Ten beginner horse riding mistakes to avoid

Riding is a wonderful pastime, but it is a complex activity and it is very easy to experience problems with one element or another when you are just starting out — after all, so many parts of your body are required to do new and alien things, often simultaneously.

Although most professional riders wouldn’t admit to it, many carried their hands too high during their first couple of lessons, they couldn’t rise to the trot and their foot kept slipping through the stirrup in canter. Mistakes initially are only to be expected, and when they happen to you don’t be tempted to give up. Riding is all about persevering and correcting your mistakes through great instruction.

We have listed the top 10 most common beginners errors, so that you can instantly be aware of what not to do when in the saddle, making life more harmonious for both you and your horse

Clumsy hands

By far the most common mistake in new riders is holding the reins the wrong way. The instinctive method invariably involves the rein entering a closed hand at the thumb end and exiting by the little finger with the fingers facing up. Once you’re a little more experienced, if you try to ride this way you realise that it just doesn’t work. Another frequently seen mistake is to hold the hand flat, fingers downwards, with the knuckles parallel to the ground. Both ways make it impossible to maintain a soft contact with the horse’s mouth. Carrying your hands too high is also uncomfortable for your mount.

The abrupt halt

There is nothing worse than a horse being pulled roughly in the mouth by a heavy handed rider and this is a particularly destructive common learner’s fault. No human is ever going to control a strong horse by brute force, so remember that a well schooled mount will stop on a light contact when the rider pushes with his legs up into his hands.

Stiff arms

Nerves often makes a novice rider particularly tense in the saddle and consequently their arms are stiff. They fail to think about keeping the elbows and wrists soft and ‘giving’ as the horse’s head moves.

A bum steer

If you are doing any of the above, your horse will wonder what is going on when you try to turn him in a different direction or ride a circle with a clumsy pull on the left or right rein. A common beginner’s mistake is to think that everything is done with the hands. It isn’t. Your horse will have been taught to turn using the hand and leg.

Eyes down

This might be an excellent tactic in bingo halls, but it doesn’t work in the saddle. To be in balance your head should be upright and straight, with your eyes looking ahead in the direction of travel.

Forward going

Many riders (and not necessarily novices) instinctively find their upper body leaning forward during times of stress, such as when their horse is about to up the pace or is startled. By avoiding this common fault and maintaining the correct upright position with the upper body, you will remain in better balance with your horse and will also have more chance of staying in the plate when things go wrong.

Couch potato

It might be great to lean back into a comfy sofa at home, but you shouldn’t do the same on your horse. Some beginners appear to think that sitting back on their seatbones is the perfect position. It isn’t. Ultimately, it is uncomfortable for the horse and for you.

Legs eleven

There’s that bingo theme again. But seriously, when you lean too far forward and too far back in the saddle, your lower leg — the driving force for your horse — will automatically end up in the wrong place, making it totally ineffectual.

Grip for life

During sitting trot it can be tempting to squeeze frantically with the knees in an attempt to hold yourself secure in the saddle. However, by doing so your lower leg is likely to creep back, your heel will probably come up and your toe face downwards and before you know it you’ll be sitting on the floor. Keep the knees long and loose during this pace.

Heels up, toes down

Of course, it’s supposed to be the other way around, but it is all too easy when you first climb into the saddle to point your toes towards terra firma as your heels reach for the sky — even when you aren’t attempting sitting trot. Concentrate instead on the opposite, ensuring that your toes are pointing forward too and not at some severe angle out to the side.


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