How to Ride a Horse in 12 Easy Steps

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Instructions by a Thumbtack professional

Learn how to ride a horse in 12 easy steps

So you’re ready to learn how to ride a horse! Lane Wooten, owner of Debut Arabians in Dallas, Texas — and a Thumbtack Top Pro — is here to help. Debut Arabians is a barn and training facility with four full-time instructors (including herself) who have been teaching horseback riding for over 20 years. In that time, they’ve taught more than 500 beginners how to ride. In addition to teaching beginners, Debut Arabians is also a competition facility, with over 50 championship titles in various riding disciplines.

Whether you’re in it for the trophies or you just want to have fun, follow Wooten’s 12 steps for learning how to ride a horse.

Shopping List
Helmet, saddle, bridle, bit, reins

STEP 1: Learn how to ride a horse

Wear appropriate clothes

When riding, you should always wear long pants and closed-to shoes, preferable boots. A helmet is critical. Instructors should provide these, but if you’re going it alone, be sure to wear a good-fitting helmet.

STEP 2: Learn how to ride a horse

Outfit your horse

It’s not only the rider who needs a special outfit. Wooten explains that saddles are fitted to both the horse and rider. All training facilities will have the equipment needed to keep students as well as the horse comfortable. Debut Arabians recommends that you begin learning in an English saddle because it is smaller and does not have a saddle horn. It’s easy for students to later switch over to a Western saddle if they would like — but it’s difficult to switch from using a Western to using an English saddle.

Besides the saddle, here are a few other items the horse will need:

  • Girth. This adjustable leather strap goes around the horse’s belly and connects the saddle to the horse.
  • Bridle. This leather piece goes over the horse’s face.
  • Bit. This metal bar goes in the horse’s mouth and is connected to the bridle. Pressure on the bit is one way the horse receives your nonverbal communications.
  • Reins. The rider holds in their hands these leather straps, which are connected to the bit. Pulling on these is another to communicate nonverbally to the horse.

STEP 3: Learn how to ride a horse

Get to know the horse

Horses are prey animals, explains Wooten. Unlike your dog or cat, they’re biologically the hunted, not the hunter. Basically, they’re giant wimps, she says. Although they weigh 1,000 pounds, they spook easy. Before you just jump on a horse and go for a ride, it’s important to learn good horse etiquette.

Avoid fast movements. Running up and hugging a horse like you would a dog will spook the horse. When walking around a horse, touch its body the whole time so it can sense you and knows where you are. Don’t make loud noises. When approaching a horse, walk quietly and at a normal pace with your hands down. Always have a calm, "it’s okay" manner around the animal. Leave your anger and anxiety at home.

STEP 4: Learn how to ride a horse

Tack up your horse

All of the equipment used in horseback riding is called "tack" and getting a horse ready to ride is called “tacking.” Knowing your gear and how to use it is an important first step in learning to ride. At a first lesson, Debut Arabians explains each piece of tack, then demonstrates how to put on a saddle, a girth and a bridle. Generally students also get a turn tacking up the horse.

STEP 5: Learn how to ride a horse

Mount your horse

It’s traditional to mount from a horse’s left side. Place your left foot in the stirrup, pull yourself up, then swing your right leg over. Most training facilities can help get you up and over if it’s new to you.

It’s okay to mount from the right side — it’s just more informal. If you start out knowing the correct approach to traditional English-style riding, you’ll always be prepared for a fancy occasion.

STEP 6: Learn how to ride a horse

Practice riding postures

There are three main types of riding postures for beginners, Wooten says:

  • Hunter. This posture comes from the English tradition of fox hunting while on horseback. Sit up straight in the saddle, and lean slightly forward. You’re riding in a posture with the possibility that you’ll eventually go over jumps. Hold a rein in each hand down by the saddle pad on each side of the front of the saddle.
  • Western. Sit straight up and hold the reins in one hand up by your hip bone. When you want to turn, you’ll move that one hand left or right.
  • Saddle seat. Sit straight, almost leaning a bit back to get off of the horse’s shoulders. This style is done with trotting breeds, Wooten says, to emphasize how pretty the horse trots. The hands are held up high, almost near the chest.

At Debut Arabians, Hunter Pleasure is the most popular riding style students want to learn. It uses the same posture and techniques as Hunter, but there’s no jumping involved.

STEP 7: Learn how to ride a horse

Balance on your horse

Learning how to keep your balance on your horse takes muscle memory, Wooten says. And that means practice! It’s important to take lessons twice a week to teach your body how to be. You need to build the muscle memory in your core and your seat to hold you steady, and to do that, you need to do the action over and over. You won’t progress if you only ride every couple of weeks, she says. Another way to practice is to sit on an exercise ball while you’re reading or watching TV.

STEP 8: Learn how to ride a horse

Ride your horse

When learning to actually ride a horse, having an instructor is hugely helpful. He or she can walk you through the first few laps to help you get accustomed to the motion and movements of the horse. Instructors hold the horse by the reins and walk the rider in a small area. This allows you to gain confidence, get a feel for the ride and learn how to balance. After you’re more comfortable, you can try simple turns and stopping on your own while the instructor stands in the middle of the arena to help as needed.

STEP 9: Learn how to ride a horse

Turn your horse

You communicate to your horse when you want it to turn by using rein and leg pressure. For example, to turn left, you would gently pull back with the left rein (about one inch), which puts pressure on the left side of horse’s mouth. At the same time, press your right leg against the horse’s body with subtle pressure.

As the horse turns its head and body, it creates a release from the pressure and that’s the horse’s reward. Horses used to being used for lessons are well-trained and responsive, so it’s not necessary to use force. The amount pressure you apply with your leg should be similar to how much pressure you apply when petting a dog.

STEP 10: Learn how to ride a horse

Stop your horse

Pull back with both reins. At the same time, give the vocal cue, "woah." Once the horse stops, the release of pressure is the horse’s reward.

STEP 11: Learn how to ride a horse

How to regain control if lost

If you lose control of your horse, try not to panic. Take a breath and follow these simple steps. Pull back with both hands and say, "woah," loud and firm. If the horse doesn’t respond, don’t keep pulling. You can’t outpull a 1,000-pound animal. Instead, pull left or right with the rein drastically. So much so that the horse’s face turns back to their butt. Essentially you want to cause the horse to turn a tiny circle, which will slow it down and refocus its attention.

STEP 12: Learn how to ride a horse

Advance to a trot

After you start to get the hang of mounting, turning in both directions and stopping at a walk, you can advance to a trot. A trot is a two-beat gait that can be as slow as a jog and up to approximately 8 mph. Learning strategies are the same as with the introductory walking lessons. Your instructor will jog with you and the horse as you become capable of maintaining balance. You do this over and over until you can stay on the horse on your own, and then you incorporate giving directions to the horse.

About the pro - Debut Arabians is known for taking new riders and turning them into national level competing riders. With over 50 championship titles to our name, and all lessons taught on champion Arabian horses- Debut Arabians can put you on the fast track to achieving your riding goals. Even if you only want to ride for fun! The wonderful people and beautiful horses that Im surrounded by each day!

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