From Mountain Khakis

Beginner’s Guide to a Horseback Ride

©istockphoto/amveale

©istockphoto/amveale

Horses have been a part of American culture since the early days of European settlement. Until the rise of the railroad system, they were the best way from point A to point B. Images of horses appear everywhere. We idolize them on the silver screen and watch them race and buck on the small screen.

That said, it’s amazing how few people actually ride horses these days. Here’s a short guide on how to have an enjoyable and safe ride even if you have little or no experience with horses.

Find a Horse to Ride
If you are lucky enough to have a friend or relative that owns horses, great. If not, you can do an internet search for trail riding businesses in your area. Expect trail rides to cost between $25 and $100 per person depending on where you go and how long of a ride you book.

Understand Basic Horse Behavior
Horses, like dogs and people, are individuals with their own personalities. What is upsetting to one horse may not bother another. The best way to deal with unknown horses is to treat them all with respect and try not to spook them. When they are surprised from behind, horses may kick. Stay well clear of horses as you pass behind them and calmly say something like “ho” in a low tone to let them know you are there.

It is a good idea to say hello to your horse before mounting him. A few strokes of his muzzle and some comforting words go a long way toward establishing trust in your new partnership. Horses are flight animals and can sense fear in humans and other animals, so do your best to stay calm and confident around your mount and you will enjoy a more relaxed ride.

Climbing in the Saddle
Mount the horse from the left side by placing your left foot in the stirrup and swinging your right leg over the horses back. Once you’re mounted, make sure your stirrups are adjusted correctly. Sitting upright in the saddle your knees should be bent slightly with your toes up and your heels down.

If you feel uncomfortable, ask a more experienced rider to diagnose the problem and help you correct it. You’ll be glad you did at the end of ride.

Bit, Bridle, and Reins—Your Horse’s Steering Wheel
These pieces of equipment are even more important than your saddle as they are what allows you to control your horse. The bit is a small piece of metal inserted into the horse’s mouth that allows them to feel your commands. The bit is hooked to a strap that wraps around the horse’s head to hold the bit in place. This strap is called the bridle. The reins are hooked to the front of the bridle on each side of the bit. The reins are your horse’s steering wheel.

Neck Reining vs. Plow Reining
These are the two most common ways to steer a horse. It is important to know which method to use on the horse you are riding.

Plow reining requires the rider to hold one rein in each hand and pull back on the left rein to go left, the right rein to go right, or both reins at the same time to stop or go back. Plow reining is mainly used for driving horses, but some trail horses also plow rein.

Neck reining is most common in trail horses. While riding a horse that neck reins, the rider holds both reins together and moves them the the left to turn left (allowing them to contact the right side of the horse’s neck), right to turn right, and back to stop or go back.

Horseback riding is a great way to get outdoors this fall. Make it a family trip or take your honey on a romantic ride and enjoy this historic mode of travel.





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