Ok, who knows how useful this is, but you never know when you might find a time when you are for one reason or another on the back of a horse. Or perhaps you are just curious about how to do it. Well, it's your lucky day! Or something.

Proper Attire

Before you go, you should get yourself in proper dress. While you can ride in anything, I really don't recommend it. The things you need to pay attention to are your pants and shoes. For the pants, you definately want long pants. Trust me, leather on bare thighs can hurt like hell. For western riding, jeans are the common pants to wear. For english riding, jeans are a bad idea. I know, you ask, what is the difference. English riding focuses a lot more on the use of the legs. Because your legs are always in contact with the horses side, the seams of your jeans can chafe like a bitch. Ouch! So for english riding, people typically either wear breeches (yes, they are like tights, typically made of cotton with suede patches on the thighs) or jeans with chaps. When in doubt, wear jeans, you'll get by.

Shoes are also very important. If you are going to be doing this many times, invest in a good pair of boots. For western riding, cowboy boots are the standard. For english riding, english boots are used. These are tall black boots that go up to just below the knee and should be properly fit to your calf. If you are just going out for fun, wear what you got but avoid tennis shoes if at all possible. Rubber soles, especially those with patterns on the bottom, tend to prevent your foot from being able to fall out of the irons. If your foot gets stuck and you fall off, you are going to get drug by your ankle. This is not fun...

Getting On

Obviously, the first step is to actually get on the horse. This can be somewhat tricky, especially if the horse is tall. Approach the horse on it's left side and give it a few pats on the neck to let it know you are there. Stand next to the saddle and grab the reins in your left hand, leaving slack in them. With your left hand still gripping the reins, grab on to the pommel of the saddle (the bump in the front of an english saddle or the horn on a western saddle). With your right hand, hold on to the stirrup and place your left foot in it, with the iron resting underneath the ball of your foot. Grab the cantle (rear of the seat) of the saddle with your right hand.

You are now in position. Keep in mind, some horses have a tendency to start walking when you get in position, because they think it's funny. It's probably a good idea to have someone at the head of the horse to hold them still, since at this point holding them steady with the reins while mounting is probably a bit much for you. So now, you want to push your body up with the left foot in the stirrup and swing your right leg over the saddle. Try not to kick the horse while doing this...

If the horse is really tall, this might not work out so well. If you have a bucket or crate around, place it at the side of the horse and use it to reach the stirrups. If not, find someone to give you a boost. The usual method is to lift your left leg so that your shin is parallel to the ground. The other person will grab your leg around the shin and lift up. As they do this, push yourself up with your hands on the saddle and swing your right leg over.

Congratulations, you are now on a horse!

Proper Position

The first thing you need to do is make sure the stirrups are adjusted properly. If your feet can't reach the irons, they are too long. In a western saddle, the stirrups should be adjusted so that there is a slight bend in the knee. In an english saddle, they are usually adjusted a bit shorter, although it depends on what you are doing. For example, when jumping the stirrups are set shorter so that you can rise out of the saddle more, but in dressage they are kept longer to allow more use of the leg. To start with, just do what feels comfortable.

Ok, now to get situated. The proper position is to keep your legs and shoulders back, you should be able to draw a straight vertical line through your ankles, hips, and shoulders. The irons should be rested on the balls of your feet, if your feet are not in enough they might fall out, if they are in too much, you run a good risk of getting an ankle caught if you fall. You should always keep pressure on the irons with the balls of your feet. You should push your heels downward as much as possible, this will feel awkward at first but you will get used to it and it keeps you secure in the seat of the saddle. Your toes should be pointed straight ahead.

Ok, now we get into the differences between western and english riding. If you are riding western, the reins are proabably tied in a knot forming a loop. Grab the reins in your dominant hand in front of the knot. Grab them so there is slack, but not enough that you can't easily pull back and exert pressure on the bit. Your other hand should rest easily on your thigh, or in proper show form, hold it in front of your naval with the hand in a loose fist.

In english riding, the reins are connected with a buckle at the end. You want to grab the reins so that you can maintain a constant light pressure with the bit, with one rein in each hand. First grip the reins between your pinky and ring finger, and then between your index finger and thumb. Most of the grip comes from the thumb. It's hard to describe without pictures, but hey... Your thumbs should be up so that your palms are on the vertical. Your hands should be slightly in front of the saddle, about 6" apart or so.

Basic Control

The first thing is to find out if the horse is trained to neck rein or not. If it is, then see that node for info on how to control the horse. For western riding, most horses are trained to neck rein whereas most english riding does not use it. If the horse doesn't neck rein, you steer by pulling back on the reins. For example, to turn left, pull back on the left rein. Do not move your hand out to the side, pull straight back. There should be enough tension in the reins that you can do this without pulling back very far. When you do this, the horse's head will turn slightly, allow your other hand to go forward with this motion while still keeping a slight tension. Always keep in mind the horse has a bit piece of metal in his mouth, gentle pressure is the key, do not ever jerk or yank on the reins.

If you are riding english, then it is also a good bet that the horse is trained to respond to leg pressure as well. A well trained horse can be turned left by applying pressure with the right leg against his side, although if you are new to riding this horse, it's probably not a good time to worry about this. But, keep in mind that with english riding, you generally keep a light pressure on the horses side with your calf all the time. We're not talking about squeezing here, just a light contact. With western riding, this is rarely done and the horse may freak out if you keep leg contact.

Ok, now we go into speed and gait control. This is pretty much done with the legs only, and is somewhat dependent on how the horse is trained. A lot of western horses are trained to respond to light kicks, because western riders are sucks with no leg muscle (ahem...not that there's anything wrong with that). Ask the owner/trainer about this, generally to get the horse walking you would give a few light kicks. Remember, this is a living animal, light kicks is the key, think of it as a few taps on the side. To get the horse to trot, a few more kicks should do the trick. For english riding, kicks are not usually used, instead we use leg pressure. Instead of kicking, squeeze with both legs. Remember when asking for a gait change to let up on the reins a bit, if you are pulling back while asking the horse to move faster, you are just going to confuse him.

On a final note, the canter is the one gait which usually uses a little different method to get the horse into it. The canter is a 3 beat gait, the horse leads with one front leg, follows with the opposite front and diagonal hind leg moving together, and finally follows with the other hind leg. The canter is said to be either a right or left lead depending on which front leg starts out the gait. When you are riding, the inside leg should be the lead leg. To ask the horse to canter, instead of using both legs to kick or squeeze, you use only the outside leg. For example, to ask the horse to canter on the left lead, you would use only your right leg.

One final note, if you are not an experienced rider, do not use spurs. You need to learn more leg control before you should strap any metal to your boots.

Actually Riding

Ok, now you are hopefully in a decent position and ready to go. The first step is to RELAX. Tension is your enemy. A horse generally weighs over half a ton, there is going to be a lot of shock going on here, in addition to the movement of muscles underneath you. Let's look at each gait and how you want to ride it.

Walk - Ok, the walk is easy, anyone can ride this. It's a four beat gait, meaning that each leg moves on it's own so you can feel four different beats as each leg hits the ground. Just relax and let your body flow, remembering to keep your legs and shoulders back, your heels down, and your hands up.

Trot - The trot can be difficult to ride, although it really depends on the horse. It is a two beat gait, the horses legs move in diagonal pairs with each pair of legs hitting the ground at the same time. This can be a very rough gait on some horses. The main thing to remember is to keep your body relaxed, but still in position. If you tense up, you are going to bounce up and down like a pogo stick. Keep your heels down to stay secure in the seat of the saddle, and allow your hips to relax and flow with the movement of the horse. If you are having trouble relaxing your body, just forget about your form for a little bit and allow your body to go as limp as you can. Don't fight it, relax your body and go with it.

If you are riding english, the traditional way to ride the trot is to post. Basically, this means that you rise out of the saddle every other beat. You do this as the outside leg moves forward. You sit one beat, then rise the next, then sit, then rise, and so on. It's hard to explain but easy to do. When you rise, you push out of the irons and bring your pelvis forward slightly, keeping your back straight.

One last word, don't grip onto the saddle with either hand. People commonly do this, wanting to hold on to secure themselves. DON'T. When you do this, you are tensing your body and trying to force yourself into the saddle. With the increased tension, you are just going to get jolted more. Relax, trust me, it's a lot easier on your body.

Canter - The canter, again, can vary a lot from horse to horse, however it is generally easier to ride than a trot. Well, at least once you get used to it. Because of the increased speed, it's a lot scarier for people who are not used to it so it can seem worse than it is. The canter is a very rhytmic gait, it's almost a rocking motion like riding a toy rocking horse. They key is to relax your hips and move them with the motion. Imagine your hips going in a circle, instead of moving your whole body, just allow your hips to rock back and forth with the motion. Don't force your hips to gyrate either, most horses will match pace with the movement of your body if you start really getting your hips going. Again, relax, if you tense up you are going to get thrown back and forward. Don't fight it, move with it. If this is your first time out, cantering is probably a bad idea. I'd recommend you wait to do this with an instructor. Also keep in mind that the horse's neck stretches a lot during a canter, make sure your arms are loose and move with the horse so that you aren't putting more pressure on his mouth when he extends his neck.

Stopping

Obviously, another important part is stopping or slowing down. For the most part, all you do is pull back on both reins to slow the horse. You also want to make sure you lean back a bit and let up on any leg contact you have. In more advanced riding this may not be the case, but it'll do for now. And remember, this is a living animal, NO YANKING. Start light and if the horse does not respond, exert more pressure until he has slowed down to the point you want.

Getting Off

You can do this as pretty much the opposite of getting on, but it's probably easier just to drop off. Kick both feet out of the stirrups and let your legs dangle. Swing your right leg up and over the horse, and drop down on the ground. Congratulations, you have now ridden a horse and are back on land!

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