6 Things to Know Before Horseback Riding
A Guide for First-time Riders
It is important to do some research before you decide to go horseback riding for the first time. Knowledge is power, and by being here you’re already a step ahead of the game! Our quick tips below can help you get started on the path to a safe and fun experience:
Helmets should be mandatory for horseback riding for the first time (or first dozen times). In some states and areas, they may even be required by law, especially if you are under the age of 18. For obvious reasons, it’s important to protect your dome while horseback riding. Accidents don’t happen on purpose so before you mount, have a well fitted helmet that’s less than five years old and designed specifically for equestrian activities. Make sure it is free of cracks and defects. Yes, helmets can go bad. They’re made of plastic and composite materials and their effectiveness decreases with their age. You will find a manufacturer’s sticker on the inside of the helmet with an expiration date on it that lets you know when it is time to replace it. Any time your helmet hits the ground, it needs to be replaced, as its integrity gets compromised with any type of impact. Helmets keep you safe and come in a wide range of styles, colors, and sizes. They can even be super stylish! But most importantly, you will be stylish with an intact and fully functioning brain.
2. Saddle Security
Save the slipping for the water slide and make sure your saddle is fit appropriately to your horse. A saddle that isn’t fit tight enough is your number one enemy when trying to mount. Set yourself up for success by having an experienced horseperson make sure the saddle sits correctly on your horse. Having someone who’s been riding for a while is key when horseback riding for the first time. Tighten your saddle girth to the point that you can fit just one index finger under the cinch to the first knuckle. More than that and it may be too loose, less than that and it may be too tight. Your horse will not be happy about it if it’s too tight and might even let you know by aggressive tail movement or trying to move away from you as you rack them up. When you’re ready to mount, make sure to do so with confidence. This tip isn’t just for horseback riding for the first time, but for EVERY time.
3. Know How to Stop
Of course, practice makes perfect, but the first time you think about learning to use the ‘brakes’ shouldn’t be while you’re already at a speedy trot. To stop your horse, sink your weight into the saddle, lean back slightly and push your weight into your heels. Use your words and say a stern, but calm, ‘whoa’. Pull back gently on the reins to help your horse know to stop. There’s no need to yell, you’re very close to their ears after all. If the gentle tug on the reins doesn’t cause your horse to slow down, don’t just keep pulling on them. Instead, alternate between a tug and letting them relax until your horse gets the message.
4. Respect Your Horse
Avoid the mistake of treating your horse like a bike or a car, they are real living creatures after all. Horses have thoughts and feelings and as such building a relationship helps make for a better ride. They deserve respect and are more willing to work with you when you treat them with such. Things that seem small, like greeting your horse before approaching it closely, talking to them while you put on their saddle and bridle, and building a rapport are critical to getting your horse comfortable with you before going for a ride. The proper way to greet your horse, especially if it’s a horse that’s unfamiliar with you, is by extending your hand gently towards their muzzle and allowing your horse to sniff you and give you the okay. Some people refer to this as ‘the horseman’s handshake’ and will help ensure that you have a good time instead of a difficult one when horseback riding for the first time.
5. Good Posture and Eyes Where You Want to Go
Don’t get caught up in feeling like a hunched over jockey or channeling a squinty-eyed cowboy from a Western movie; good posture and focus are going to help you far more to keep your balance. By keeping your back straight but relaxed, and feet solidly in the stirrups it makes your horse carry less unnecessary weight and keeps you in the best position to react to something if you need to. Keep your eyes in the direction of where you want to go, and you’ll find it easier to navigate your horse particularly while you get used to the movement and balance needed. You only go horseback riding for the first time once! And every time after that it gets a little more easy and comfortable.
6. Stick Within Your Comfort Zone
It’s likely that your first ride isn’t going to result in a graceful, speedy, gallop into the sunset. It’s okay (and encouraged) to start slow. There are four gaits when riding a horse; walk, trot, canter, and gallop. For your first ride or two, focus on getting comfortable instead of going fast. You’ll be able to work up to a trot, but it’s perfectly okay to stay in a walking pace until your body catches on to the rhythm of riding. Before that happens, you’re far more likely to end up falling if you push it too fast, too quickly.
It's impossible to sum up everything you need to know about horseback riding for the first time in a mere six points, but by doing research ahead of time, you’re well on your way to becoming a more relaxed and comfortable rider!
Have any questions that you think we can help you out with? We’re always easy to reach through our Instagram or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The thing that you might not know about getting into riding horses is that community runs deep among us. Get ready to meet other people passionate about riding and animals, just like you are sure to be!