of riding on every imaginable type of horse — but to begin with it’s best to get familiar with the most basic pieces in the tack room.

    Halter or headcollar and lead rope

    The headcollar fits loosely around your horse’s head. Fastened with a single buckle on the side, it’s used to tie him up for grooming, transportation or when you’re leading him from one place to another with the lead rope.

    The saddle

    Saddles are the robust pieces of carefully shaped, stuffed leather that help you to sit properly when you’re riding. They are carefully moulded underneath to trace the contours of a horse’s back, and on top to allow you to sit comfortably, with your weight evenly spread.

    There are many different types of saddle, but a good general-purpose saddle is likely to be the first one you use. It’s absolutely essential that the saddle fits a horse properly, as it can do lasting damage otherwise. Saddles come in different sizes and it takes an expert to really assess whether it’s a perfect fit. If you have any doubts about the suitability of a saddle, you’ll need to get in touch with a master saddler.


    A numnah is a piece of material shaped to fit under the saddle, which prevents chafing of the horse’s skin and helps to absorb sweat. You can usually fix it to the saddle to prevent it slipping around.


    Usually made of soft, durable material or leather with a double buckle at each end, the girth loops underneath the horse’s belly and keeps the saddle in place. It’s fastened on either side with buckles, which can be adjusted by the rider before and during a ride.

    Stirrups and stirrup leathers

    Stirrups are the arched metal frames with a flat base which support your feet. They are attached to the saddle by the stirrup leathers on each side of the saddle. To avoid slippage, it’s a good idea to use grooved rubber treads on the base to give your feet a little more grip. The stirrup leathers are just as they sound: leather straps which thread through the saddle and stirrups; they can also be adjusted for different leg lengths, or disciplines.


    Bridles are composed of a jigsaw of different pieces of leather which all buckle together around the horse’s head; some of which are adjustable. The pieces of a basic bridle include the headpiece, the browband, cheekpieces, the throatlash, the noseband and the reins. The piece in the horse’s mouth is called the ‘bit’.

    Just as with ill-fitting saddles, the wrong bridle, or a bridle fitted incorrectly, can do a lot of harm, so you will need to learn exactly how each piece fits together and how they should sit against the horse’s head.

    The bit

    The bit not only holds the bridle together but it connects the reins you are holding with the horse’s mouth, so it’s an important point of communication between horse and rider. But be warned: there are an enormous number of different bits and an even larger number of people with opinions on which bits are best.

    The most commonly used bit is a simple snaffle and unless your horse has some very specific requirements, this is the first one you’ll meet. It has a single jointed mouthpiece and acts by putting pressure on the tongue and bars of the horse’s mouth.

    As you gain more experience, you will doubtless encounter a bewildering array of bits, but it pays to remember that a fancy pants bit won’t make you a better rider, and unless you’re planning to be the next Carl Hester, you probably won’t ever need a vast selection of bits to achieve your goals.

    Or you can find out the real purpose of tack with Nicola Jane Swinney’s equestrian glossary….

    Image: tack by UpSticksNGo Crew via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

  3. Learning to ride a horse: What you can expect

    Leave a Comment facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

    Thinking of learning to ride? Here’s what you need to know before you start.

    One of the stand-out moments of London 2012 was Charlotte Dujardin winning the freestyle dressage test on Valegro. It really got people talking and Team GB’s great success that year encouraged a new generation of people into the saddle. According to Sport England, equestrianism now lies within the top ten most popular sports in the country, with over 430,000 regular participants.

    Happily, pretty much anyone can give riding a go: you can start learning, or get back into the saddle, at any age with just an average level of fitness. There are, however, a few notions to bear in mind before you bookmark ‘horses for sale’ in your browser and enter yourself for next year’s Badminton Horse Trials.

    Respect the horse

    Whether you want to learn to ride for fun or get into serious competition, the first thing to know is that success at any level is based on a partnership. Horses are as varied in temperament as people, so you’re going to need to understand how to approach and communicate with them. You’ll be spending lots of time around these animals, and, thankfully, by large, horses are excellent company. Indeed, given the choice, many equestrians would rather spend time with their horse or pony than with the majority of their nearest and dearest.

    Choose the right horse riding lessons

    There really aren’t any short cuts when it comes to  horse riding: being a beginner is a long, tough slog but hang in there: you will get a huge sense of achievement every time you master a new skill. You will need to take regular riding lessons at good, local stables or with a qualified professional. These cost from £20 to £40 per hour depending on where you are based and what level you’re at. You can learn on your own or as part of a group and the chances are you’ll meet some like-minded people along the way. The BEF website, www.hoofride.co.uk, has a useful database of places to ride all over the country.

    Get used to falling off a horse

    After the first few hours in the saddle you’ll ache in places you never knew you had, but take this as a good sign. Also, crucially, new riders must be prepared to fall off. In fact, the more quickly it happens, the sooner you’ll see that it’s not the end of the world. Enlightened, you’ll get straight back on. And then promptly fall off again.

    Invest in riding kit

    Most stables will provide riding hats for their customers, but since a hat has to fit perfectly to be any real use, you may want to buy your own. You might also invest in a pair of jodhpur boots, a couple of pairs of jodhpurs, and a good waterproof jacket.

    Be weatherproof

    Unfortunately, if you don’t like the feeling of rain down the back of your neck, then riding is probably not for you. Horses require regular exercise and, if you have planned to ride out, you can’t be a no-show just because of some small matter of snow, sleet or hail. Thank goodness, the beautiful summer evening rides more than make up for the force ten hurricanes you’ll endure in the winter.

    The rewards

    The amazing bit about horse riding is that, despite all the hard work, the time commitments and the horrible British weather, almost every single person who works with horses wouldn’t have it any other way. If you’ve read this far and found nothing off-putting, it’s quite likely that, before you know it, you’ll be hooked. By then, I’m afraid it’s too late — say goodbye to whatever previous life you had and hello to your new, horse-mad existence.

    Looking for horse riding kit?
    Discover Derby House’s latest range of horse riding equipment.