How To Ride A Horse In 12 Easy Steps – For Beginners


Being able to horse ride is an amazing skill. It’s super fun, it’ll keep you fit, and it’s really enjoyable once you know some of the basics. Whilst horse riding is a great hobby, it can be a little overwhelming at the beginning.

There are so many different things to learn about riding, from how to mount the horse, to how to hold the reins, that it can be hard at first to remember it all. What we find so much easier when we are trying to learn a new skill is to break everything down into small, simple steps. 

That’s why we’ve created this easy to follow guide of how to ride a horse for beginners, so that you can learn all of the basics to get you started! So, let’s jump in! 

Step One – Choose Your Horse Riding Style

When you are learning how to ride a horse, one of the first things you have to consider is the riding style you want to master. When it comes to riding, there are two main styles to choose from. There’s English and Western style horse riding.

Now, both English and Western style have most of the same principles, they do differ when it comes to saddling up, using the tack and what the rider wears.

The main difference between them is that Western style is more for ranch work, or cowboy style riding, so the saddle is more comfortable, larger and is intended for long hours on the horse, whereas English style is better for competing and sports, with a smaller saddle for more coordination and control. 

As you can guess, Western style riding is more prominent in the US, Canada and places such as Australia where ranch work is more popular, whereas English style riding is more popular in European countries such as the UK, Germany and France. 

Most would say that Western style is easier for beginners as the saddle is larger, and you can feel more secure and comfortable on top of the horse. 

Step Two – Finding A Riding School Or Instructor

Once you have decided which style of riding you would like to learn, it’s time to look for an instructor or riding school. Some schools and instructors will specialize in particular riding styles, so it’s important that you choose one that suits your needs and goals.  

You also have to discuss with your instructor what you actually want to get out of your riding lessons. Do you just want to learn the basics of riding? Do you want to ride for fun? Do you want to compete in competitions? 

These are all things that you will have to think about when selecting a school or instructor, as some will be perfect for just learning to ride, whereas others can coach you for competitions such as show jumping after you’ve learned the basics. 

If you’re unsure how to find a riding school, then we recommend that you ask at local horse farms, pony clubs and tack shops, as they’ll have a few good suggestions for you! Alternatively, you can google to see who is the top rated instructor in your local area to help you find the perfect instructor. 

You will also want to ensure that you feel comfortable with the instructor you choose, as you will need to be able to feel confident asking questions. Horse riding is incredibly fun, but it can be dangerous if you don’t take precautions or listen to advice. If you’re ever unsure, make sure that you feel able to ask for help or reassurance! 

The other thing you should know is that most riding schools will offer either private lessons or group lessons. Of course, private lessons will be more costly than group lessons, but if you are not confident about learning in front of other people that you don’t know, then private lessons may be best for you.

In these types of lessons, you will get a 1-2-1 education with your instructor to help you achieve your goals and learn all the moves and techniques to become a great rider.

On the other hand, group lessons will be cheaper, as you share the instructor with other riders, but it can sometimes make the learning process much slower as you have to wait for everyone before moving on. 

Once you decide what’s best for you, start booking some of your first horse riding lessons!

Step Three – What To Wear To Your First Lesson

Now you’ve got your first lesson booked, you’re probably wondering what on earth to wear for it! We’d recommend that you don’t go all out and start buying all of your equipment ready for your first ride, as sometimes it’s just not for everyone, and you don’t want to waste money on riding boots that you’ll never wear again. 

So, instead, simply dress appropriately for horse riding. To do this, you’ll want to ensure that you have proper footwear on. This means wearing boots to protect your feet. You cannot wear sneakers or cute pumps, because if a horse accidentally stomps on your foot, you’re going to be in some serious pain. 

You’ll also want to protect yourself as best as you can, so we recommend a boot with some type of platform heel so that your feet don’t slip through the stirrups when you are riding. This can also help you find the ultimate position for your feet when riding the horse.

Protection is so important, so it is vital that you wear a helmet for riding. Whilst it is optional rather than mandatory, a helmet can protect you from injuring your head in case you fall off, so it is essential especially in the first stages of learning how to ride. 

The good news is that you probably won’t have to buy one as most riding schools will have some that you can borrow. Alternatively, buy your own to ensure your own safety, especially if you know you’re going to stick to horse riding for a long time. 

You’ll also have to think about your clothing. Loose, baggy clothing can flap in the breeze and spook the horse, but you won’t want to feel constricted or restrict your range of movement with really tight clothing. 

If you’re learning how to ride Western style, then it is fine to wear jeans to ride, but if you’re riding English style, then it could be worth wearing jeggings or jodhpurs to keep your legs comfortable, but able to move well. 

Step Four – Getting Ready For Your First Horse Riding Lesson

Once you’ve got the right clothing to wear, you may want to prepare yourself for your lesson. Horse riding is not as easy as it looks, and there are many skills that you’ll have to master. One of the biggest things that you won’t expect is how much your muscles are going to hurt after your first ride. 

When riding a horse, you actually work a lot of different muscle groups, and these will become much stronger after frequent lessons and the more times you ride.

One of the main muscle groups that you are going to work out are your core muscles, as you will use these to maintain balance and keep your posture straight when you are riding the horse. 

As a result, you may want to stretch out your muscles, and work on some exercises to prepare your body for riding.

To do this, we recommend doing an arm and leg reach. All you need to do is kneel on the floor, with your hands on the floor, and stretch your right arm and left leg out. Hold this position for 5 seconds, and repeat with the other leg, too. 

Do this exercise about 8-10 times a day for the week before your lesson, and you’ll find it much easier to engage your core muscles whilst riding, and keep your balance. 

You can also practice horse riding without actually getting onto a horse! Some schools will have a horse simulator, with a mechanical horse that you can use to get used to the feel of riding on a horse. 

It can also help you practice getting on and off the horse so that you don’t feel nervous or anxious on your first lesson. You can also practice finding your sitting position on the horse, and help you gauge how to keep your balance whilst the horse is moving. 

Step Five – Getting On To The Horse

Now, with your equipment at the ready, and your body prepared, it’s time for your first horse riding lesson. The first thing that you’ll have to do is get onto the horse, which is no easy feat when you’re a beginner. 

Getting onto a horse is called mounting the horse, and you need to be able to get on with ease, and get off with ease if you’re going to get anywhere with your horse riding skills! You can either mount a horse from the ground or from a mounting block.

If it’s your very first time, then the likelihood is that the instructor will get you to mount the horse from the block. Whilst you do this, they’ll hold the horse steady and secure to make it much easier for you. 

How To Mount A Horse From The Block

Most of the time, when you get to the riding school for your first lesson, the instructors will have the horse ready for you, standing next to the mounting block. The instructor will typically be holding the horse steady, and have it in the right position next to the block.

However, if the instructor does not, then you will have to lead the horse to the block, and have it standing with the mounting block just next to the left stirrup. Then, you will want to keep your horse steady, holding the reins in your left hand tightly. 

Then, stand on the block, and place your left foot in the stirrup, with the ball of the foot resting, and then move your weight onto that foot, whilst you swing your right leg over the back of the horse until you are sitting on the saddle. 

Place your right foot in the stirrup, find a secure and comfortable position in the saddle, and pick up the reins with both hands, and you’re on! Now, all you have to think about is your positioning whilst you ride, and you’re ready to go. 

Step Six – Mastering Your Riding Position

Mastering your riding position is an essential skill, as this not only affects your comfort and how you ride, but it also affects the horse’s comfort. You won’t want to put excess strain on your horse, so make sure that you understand how you should be seated.

Whilst it can take a little while to get used to the riding position, you’ll want to try and ensure you’re riding correctly as it can make your horse work harder to maintain their balance, and can tire them out if you are not. 

To help you out, we like to tell people to imagine a line running from your shoulders, down to the hips, and down to the heels. This will help you keep your position, and ensure that you are riding correctly.

Therefore, the back should be straight, to form that line from the shoulders to the hips, and the legs should be placed so that the knees and thighs can touch the saddle. You’ll also want to keep the feet with your toes pointing upwards, and the heels downwards, pushing into the saddle. 

Keep your shoulders up and back, which will also help you to keep your back straight, and have your arms relaxed but close to the body. You should then have your hands level at the front of your saddle, and your head should always be held up, looking forward between the horse’s ears. 

Step Seven – Holding The Reins

Now you’ve got a good understanding on the proper riding position, you’ll have to learn how to hold the reins. The reins are arguably one of the most important tools a rider has as it’s one of the ways you control and steer the horse during riding.

It’s also how you stop a horse, so you have to master the reins, and ensure that you have control over your horse.

Both Western style riding and English style riding use reins, but they hold them differently. Western riders will hold the reins in one hand and rest the other, whilst English riders will use both hands to steer and control the horse.

Either way, you’ll want to have the reins strongly in your hands, but give the horse some slack, so don’t keep them pulled too tight. 

Holding Western Reins

As mentioned above, the main difference between Western and Eastern riding is how you hold the reins. English riders use two hands, whereas most Western riders control the reins with one hand. 

The position in which you hold Western reins depends on which bit the horse has. Some bits, such as the snaffle bit can be held exactly the same as English reins, whereas others need both hands, but you only control with one.

For Western reins, you will want to have your left hand, or whichever one works for you, with a vertical fist sitting upwards.

The reins should be feeding up through the fist from the bottom, and will come out at the top between your thumb and index finger. Any excess reins left will be on the opposite side, and held with the other hand that is resting on the leg.

Holding English Reins

To hold the reins properly, you’ll want to visualize a line running from the bit in the horse’s mouth, all the way through the reins, and to the hands, wrists and elbows. This will ensure that you have the right positioning.

To make sure that you’ve got the proper grip on the reins, you’ll want to keep them between your little finger and ring fingers, squeezing them tightly to hold between your index finger and thumb. Keep the wrists relaxed, parallel and about four inches apart.

Step Eight –  Maintaining Your Balance

Okay, so you’ve got your position, you’ve got the reins in hand, and you’re ready to get going. Before you start riding the horse, you may feel a little nervous, as it can be a little unsteady or bumpy. Don’t worry this is completely normal, and a lot of first time riders can feel this way!

When a horse walks, or trots, you’ll feel the movement of its legs underneath you, which can feel a little uncomfortable, or like you’re going to fall off! But don’t worry, you’re not going to fall off just by the horse walking. 

The best advice we can give is for you to just go with it. Instead of feeling stiff, and worried about falling, move with the horse, and go with the movement. If you just tense up, it’ll make your horse struggle as it will have to counteract you when it moves. Instead, just go with the flow, and ride with the movement. 

Step Nine – Getting The Horse To Move

With a little bit of confidence, and your positioning and balance all checked, you’re ready to move! So, when you want to get your horse to move, you’ll have to get a few tricks down.

Unlike the many Western movies you’ve seen before, slapping the horse on the backside and yelling Yah or Yeeeehawwww is actually not going to get your horse to go anywhere. 

If anything, it would just scare the horse. Instead, you’ll want to instruct your horse calmly and with a nice but firm tone. To get a horse to move, you will want to ask your horse very calmly to ‘walk on’, or by clicking your tongue. Whichever method you choose will depend on how the horse is trained. 

Whilst you ask the horse to walk on, you will want to gently tap your heels into the sides of the horse, but not hard. This should incite them to start moving forwards. 

As the horse moves forward, they will move their heads slightly with the rhythm. Whilst you want to maintain control of the horse, you don’t have to keep the reins super tight as it could hurt the horse, or the bit should be pulled too much in the mouth.

Instead, as the horse is moving, you’ll want to give them a little bit of slack, which should be easy to do if you’re riding Western style, as you should only have the reins tight in one, and you can move your hands with your horse’s movement. 

Therefore, when a horse is moving forward, you will want to keep your hands holding the reins, but not too tightly or firmly. Instead, let them move with the horse’s movement, giving them some slack, for their comfort, but not too much that they could get distracted or start eating some of the greenery around you instead of working or moving. 

If the horse does seem distracted, then a quick pull of the reins should bring them back to earth and help them regain their focus.

Getting the horse to move is easy to do, as most horses are very compliant and eager to please, so now all you have to do is learn how to get them to stop! 

Step Ten – Learn How To Stop A Horse

This step is another essential skill you will learn on your first horse riding lesson. Horses are usually very easygoing, and will be well trained enough to listen to your commands and be very obedient. However, you have to respect that they are animals, and may get distracted, or need your instruction.

Without knowing this skill, you can put yourself and the horse at risk, and they may walk towards some hazards or into danger. This is why it is vital that you know how to stop your horse. Luckily it’s very simple to do. 

When it is time to stop your horse, you will want to start tightening your stomach muscles, so that your body feels more rigid. This will convey to the horse that you are resisting and tightening up, which will let them know that they need to stop. 

Then, you will want to tighten up the knees and thighs against the saddle, applying pressure to the horse with the legs to signal that you’re going to give them a command.

With a stronger grip in the reins, slowly pull them backwards towards you, keeping the hands at the same level, and pull your arms backwards to signal that the horse needs to stop. 

Some horses are trained to different levels, and may have been taught a command to use when you pull back on the reins to let them know that they need to stop. You can ask the riding instructor what this is, to help the horse understand you better. 

Once the horse has stopped, you will want to release the tension in the body, and loosen your grip on the reins. Give your horse a pat, before asking them to walk on again, and gently squeeze with the legs to get them to move again. 

Step Eleven  – Learn How To Turn A Horse

Once your horse is walking, they’ll keep walking forwards until you tell them otherwise. So, you’ll need to know how to turn the horse and how to steer them. After all, you are the rider, and you are in control. 

Contrary to popular belief, the reins are not the only thing that steer the horse, as you’ll have to use your legs and hands in conjunction with one another to give your horse signals to tell them where they need to go. 

You’ll also need to learn how to change direction, as this will help you be able to turn the horse around if needed. For instance, if you are riding on a track or path, and reach the end, then you’ll need to turn around in a circle to go back the way you came.

Whilst you’ll need to use your legs and your hands to steer, the way in which you do this depends on your chosen riding style! 

Steering Western Style

If you want to steer your horse Western style, then you will need to practice your neck reining skills. Neck reining involves touching the horse’s neck with the reins in order to steer them into a certain direction. 

For instance, in order to turn left, you will need to move your hand to the left sign, and leave the reins to brush across the left side of the horse’s neck. This will illustrate that you want to move left, and the horse will follow.

The same goes for moving right. To move in the right direction, you will need to use your hand to move the reins to the right, and leave them to brush over the right side of the horse’s neck. They will then turn in that direction. 

Steering English Style

For steering and riding English style, the process is a little bit different. Instead of neck reining, you will need to use the reins to control the direction of the horse.

To do this, you will want to pull the reins towards you in a similar way you pull the reins to stop the horse. However, you will only want to move the hand that correlates to the direction in which you want to move.

For instance, you will need to pull backwards towards your body with the left hand on the rein, to get the horse to turn left. Alternatively, to turn right, pull towards you with the right side of the reins and your horse will alter its course. 

You don’t have to pull too hard, as just a gentle pull should signal to the horse which direction you want them to go. However, if you have a stubborn horse, then you can pull a bit tighter, but don’t do it too quickly or sharply as this could hurt the horse as you’re pulling on the bit in their mouth. 

Once you’ve mastered moving the horse, getting them to stop and turning them, then you pretty much know all of the basics! All that’s left is finishing the ride and actually getting off the horse!

Step Twelve – Getting Off The Horse

The final step in this guide is finishing off the ride and getting off the horse. Now, this is called dismounting, and it’s what you do once you’re done riding and your horse is at a complete stop. 

To dismount your horse, you will need to pull the horse to a stop. Then, pull your feet out of the stirrups, and relax your legs. Then, put your hands on the horse’s neck in front of you at the withers and lean forward. 

Once your body is forward, swing your right leg over the horse’s back, and round to the left of you. Make sure you don’t make contact with the horse’s back or kick them. Swing your leg over, and the momentum should help you to drop to the ground. 

Before you hit the ground, make sure that you bend your knees as you lower yourself so that you jump gently onto the ground rather than hit it hard. 

As you get to the ground, you can hold the reins and then lead them back to the stable. 

Summary

Once you’ve learned and mastered these steps, you can start doing some serious horse riding! With these skills and steps to help you, you’ll pick it up in no time, and you can move onto trotting, cantering and finally jumping! Just remember that it’s a learning curve, and things take time. Just relax, and go with it! 

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