How to Begin Horseback Riding

Three Parts:Getting the Necessary GearGetting Your Horse ReadyRiding Basics

Horseback riding is an art form, a sport, and a skill all wrapped up into one. Whether you're interested in horseback riding in equestrian competition or riding the Western ranges, the basics of horse handling are universal. You can learn what you'll need to get started and how to handle your horse properly and stay safe your first few times out riding.

Part 1
Getting the Necessary Gear

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    Find an equestrian center near you. If you're going to ride a horse, the first thing you need to track down is a place to ride horses, and a horse to ride. The best way to do this if you're an inexperienced rider is to find an equestrian center or horse ranch in your area that leases horses or provides horseback riding lessons for inexperienced beginners.
    • If you have access to a horse and horseback riding equipment, you can safely skip this section and move on to the next section to learn how to handle and prepare a horse for riding. However if inexperienced and not under supervision, riding under the supervision of trained coach would be both safer and a more enjoyable experience.
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    Consider leasing a horse. If you or your parents don't want to buy a horse, you can always have a loan or lease a horse from your local riding school, pony club, or from a friend who may have stopped riding due to study, work or injury. Leasing is often cheaper as you and the owner agree on who should pay for what, most of the time the real owner pays for vet and the first pair of shoes. The rest is up to the new family. It is important to have the veterinarian look over the horse for possible health issues before purchasing, to avoid possible dishonest buyers. Do not buy or lease a horse unless you are ready to care for one. If you don't know the basics then this is a wrong move and you could end up either injuring the horse or even just selling it only weeks or months later as you may not be experienced enough.
    • If you're considering buying a horse outright, it's important to make all the considerations of price before you get too attached. Horses are living creatures, requiring feed, water, and attention every day, as well as a clean pasture area and stable or stall to protect it from the weather. They also require regular veterinary care, and hoof care by a qualified farrier, who trims the hooves and re-shoes the horse when needed. Also, don't just ride your horse for a day a week. Horse riding is a large commitment, and before you buy, remember your horse needs a lot of attention.
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    Buy a saddle and saddle blanket. The saddle helps many young and old riders stay on the horse, it is a means of providing comfort for riders over long distances. They come in many styles and varieties, and learning to size your saddle appropriately is an important part of riding.
    • When selecting a size, make sure you have the horses height and breed as well as conformation and size. A child rider usually is a 10 inch or so, but some saddles are suited to stocky fat ponies and some are suited to elegant lanky horses.
    • Most beginners should start with "General" or "All Purpose" saddles, though saddles come in many styles and varieties each depending on the style and purpose of riding. A Western Saddle is usually only used for Western riding, while a Jumping Saddle is used for Show Jumping.
    • The saddle cloth should be large enough to fit the saddle and have about an inch or two all the way around the saddle. This helps protect the saddle and stops the saddle from pinching the horse.
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    Purchase a bridle for the horse. The bridle provides a means of control. Specifically, the bit helps control the horse, the reins help to turn. Though this is only partly true, your riding instructor will do the teaching, so you only need to know what type is better.
    • As far as general bridles go, Cavesson or Hanoverian is best. A Cavesson has a Flash nose band, which helps prevent the horse opening its mouth, while a Hanoverian does not. Though basically very similar, it really depends on the horse and rider combination.
    • The bit and bridle must be proper for the horse, and different bits and bridles must be tried with the horse to find the best combination, as each horse is unique and sensitive to minute changes within the bridle setup.
    • It's usually recommended that this component be handled by a trainer or other person highly experienced with horses, as an improperly chosen bit or poorly adjusted bridle may possibly endanger the horse while attempting to ride.
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    Buy a grooming kit. Brushing a horse helps blood circulation, lets the rider bond with the horse, and makes him clean and shiny. You should always groom a horse before going for a ride and after, before removes any dirt and prickles that may cause the horse to react as he is in pain. A basic grooming kit should have:
    • Curry Comb, used to remove dry dirt and excessive hair
    • Dandy Brush, which is a stiff brush used to remove mud and hard stains
    • Body Brush, which is a soft bristled brush for bringing a shine and used on the face and delicate areas)
    • Hoof pick, to remove mud and stones from hooves
    • Mane comb, used to brush mane and forelock
    • A sponge for cleaning the nose and eyes and removing sweat marks after riding
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    Purchase riding attire. This should technically be bought before the rider buys saddles, blankets, brides, bits and all those other equipment. This should probably be bought before a horse is bought or leased.The rider should have a helmet designed specifically for riding, that is ASTM/STI certified. Helmets such as bike helmets are not satisfactory, as riding helmets cover more of the head and are specifically designed for safety against falls while horseback riding.
    • Boots should be flat-soled, preferably pointed, and they must have a heel, all to facilitate the easy removal of the boot from the stirrup should anything go wrong.
    • Jodhpurs are tight pants designed specifically for riding, and are usually considered the best choice, giving the most flexibility and give for riding. When you're first starting, any durable pair of pants would be satisfactory, as long as they allow for a full range of movement.
    • Riding shirts should have sleeves to prevent sunburn, or simply any shirt which breathes well, for comfort while on the horse. Gloves may be another choice, as some may see their fingers irritated by the reins, or they may prefer the grip provided by the material.
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    Take riding lessons from a qualified teacher. Start with barn chores at a quality stable first, if there is one nearby, to become familiar with horses and to get used to being around them. Many stables are happy to have a volunteer. In return they might let you ride their horses, and you will become acquainted with the horses, their temperaments, and body language.

Part 2
Getting Your Horse Ready

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    Learn to groom horses properly. This is important both in "bonding" with a horse, if you are fortunate enough to ride the same one regularly, and also gives you a chance to look the horse over for problems or injuries before and after a ride.
    • Feed and water the horse if you have opportunity, once again cementing a bond with the animal, earning its trust, and learning to trust it, as well. Many people are surprised, when they find themselves "up close, and personal," with a horse; with how large and powerful they truly are.
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    Brush horses properly. Use the curry comb, dandy (hard) brush, and body (soft) brush, in that order. The curry comb should be used on the neck, body, and about halfway down the horse's legs, and likewise for the hard brush. The body brush is the only brush that should be used all the way down to the horse's hooves.
    • Do not brush the horse's face; use a towel or a grooming glove on this area.
    • Pick up the horse's hooves and use a hoof pick to clean out dirt and mud if they appear to be dirty. Pick them up from the side, never stand directly behind or in front of a horse's legs, for safety reasons.
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    Check all your gear thoroughly. Bring your tack out of the tack room, check it over to make sure it is clean and in good shape, with no holes or tears in the leather. Set it down, preferably on a rail, saddle rack, or stand. Ensure that it is out of the way of other riders.
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    Catch and halter your horse. Catch or call your horse, and put on the halter. This is the leather or nylon harness that goes over the horse's head, and you will want to strap it tightly enough so it doesn't slip, but not tight enough to be uncomfortable for the horse. Ensure that it is completely on the horse's head; many an escaped horse could have been avoided had they simply ensured that the halter was on completely.
    • Lead the horse into the barn and attach the cross ties to the metal ring on the halter near the horses mouth. If there are two rings, the cross ties should be clipped to the metal loops on the sides, closest to the horse's mouth.
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    Saddle your horse. Standing on the horse's left side, slide the saddle blanket over the horse's back, with the front of the blanket just at the ridge of the front shoulders. Do this without sudden, jerking motions, as your horse may spook at any startling movement.
    • Make sure that the side in contact with the horse is smooth. Often, one side of the girth will have leather tabs sewn down to hold the buckles, while the other is smooth. These tabs must not be face down, as this may cause the horse to experience undue discomfort. saddles have three leather tabs to buckle the girth to, use the two outside leather tabs, ensuring that the middle tab runs beneath the girth and is not twisted or forming any sort of bump.
    • Pull the girth (chest-strap) under the horse and pass the tabs on the saddle through the girth buckles on the horse's left side. Ensure that it is not twisted. To tighten the girth, pass the leather tab on the saddle through the girth buckle, and then pull up on the end of the leather tab, securing the buckle once the girth is tightened. Ensure that the girth is tightened, and if only one end has elastic, this end should be tightened last.
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    Bridle your horse. Put the bridle on your horse by holding it in your non-dominant hand and using the dominant hand to work the bit into the mouth. Secure all of the straps. The cavesson (strap passing around the muzzle) should be just tight enough to get one finger between it and the horse. The throat-latch, which passes near where the horse's head meets the neck, should be tight enough to remain in position without being tight. It should be relatively loose, with multiple fingers fitting between it and the horse.
    • Walk the horse to a mounting block if so desired. Check that the girth is tight, the saddle should not shift significantly when attempts are made to move it. You should be on the horse's left side at this point.

Part 3
Riding Basics

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    Mount the horse. Catch the reins in your left hand, then grasp the horse's wither, mane, or the saddle horn with your left hand and the back of the saddle with your right. Do not pull on the horse. Place your left foot in the stirrup, pull yourself up, and swing your right leg over the horse's hindquarters.
    • Be careful not to kick the horse's rump as you swing your leg over his hindquarters, as he may begin to move if you do. Then again, they may do this anyway. It may be recommended to have someone else hold the horse while you are mounting.
    • Drop your right foot in the stirrup, lean forward in a semi-standing position just above the saddle, and feel if the saddle seems tight. If it has a tendency to slip, or doesn't feel tight, dismount, again on the left side, and re-tighten the chest strap.
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    Use the reins to steer. Pull up the reins, and get each at equal length while holding them over the center of the horse's neck with its head. The reins are basically the "steering wheel" of the horse. To turn left, you pull the reins left, so that the bit puts pressure on the horse's mouth, cuing him to move away from the pressure, turning the horse's head in that direction.
    • A second style of steering the horse involves the reins in two hands, where you hold one hand steady while the other exerts gentle pressure straight backwards, thus causing the horse to move away from the pressure, turning in response. The left hand is pulled back while the right hand is held steady, and so the horse turns to the left.
    • It's important to always defer to your teacher's instructions when you're just learning. The specifics of guiding the horse into motion are complex and take lots of practice. Learn from an experience horse rider.
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    Coax the horse into motion. Urge the horse forward by gently squeezing your calves into the horse's sides. Most horses respond to verbal commands too, commonly, "giddap" or "get up" to go forward, and "whoa" to stop.
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    Ride in open areas. As a beginner, it's important to stay away from fences, low branches of trees, or steep grades. Staying on a horse's back requires balance and concentration, and becomes much more natural and easy with practice. Be careful to keep the horse under your control, and watching for anything that may spook or cause the horse to rear up.


  • Don't do anything too fast, you may lose your confidence or you may miss something important.
  • Do not approach a horse from behind. If startled, a horse will kick, potentially harming itself and/or you.
  • Don't think you know everything; even the Olympic Riders have lessons! Riders are always improving and need support!
  • If you suddenly decide you want to ride horses, you shouldn't just go out and buy or lease a horse. They're living, dangerous animals that you can't just decide you want for a hobby and just drop when you get bored with it.
  • Having both riding and general horse care lessons before getting your first horse is crucial as being able to care for your horse safely and correctly is as important, if not more important, as being able to ride.
  • Even after getting your own horse, having an experienced person there to help will be very useful as any questions you have can be answered.
  • Having a riding instructor can help improve your riding drastically.
  • A horse is extremely expensive to keep and take care of, make sure you know what your getting into.
  • Always remember, horses are unpredictable animals. They could kill you in just one kick, so you have to be careful around them. Even the cutest little pony could hurt you.
  • Be cautious around horses/ponies but try not to be too scared as they are gentle giants -most of the time remember horses can sense if your nervous.
  • A person who rides knows that this takes a long time to master. So be careful!


  • Always wear boots with a heel, so that if you slip the heel will catch on the stirrup and prevent your leg from becoming caught.
  • Always wear a helmet and boots, they are there to protect you.
  • Never yank the reins. Horses have sensitive mouths, and yanking the reins can startle them, that could lead to dangerous things happening.
  • Never stand behind a horse.
  • Horses may spook (scare) easily and can be very unpredictable
  • Never run up to a horse-however quiet they may be.
  • Don't stand straight in front of a horse (it's one of their blind spots)
  • Horseback riding is dangerous and contains inherent risks associated with working with and riding on horses.
  • Never stand under a horses neck,as they could rear a land on you.
  • Don't sit down a in arena or stall because you might need to stand up quickly,crouch instead.

Things You'll Need For Learning To Ride

  • Helmet (Approved by your riding instructor and ASTM/STI certified)
  • Riding Boots with smooth sole and heel
  • Half chaps, unless you have long boots (not crucial they prevent the saddle from pinching or rubbing you, preventing saddle sores)

(If you have your own horse)

  • Saddle
  • Bridle
  • Bit
  • Saddle Cloth
  • Grooming Brushes
  • Halter
  • Lead line
  • Lunge line

Article Info

Categories: Riding