How to ride a horse for beginners

How to Ride a Horse Step by Step

Learning to ride a horse can look very complicated, and there is a lot that goes into riding well. But breaking down each element into baby steps helps riders of all ages become proficient equestrians.

How to Get on a Horse for Beginners

One of the coolest things about horses is that they are so tall. One of the scary things about horses is that they are, again, so tall. Yikes!

How are you supposed to get up there? Good news. With a little practice, mounting a horse is easy:

  1. Have someone hold your horse for you while you get on.
  2. Always check your girth! If it’s not snug enough, the saddle can “roll” when you try to get on.
  3. Stand on the horse’s left side. (It’s customary to work from this side of the horse, so it will be accustomed to this.)
  4. Hold the ends of the reins in your left hand, just in front of the saddle, but keep them loose. (Reins are what you use to steer your horse, so you’ll want to have them ready.)
  5. Put your left foot in the stirrup. Make sure the ball of your foot is on the stirrup vs. sticking your foot all the way through to the heel.
  6. Put your weight on your left foot and “step up” to a standing position. (Your right leg will be hanging next to your left.)
  7. Swing your right leg up and over the horse’s rump, being careful not to accidentally kick them on the way.
  8. Sit down in the saddle as gently as possible.
  9. Adjust your stirrups to the proper length, or have your trainer do it for you.
  10. Put your right foot in the other stirrup. Remember to center the ball of your foot on the stirrup, not your toe or heel.
  11. Congrats! You’re now on a horse.

How to Stop a Horse for Beginners

As fun as your first ride will be, you’ll want to bring your horse to a stop at some point. Just remember — you’ll be slowing down and then stopping. There shouldn’t be any “slamming on the brakes” while you’re in the saddle.

  1. First, you’ll want to make sure that you are steady in the saddle.
  2. Sink your weight into the seat.
  3. Lean back a little, and firm up your legs.
  4. There’s no shame in holding on to the horn or the front of the saddle.
  5. Let your horse know you’d like to slow down by saying “Whoa,” in a normal tone of voice. (You don’t need to yell – you’re just a couple of feet away from their ears.)
  6. Pull back gently on the reins. Don’t keep pulling at them like you’re pulling a rope. Instead, alternate tightening and releasing the pressure. Remember, the bit is in their mouth, and it’s sensitive!
  7. Once your horse has stopped, release the reins and give his neck a nice pat as a reward.

Here’s a helpful video about how to stop a horse.

How to Walk on a Horse for Beginners

Once you’ve successfully gotten up into the saddle, you’re ready to cue your horse to walk. Remember to relax as much as possible. Tight muscles will make everything more difficult.

walk horse for beginners

Source: Pixabay

Here’s how to walk on a horse:

  1. Make sure you have both of your feet placed comfortably in the stirrups.
  2. Hold the reins in your hand or hands, as your instructor directs. (Western riders usually use one hand, while English riders use two.)
  3. Sit deep and relaxed in the saddle, and keep the reins slightly loose. You don’t want to pull back on your horse’s mouth as you ask them to move forward.
  4. Give your horse a gentle squeeze (not a kick) with your lower legs to signal he should begin walking. If you have a very quiet or lazy horse, you may need to give him a couple of soft bumps with your heels.
  5. Sit up tall, hold your head up straight, and look between your horse’s ears (not at the ground).
  6. Try not to squeeze repeatedly with your legs once the horse is walking. Keep your legs long, quiet, and with weight firmly down in your heels.
  7. Listen to your instructor about how to steer with your reins and legs.

Here is a helpful video about how to walk on a horse.

How to Trot on a Horse for Beginners

Trotting is similar to jogging for a person. With each stride, your horse will be bouncing up into the air a little–and that means that you’ll be bouncing a little, too.

trotting horse for beginners

Photo Credit: Emily Harris

If walking on a horse feels like the gentle swaying of a boat on the water, trotting is going to feel like the waves are coming up a little higher. (Or, a lot higher, in the beginning.)

Here’s how to stay “afloat.”

  1. From a walk, gently squeeze your legs to ask the horse to move into a trot. If it continues walking, you may need to lightly bump with your heels.
  2. Don’t be afraid to hold on to the horn or front of the saddle to help steady yourself. You can also attach a grab strap to your English or Western saddle so you have something sturdy to hold onto.
  3. Trotting may feel awkward, until you get the hang of it, so don’t get frustrated if it’s hard to manage at first.
  4. Try not to squeeze with your knees or legs to hold on, even if it’s your first instinct. Relaxing makes things easier!
  5. Let yourself sink into the saddle, and let your legs continue hanging long, quiet, and with weight in your heels.
  6. Don’t use the reins to help you balance, as that will hurt your horse’s mouth. If you need to steady yourself, use a grab strap or the saddle horn (if riding Western style).
  7. Keep looking forward through your horse’s ears and sitting up nice and tall.
  8. Start by trotting for a few steps at a time in the beginning, then work your way up to longer periods of trotting.
  9. There’s a lot to coordinate at first, but you’ll get the hang of it with practice!

Here’s a helpful video showing how to trot on a horse.

How to Post on a Horse for Beginners

It’s a funny sounding term, but “posting” on your horse will make it a lot easier for you as you learn and improve your riding skills.

Posting involves rising slightly out of the saddle matching your horse’s natural movement and keeps you from bouncing while the horse trots. (English and Western riders can post the trot.)

  1. You’ll use your knees and upper leg muscles the most when you’re posting.
  2. While you’re experiencing the one-two-one-two beat of the trot, you’ll notice that you are being bounced out of the saddle when your horse pushes off with their back legs. “Posting” means rising and sitting with that two-beat gait.
  3. Use your knees and thighs as the pivot point to swivel upward and forward from the saddle.
  4. You’ll rise when the horse’s outside shoulder (the one next to the rail or arena wall) moves forward and sit when it moves back.
  5. Keep your eyes up, except for occasionally glancing down to check that you’re rising properly with the horse’s shoulder.
  6. Remember to sit gently so you don’t hurt the horse’s back.
  7. Posting gets easier the more you do it and the more you develop the correct muscles.

Here’s a helpful video about how to post on a horse (aka riding trot).

How to Sit the Trot Without Bouncing for Beginners

Watching a more experienced rider trot along, without bouncing, may look like magic.

Once you’ve tried trotting for the first time, it’s hard to imagine how they do it. They must have thighs of steel, or velcro on their saddle seat! In actuality, they’ve simply practiced a LOT.

Here’s how to start improving:

  1. The secret to not bouncing at the trot is learning to relax and not tense up.
  2. Think about walking along holding a really full cup of water without a lid. If you don’t want it to spill, you have to let your wrist relax and your elbow bend. It’s the same way with riding at the trot.
  3. You have to relax your body and try not to grip hard with your legs.
  4. Let your legs hang long, quiet, and with weight down in your heels.
  5. Imagine that you have that cup of water strapped to the center of your chest, and you’re trying to keep it from spilling all over you and your trusty steed.
  6. Once you learn to sit the trot without squeezing, other pieces of the puzzle will fall into place.
  7. You’ll soon learn to coordinate your hands and weight while you’re in the saddle.

Here are two helpful videos about how to sit the trot without bouncing:

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How to Canter on a Horse for Beginners

When you’re ready to canter, you’ll find that it’s a little easier to stay seated in the saddle, compared to trotting.

Cantering has three “beats,” or foot falls, and it feels a bit like you’re sitting on a rocking horse. (A really cute, furry rocking horse that nickers.)

girl cantering a horse

Photo Credit: Sarah Harris

Here’s how to canter on a horse:

  1. Start cantering from a trot.
  2. It’s easy to make the mistake of trotting faster and faster before you begin to canter, but you want to make a clear transition from trot to canter without trotting quickly.
  3. Asking for the canter can vary from horse to horse, so ask your trainer what cues your horse understands.
  4. Typically, you will move your outside leg back a few inches and then squeeze gently with both legs to ask for the canter.
  5. Keep yourself balanced in the center of the saddle and let your hips move back and forth with the horse.
  6. Don’t pull on the reins (unless it’s going too fast and you want to slow down). Instead, let your horse move his head freely and focus on keeping a deep seat.
  7. When you’re ready to slow down, gently pull back on the reins to let your horse know it’s time to trot again.

How to Gallop on a Horse for Beginners

Galloping is the next step up from cantering.

It’s essential that you have control of your horse at all lower speeds before you move on to the fastest gait.

horse galloping on beach

Source: Pixabay

Galloping is only for experienced riders.

It can be difficult to control and stop your horse, and you can both get hurt.

Here’s how to gallop on a horse:

  1. Galloping is very similar to cantering, except the horse stretches out to cover more ground more quickly. Your horse will need to stretch out his head and neck so his legs can extend.
  2. Start from a regular canter, ensuring you have full control and feel balanced.
  3. Cue for a gallop by leaning slightly forward and rising out of the saddle. (Think of it like a lesser version of what you see racehorse riders look like.)
  4. Move your hands slightly up the horse’s neck.
  5. Squeeze your legs gently to ask for more speed and extension.
  6. Keep your weight firmly on your feet in the stirrups so you can balance with your butt slightly out of the saddle.

Here’s a helpful video about how to gallop on a horse.

How to Jump on a Horse for Beginners

Jumping can be really fun — when you’re ready! You might get to try out small jumps in the riding ring with an instructor or when you’re out on a trail ride. 

jumping for beginners

Photo Credit: Sarah Harris

Here are some horse jumping tips for beginners:

  1. Jumping feels like a very big and bouncy canter stride. Your horse will push off strongly with its back legs, tuck up its front legs, and go over the jump.
  2. It’s important to lean slightly forward over the jump to help keep your balance and not interfere with it’s mouth.
  3. Maintain strong and secure legs and seat, but don’t grip tightly.
  4. Keep your eyes UP, not looking down at the ground or at the jump.
  5. Move your hands slightly forward on the horse’s neck to avoid pulling on his mouth.
  6. Once you’ve cleared the jump, sit back down in the saddle and return to a normal trot or canter position.
  7. It takes practice to get used to the rhythm of a horse that is going to jump. Be prepared to do lots of drills with your instructor and perhaps learn to go over small jumps without using your stirrups to help you balance.

Here are two helpful videos showing how to jump on a horse:

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How to Dismount a Horse for Beginners

When you’re ready to dismount, you’ll need to make sure that your horse will not move away as you get off.

  1. Bring your horse to a complete stop, and make sure you are away from other horses.
  2. Make sure you have a firm hold on the reins, but don’t pull on your horse’s mouth.
  3. Kick your feet free of your stirrups and lean forward.
  4. Swing your right leg up and over your horse’s back. Be sure not to accidentally kick your horse on the bum!
  5. Slide to the ground on your horse’s left side.
  6. Remember: Dismount on the left side of the horse.

Source: https://horserookie.com/