Horseback Riding For Dummies book cover

Horseback Riding For Dummies

By: Audrey Pavia Published: 08-04-2020

Giddy up! Your guide to horseback riding is here! 

There’s nothing quite like the sound of a horse’s gallop. Add to that the sight of its mane catching wind as its powerhouse body criss-crosses the boundary of strength and graceful agility. They are majestic creatures to behold—and if you’ve caught the equine bug, Horseback Riding For Dummies is all you need to get saddled up and started on your journey to riding into the sunset! 

Inside, riders at the beginner level will discover the differences between Western and English riding styles, get the knowledge to select the best stable and instructor, and so much more!

  • Choose the riding discipline that best suits your interests
  • Find a qualified riding instructor
  • Learn how to enter the competitive riding world
  • Fit and care for the saddle, bridle, and other equipment 

Once you’ve fallen for one of these beautiful animals, it’s hard to hold your horses—and this guide is here to give you the skills and know-how to take that excitement to the ring!

Articles From Horseback Riding For Dummies

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Horseback Riding For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-10-2022

Before you saddle up and go horseback riding, do a few stretches and check your tack to stay comfortable and safe while riding. Learn the basic steps for mounting either a Western or English saddle carefully and for dismounting your horse.

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How to Put on a Saddle and Bridle Properly

Article / Updated 06-12-2020

Tacking up a horse, especially putting on the saddle, takes practice. Become familiar with the process and then ask an experienced horse person (such as your riding instructor or trainer) to help you the first few times you try it. Making sure the saddle goes on right is important because you don’t want it to slip off while you’re riding. Correctly positioning and fastening the saddle on the horse’s back are also essential for the horse’s safety and comfort; an improper saddling job may hurt the horse, which can result in rearing or bucking. The horse should be tied by the halter when you’re putting on the saddle. The saddle and pad go on before the bridle, and you remove the halter after you put on the bridle. Before you saddle up the horse, do the following: Tie the horse securely by his halter to a hitching post using a quick-release knot or cross-ties. Groom the horse thoroughly, being careful to brush down the hairs on the back and the girth area. Make sure no dirt, bedding, or other objects are stuck to these areas. Check the saddle blanket and girth or cinch to make sure that no burrs, sticks, or other items are clinging to the underside. Western saddles Before you start, familiarize yourself with the parts of the Western saddle. Be sure to have your saddle pad ready, too. Follow these steps to saddle your horse: 1. Lay the pad on the horse’s back. Stand on the horse’s left side and position the front of the pad a few inches in front of the horse’s withers, at the base of the neck. 2. Slide the pad backward a couple of inches so the front edge of the pad is still covering the withers. If you need to move the pad forward, don’t slide it, because doing so ruffles the hairs underneath, which can irritate the horse while you ride. Instead, lift the pad to move it forward. Check both sides of the horse to make sure that the amount of pad is even on the left and the right. 3. Prepare the saddle. On a Western saddle, the cinch is attached to the right side. Before you approach the horse with the saddle, flip the cinch up and place the ring at the end over the saddle horn. Take the right stirrup and loop it over the saddle horn on top of the cinch ring. This step keeps the cinch and the stirrup out of your way when you put the saddle on the horse. 4. Bring the saddle to the horse. Grasp the front of the saddle in your left hand and the back of the saddle in your right. Approach the horse’s left side. Lift the saddle up to the height of the horse’s back a couple of times to get a sense of the weight of the saddle before you hoist it onto the horse’s back. 5. Place the saddle on the horse’s back. From the left side of the horse, swing the saddle up and over, and place it gently on the horse’s back. The saddle should sit in the hollow just below the withers with about 3 inches of the pad showing in front and in the back. To determine whether the saddle is correctly positioned on the horse’s back, look to see whether the cinch, when attached to the saddle, will fit just behind the horse’s elbows (see the following figure for the correct position of a Western saddle). 6. Walk around to the right side of the horse, unloop the stirrup from the saddle horn, and let it hang; undrape the cinch so it hangs down as well. 7. Go back to the left side of the horse and secure the saddle with the cinch. From the left side of the horse, reach underneath and take up the cinch. Run the latigo strap through the ring of the cinch, starting from the side closest to the horse, and then feed the strap through the same D-ring on the saddle where it’s attached, making sure the strap is flat and free of twists. Continue to loop the latigo strap through the two rings until you have about 12 inches of free strap coming from the ring attached to the saddle. 8. Make sure the cinch is snug enough that the saddle won’t move but not so snug that you can’t fit the fingers of a flat hand between the cinch and the horse’s body. To tighten the cinch, loosen the knot and pull up on the outside layer of strap between the D- and cinch rings. Check the cinch again after walking your horse a little and before mounting. You may need to retighten the cinch. English saddles You need to be familiar with the parts of an English saddle before you start saddling up. Then follow these steps to safely saddle a horse with an English saddle (have your pad and girth ready to go): 1. Lay the pad on the horse’s back. Stand on the horse’s left side and position the front of the pad a few inches in front of the horse’s withers, at the base of the neck. 2. Slide the pad backward a couple of inches so the front edge of the pad is still covering the withers. Don’t slide the pad forward if you need to reposition it because doing so ruffles the hairs underneath, which can irritate the horse — lift the pad instead. Check both sides of the horse to make sure that the amount of pad is even on the left and the right. 3. Pick up the saddle. Grasp the front of the saddle in your left hand and the back of the saddle in your right. Make sure you’ve pushed the stirrup irons up to the top of the stirrup leathers so they don’t flop around while you lift the saddle. 4. Place the saddle gently on the horse’s back in the hollow just below the withers. After placement, about 3 inches of the pad should be showing in front and back of the saddle. To ensure you’ve done it right, look to see whether the girth, when attached to the saddle, will fit just behind the horse’s elbows (see the following figure for the correct position of an English saddle). 5. Slide the girth straps on the left side of the saddle through the tab, the loop on the side of your saddle pad, from the top down. Go to the other side of the horse and repeat the process. 6. Fasten the girth to the right side of the saddle. Three girth straps, also known as billets, hang on the right side of the saddle, but you need to use only the outer two. The third one is present just in case one of the other straps breaks. Bring the girth to the right side of the horse and fasten the girth’s buckles to the two outside girth straps hanging from the saddle. (Girths vary, so get help from your instructor regarding which side of the girth to fasten to which side of the saddle.) Fasten the buckles about halfway up each girth strap. 7. Fasten the girth to the left side of the saddle. Move to the horse’s left side and reach underneath the horse to grasp the girth. Follow the same buckling procedure that you did in Step 6. Before you attach the girth, be sure it rests just behind the horse’s elbows and that it isn’t twisted or covered with debris. Make the girth snug. 8. Gradually tighten the girth on the left side over a period of several minutes, one hole at a time. Doing so gradually is kinder to the horse. Make it snug enough that the saddle doesn’t move dramatically if you grab the pommel and move it from side to side. If you run out of holes on your left-side girth straps, begin tightening the buckles on the right. Ideally, you should have the girth attached at the same notch on both sides or as close as possible for even pressure. 9. Check your stirrup length. Before you mount, determine whether your stirrups are the correct length. One way to check whether you’re close is to slide your right hand, palm down, under the flap of the saddle where the stirrup leather attaches to the stirrup bar (the metal bar holding the stirrup leathers to the saddle); if your horse has already been bridled, hold the reins in your left hand while doing this. Using your left hand, grasp the stirrup iron and pull it toward the crook of your outstretched right arm, allowing the stirrup leather to lay flush against the bottom of your arm. If the stirrup iron fits snugly in the crook of your arm, the stirrups are most likely the correct length for your leg. If your stirrups need lengthening or shortening, adjust them by using the buckle on the stirrup leather. After you’re finished, slide the stirrup leather buckle so it’s under the skirt and won’t rub on your leg when you’re riding. Before you can mount, you may need to repeat Step 8 after leading your horse around. The girth may loosen after the horse starts moving. Before you get on, make sure that the girth is snug enough that it feels tight if you put your fingers between it and the horse’s body. If you can’t get your fingers in there, the girth is too tight and needs to be let out a notch. Save the Bridling for Last The bridle is the tack that goes on last. After you bridle your horse, you can’t tie him up again until you finish your ride. Before bridling your horse, do the following: Tie the horse securely by his halter to a hitching post (using a quick release knot) or cross-ties. Groom and saddle the horse. Check the bridle to make sure that the noseband (the part that goes around the nose) and throatlatch (the strap that fastens around the horse’s jowls) on an English bridle are unbuckled. If you have a throatlatch on a Western bridle, make sure that it’s unbuckled, too. Have an experienced horse person (such as your riding instructor or trainer) help you determine whether the bit size is correct and how short the straps on the headstall should be if your horse has never worn this particular bridle. The steps for putting on an English and Western bridle are nearly the same. Familiarize yourself with the parts of both bridles before you begin. Then follow these steps to put on the bridle: 1. Secure the horse with the halter. Standing at the horse’s left side, unbuckle the halter, slide the noseband off, and then rebuckle the halter around the horse’s neck (see the earlier section on haltering for details). 2. Put the reins over the horse’s head so they lie on the horse’s neck. 3. Hold the bit and headstall and stand at the left side of your horse’s head, facing the same direction that your horse is facing. Grasp the top of the headstall in your right hand and the bit in your left hand. Let the bit lie against your outstretched fingers. Stand next to the horse’s head, still facing the same direction as the horse. 4. Place your right hand (still holding the headstall) just on top of the horse’s head, in front of his ears. If you can’t reach above the horse’s head, you can instead reach your arm under the horse’s jaw and around to the right side of the horse’s head so your right hand and the headstall are just above the horse’s forehead or above the bridge of his nose. 5. Open the horse’s mouth and insert the bit. With your left thumb, gently press down on the inside corner of the horse’s lip to open his mouth and gently guide the bit into the horse’s mouth, being careful not to bang it against his front teeth. Raise the headstall in your right hand until the bit slides all the way in to the horse’s mouth. If the bridle has a curb chain, make sure it rests behind the horse’s chin. 6. Gently slide the headstall over the horse’s ears. Adjust the browband so it sits evenly on the horse’s forehead, or make sure the horse’s ear or ears fit comfortably through the one- or two-ear loops. The bridle is now in place. 7. Buckle the throatlatch and noseband, if any. Western bridle: This figure shows a horse with a Western bridle. You probably won’t have a noseband to tighten. If the bridle has a throatlatch, make sure that two fingers fit between the horse and the strap. English bridle: This figure shows a horse with an English bridle. The throatlatch and noseband should be snug but not so tight that you can’t get three fingers between them and the horse. If a curb chain or strap is attached to the bit, make sure that it’s loose when you let the reins go slack but that it makes contact with the horse’s chin when you pull the bit shanks back at a 45-degree angle. 8. Unbuckle the halter from your horse’s neck. If you plan to mount where you are, leave the reins over your horse’s neck. If you want to lead your horse to another area for mounting, remove the reins from over your horse’s neck and lead the horse by the reins.

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How to Handle Horses from the Ground

Article / Updated 06-12-2020

Horses are large creatures, so skill and knowledge are paramount when working around them. The vast majority of horses are gentle and would never deliberately hurt a person, but because horses are so large, accidents can happen. Staying aware and knowing how to handle these big animals can minimize the risk. The following sections discuss how to approach, halter, lead, and tie a horse safely. Play catch: Approaching horses A halter is a harness of sorts designed to fit on the horse’s head for the purpose of leading and restraining the horse (not riding); a ring under the horse’s jaw lets you clip a lead rope to the halter. Well-trained horses who are used to being handled a lot are easy to approach and catch with a halter; however, practicing safety measures whenever you approach a horse in a stall or pasture is still a good idea — particularly if you don’t know the horse. In the stall or paddock Catching a horse in a stall or paddock (a fenced area smaller than a pasture and without grass for grazing) simply means going up to the horse and placing a halter on his head. In most cases, you can just walk up to the horse without a problem. The following method is safe and effective for most horses in a stall or paddock: Have your halter with you with the lead rope attached. Speak to your horse to let him know you’re there before you enter the stall or paddock. If the horse is facing away from you, make sure he sees you before you approach him. Enter the stall or paddock and approach the horse at his left shoulder rather than directly at his face. As you get close to the horse, extend your hand, palm down, and let the horse sniff you. Loop the lead rope around the horse’s neck. Slip the halter over the horse’s head and buckle the strap that comes from behind the ears. In the pasture You may discover that catching a horse in a pasture is a little more difficult than catching one in a stall or small paddock, especially if the horse doesn’t want to be caught. Happy, well-trained horses stand quietly when you approach them for haltering, even in a big pasture, but some horses don’t. The ones who don’t want to work take off walking, trotting, or running, making it impossible to slip halters over their heads. Your body language and approach can make a difference when trying to catch a horse in a pasture. Use the following technique to capture a pastured horse, especially if other horses are out there with him: With your halter and lead rope in hand, walk quietly toward the horse with your hands at your side. Approach the horse at his left shoulder, never directly from the front or back. When you reach the horse, gently pat or scratch his neck, speaking softly. Place the lead rope around the horse’s neck in a loop. Holding the noosed lead rope, put on the halter. If the horse doesn’t want to be caught, don’t give up — letting him get out of it just teaches him that his evasion tactics work. If the horse is yours, talk to a trainer about teaching him to allow himself to be caught. If the horse is alone in the pasture, you can try taking a treat out there with you to entice him to be caught; however, if other horses are in the pasture too, having treats in your hand may prove hazardous to your health. The horses may get nasty and competitive with one another over the treats, leaving you vulnerable to a misplaced bite or kick. Buckle up: Haltering horses The most important tools you have for handling your horse on the ground are the halter and lead rope. A horse who has been properly trained offers no resistance when you slip a halter on his head. The hardest thing about putting a halter on a horse is figuring out where all those straps are supposed to go. Take a look at a horse wearing a halter before you attempt to put one on the horse you’re going to catch. If you understand the way the straps go on the horse’s head and then hold the halter in your hand, imagining the horse’s head inside it, you should have an easier time putting it on the horse. Your instructor should guide you through the haltering process the first one or two times to make sure you know how to do it right. Follow these steps: Stand at the horse’s left shoulder, facing the same direction your horse is facing. Place the lead rope in a loose loop around the middle of the horse’s neck and hold it together with your right hand. This step secures the horse and keeps him from walking away. Check to make sure that the crown strap of the halter is unbuckled. The crown strap is the piece of the halter that goes behind the horse’s ears and buckles at the horse’s left cheek. With the buckle side of the strap in your left hand and the crown strap in your right hand, slip the horse’s nose through the noseband of the halter by reaching your right hand underneath the horse’s neck, as shown in the following figure. When the horse’s nose is through the halter, bring the crown piece up behind the horse’s ears and buckle it so the halter fits comfortably — not too tight and not too loose. It’s too tight if you can’t fit a finger between the nose strap and cheek strap. Take the lead rope from around the horse’s neck and fold it in your left hand, with your right hand holding the attached rope just below the halter. Follow me: Leading horses After you’ve haltered a horse, you want to lead him out of his stall or pasture so you can tie him and put on his tack. Use the following method to lead your horse safely in any situation (and also see the following figure): Stand on the horse’s left side. Hold the end of the lead rope closest to the horse’s head in your right hand, with your thumb pointing up toward the horse’s head. Your hand should be about 6 inches from the halter. If the lead rope has a chain at the end, hold the rope just below the chain so it doesn’t injure your hand if the horse pulls back. If you find you need more control when leading your horse, move your hand closer to the halter. In your left hand, hold what’s left of the lead rope folded up. Don’t coil the remainder of the rope around your hand. If you do and the horse pulls back, the coil can tighten, trapping your hand. Before you ask the horse to move forward, stand at his left shoulder, facing ahead, your hands holding the lead rope as I describe in the preceding steps. Hold out your arm on the side of the horse to make sure he doesn’t step into you when you start to move. As you begin to walk forward, give the lead rope a gentle pull with your right hand. The horse should begin walking, keeping pace with you so you remain at his shoulder. To turn the horse while leading him, push your right hand to the right or pull your hand to the left and step in the direction you want to turn. Keep an arm’s distance between you and the horse if you ask the horse to move to the left to ensure he doesn’t step on your heel. The horse should follow your lead. To stop the horse, say “whoa!” and stop walking, giving a very slight backward tug on the rope with your right hand. When leading your horse, keep in mind that your horse doesn’t know which way you intend to go at any given moment. Remember that your horse is much bigger than you and can’t turn as fast or stop as quickly as you can. You know you’re about to turn or stop, but your horse doesn’t. Horses are very adept at picking up body signals. They also learn voice commands quickly. Give your horse a warning before you turn or stop. Slow your pace as you start to turn, and say “whoa” as you begin to stop. Your horse will appreciate the warning. Also, as you lead the horse, look where you’re going, not at the horse. Doing so helps the horse have confidence in you and keeps him from getting confused about what he’s supposed to do. Take care of loose ends: Tying horses Tying a horse isn’t as simple as it may sound: You can’t just tie a horse to any object with a regular knot and walk away. That’s a recipe for disaster! Some horses, being nervous Nellies, are prone to pulling back when tied. When a horse pulls back, he may panic at having his head constrained and throw all his weight onto his hindquarters, practically sitting on his rear end. If you tie a horse to a strong object (such as a hitching post or a large tree out on the trail), the horse won’t be able to pull the object out of the ground should he panic. Also, tying the horse with a safety knot enables you to pull the loose end of the rope and quickly release the panicked horse’s head before he can do damage. The following figure shows you one method of tying a safety knot. You essentially create a loop (Step 1), pull a second loop behind the dangling rope and through the first loop (Step 2), and then pull to tighten (Step 3). When tying a horse, follow these rules for safety: Whenever possible, tie a horse in cross-ties. Cross-ties are two ropes or chains, one on each side of the horse, that attach to the sides of the horse’s halter with metal clips and then to poles on either side of the horse’s head. Cross-ties should be at least as high as the top of the horse’s shoulders. This figure shows a horse tied to cross-ties. Make sure the horse you’re working with is familiar with being cross-tied before you secure him, because if he’s not, he may panic when he feels himself restrained in this way. Also, make sure that the cross-tie clips have a breakaway feature so the horse won’t get hung up in the ties if he panics. A breakaway feature releases the horse should he put extreme pressure on the cross-ties. Tie a horse only by a halter and lead rope or halter and cross-ties. Never tie a horse by the reins of a bridle. If the horse pulls back, the reins can break and the bit may damage the horse’s jaw. Tie a horse only to an immovable object. The rope or chain should be tied so its height is stable and won’t slip down toward the ground. Horses should be tied to Solid fence posts Hitching posts made for this purpose Horse trailers, only when hooked to a vehicle Cross-ties Strong, secure tree trunks (if on the trail) Tie a horse with the knot about level to the horse’s withers (where the shoulder blades meet), with no more than 3 feet of rope or chain from the post to the halter. Doing so helps keep the horse from getting the rope or chain over his head or from getting a leg caught in it. Figure 11-5 shows a horse safely tied to a hitching post. Don’t tie a horse with a chain shank run through his halter. If the horse pulls back, the chain can injure him. Never leave a horse alone and unsupervised when tied up. Horses are experts at getting into trouble, especially when no one is watching.

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How to Prepare for a Horseback Trail Ride

Article / Updated 06-12-2020

Before you hit the horseback riding trail, you need to get ready. This prep work includes getting the right horse, knowing where you’re going, and sporting the proper gear. Use the right horse Just because a horse is easy to ride in the arena doesn’t mean he’ll be a good mount for the trail. From the horse’s perspective, trail riding is completely different from arena riding. Because it involves being out in the open, sometimes in unfamiliar territory, beginning trail riding requires a horse who’s calm, confident, and easygoing. Good ground manners — or the way the horse behaves as you handle him when you’re not on his back — are an important quality in a trail horse. A horse with good ground manners stands quietly while he’s being groomed, doesn’t fuss or move around when you’re saddling and bridling him, and walks quietly alongside as you lead him. Trail horses need to have good ground manners for a number of reasons, including the following: With a trail horse, you never know what kind of situation you may find yourself in. Trail riding by its very nature requires that you be away from home base. The last thing you need is a horse you can’t control if you’re far from the stable. Emergencies happen on trail rides, too. Horses become lame, get rocks embedded in their feet — just about anything can happen out there. If your horse has good ground manners, he’s more likely to cooperate in an emergency situation if you have to dismount. You may find yourself in a situation where you need or want to get off your horse and walk beside him. If this happens, you’ll be happy to have a horse who behaves himself while you’re leading him. Stopping along the trail for a bite to eat, a bathroom break, or just to stretch your legs means you need to get off your horse. A horse with good ground manners stands quietly when tied and is easy to mount. The horse you ride on the trail should be obedient and sensitive to your commands. A good trail horse has a good work ethic, which means he knows he has a job to do in this world and is willing to do it. The best trail horses are also virtually unflappable. Not much scares them, and when they do become frightened, they don’t lose their minds but assess the situation before deciding to take off in mad flight. If you’re a novice rider, you may want to choose an older, more mature mount for a beginning trail horse. Older horses tend to be quieter than younger horses. The horse needs to have extensive experience on the trail, too. Otherwise, he’s unlikely to be calm out there, no matter how old he is. Deciding where to ride In the old days, riders had only one kind of trail to explore: the wilderness trail. Horses either traveled through town on a dirt road or carried their riders through the deserts, through the woods, over the mountains, on game trails, or completely off-trail. Things have obviously changed, and trails are quite different from what they were even 50 years ago. Nowadays, equestrians are faced with a variety of trail choices. They include the following: Urban trails: A great many urban and suburban dwellers are limited to riding on urban trails. These types of trails are in city areas and suburban neighborhoods. Urban trails usually share all or part of their boundaries with a city street, which means traffic and pedestrians — and everything that comes with those two elements — are part of the mix. Although most riders would rather be out in the wilderness, for many people, these trails are their only option. Urban trails can be a good substitute for a more rugged and untamed trail experience, and they often offer opportunities to see wildlife and breathe relatively fresh air. Regional parks: Many urban and suburban dwellers, as well as some rural residents, take advantage of trails in nearby parks. Although most small city parks aren’t conducive to trail riding, many regional parks have extensive trails that can provide an enjoyable wilderness experience. These types of parks are accessible from areas where horses are kept, or they can be easily reached by horse trailer. Because regional parks get a lot of use and are managed by local municipalities, they’re often well marked and well maintained. Some even permit horse camping, and some connect to wilderness trails, which you can ride on all day without seeing anything that reminds you of civilization. State parks: Managed by state government parks departments, state parks are often wonderful places for trail riders. Beautiful and often pristine wilderness areas make up the state parks system throughout the U.S. Many state park trail systems are open to equestrians, and they generally feature well maintained and well-marked trails. National Forests: The National Forest system provides the greatest number of trails open to equestrians in the U.S. You can find National Forests throughout the country, and they encompass all kinds of terrain, from shoreline to deserts to mountains. Because National Forests are open to a wide variety of uses, equestrians are often welcome in these protected areas. National Forests are managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Horse camping is usually permitted in National Forests. National Parks: The most beautiful and well-kept trails in the country are part of the National Parks system. Areas such as Yosemite National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are all examples of National Parks that allow equestrian use. Although not all National Parks allow horses, the ones that do can provide you with some spectacular trail riding. The U.S. government’s National Park Service manages the National Park system. Designated wilderness areas: Several other types of designated wilderness areas are open to equestrians, including some national monuments and conservation areas. Many designated wilderness areas have wonderful trails that are little used. Before you start your ride, stop off at a visitor center to pick up a trail map, talk to other riders for suggestions, and do a bit of research. Trail difficulty and length can vary, but you can find easy trails for beginners at all these places. Check out the following figure to see some riders on a beautiful nature trail. Know the rules before you go. Before you can ride, some parks require proof of a negative Coggins test, which confirms that the horse is free from a contagious disease called equine infectious anemia (swamp fever). Also, if you plan to go horse camping, you may need to make reservations or get an overnight permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Gather important gear In order to make the most of your trail riding experience, you want to have certain gear along on your ride, as I explain in the following sections. Helmet In many Western riding circles, helmets are considered a nonentity. The original cowboys didn’t wear them, and in keeping with tradition, most Western riders don’t, either. Most English riders, on the other hand, always wear helmets. Helmets are also a staple for those who ride competitively on the trail. So should you wear a helmet when you trail ride? The decision of whether to wear a riding helmet is a personal one. The benefit of wearing a helmet is a powerful one: In the event of a fall from your horse, a helmet can save your life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of serious injury for horseback riders is greater than that for motorcyclists and automobile racers. State medical examiner records from 27 states over an 11-year period identified head injuries as the cause of 60 percent of horseback riding-related deaths. Given the potential for serious head injury, the CDC suggests that all riders wear helmets approved by the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) and American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) for equestrian use. The downside of helmets is that they can be mildly uncomfortable if you aren’t used to wearing one (although newer models are very lightweight and well ventilated), and they can really mess up your hair. If you care about fitting in with the crowd and you’re a Western rider, you’ll probably stick out among your Western buddies if you decide to protect your skull. (Although helmet manufacturers have started coming out with some well-designed Western style helmets that are beginning to catch on.) Although you may have an image of yourself on horseback with your hair blowing in the wind, stop and think about what could happen to you if you fall from your horse and hit your head. The possibilities are horrific and hardly worth the risk. Do yourself and those who love you a favor and wear an ASTM/SEI-approved helmet when you trail ride. Appropriate clothing Check the weather before you head out and make sure you’re wearing the right apparel. If you’ll be out all day, you may need to wear layers so you can take them off as the day warms up. If rain or snow is a possibility, be sure to bring appropriate outerwear so you don’t get wet. Nothing is more miserable than trying to ride back home when you’re cold and soaked to the bone! You should also wear proper, safe riding apparel when you trail ride. Additional handy gear In addition to a comfortable saddle that fits your horse well, a bridle that provides you with plenty of control, and important items necessary for your safety, you can also opt to add some of the following items to your trail-riding ensemble: Saddle packs: If you plan to be out on the trail for many hours, you want to have a saddle pack attached to your saddle. Saddle packs are designed to fit on the back of the saddle or on the front, and they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Almost all feature holders for sports bottles, and all have at least one large pouch where you can put your lunch, sunscreen, horse treats, or anything else you want to carry along. Seat covers: Long hours on the trail can be tough on your hind end. Trail riders often equip their saddles with seat covers made from sheepskin (or fake sheepskin) or gel. Seat covers are designed for Western, English, and endurance saddles, and they come in a wide range of prices. Water bottle holders: It’s always a good idea to take a bottle or two of water along when you trail ride. You’ll find different types of water bottle holders designed for riding, including those that clip onto one of the D-rings located on the front or back of most saddles. Miscellaneous goodies: All kinds of other items designed to make the trail rider’s life easier are available. Foldaway water buckets for horses, portable corrals, straps to hang and attach to saddle packs, combination sponges and bags, folding hoof picks, portable water tanks — you name it, it’s out there. The best sources for unique trail gear are catalogs and online retailers specializing in equine products. Getting ready for a ride of any length Trail riding is a pretty simple activity. You just locate a trail, saddle up your horse, mount up, and start riding. Trail rides can be as short as an hour or as long as an entire day. Some trail rides even stretch out over a week or more. You just have to decide how much trail riding you want to do and prepare accordingly. The following sections explain how ride lengths compare. Warming up for short trips Short rides don’t call for much preparation. Your tacked-up horse and an idea of where you’re going are all you really need. Assuming that trails are available in proximity to where you keep your horse, you can probably ride to the trail head (the place where the trail starts). Otherwise, you need to trailer your horse to get there. After you reach the trail head, begin your ride at a walk and slowly increase the speed to a jog or trot and eventually to a lope or canter (if you’re ready to go that fast) as your horse warms up. This warm-up is especially important if you haven’t ridden your horse for a few days. On the way home, be sure to walk at least the last mile. You don’t want your horse to get in the habit of racing to get home. You also want him to be cooled off when you get back to the barn. Conditioning for longer journeys If you plan to take longer rides, be sure both you and your horse are conditioned for this kind of riding. The worst thing to do to a horse is let him stand in his stall all week and then get on him on a Saturday and ride him for four hours on the trail. He’ll be sore and miserable the next day and will be less than enthusiastic the next time you come to take him out. To condition your horse for an upcoming long ride, ride your horse at least several days a week, for an hour at a time or more, gradually building up the time over a period of a few weeks.

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Different Types of Horseback Riding Shows

Article / Updated 06-12-2020

When you start exploring the world of horse shows, you may discover that the types of shows out there are as numerous as the breeds of horses — more so, in fact. And those shows offer a variety of classes, or categories of competition — pleasure classes so you can show off your horse’s body structure and movement, dressage classes so you can flaunt your horse’s training, and equitation classes to demonstrate that your riding technique is just right. Test your jumping skills in hunter hack and hunters over fences; negotiate obstacles in trail and gymkhana classes; let the cow classes show you how you’d fare as a ranch hand out West; and through vaulting classes, do gymnastics on a moving horse. You and your horse can even get all decked out for heritage classes and compete with an authentic costuming look. If nothing else, shows certainly give you plenty of options. The type of show or shows you choose to participate in depends on your level of riding, your chosen discipline, your breed of horse, and how much commitment you want to make to riding and showing. Your instructor or trainer can help you determine which shows you should enter, depending on your riding level. Ultimately, the sky’s the limit for horse shows. If you had unlimited amounts of time and money, you could do them all. But because that’s pretty unlikely, focus on the particular type of show that’s best for you at a given time. I provide some guidance on different horse shows in the following sections. Learn the ropes at schooling shows When you’re a beginning horseback rider and a novice exhibitor, the first type of show you want to enter is a schooling show. These shows are just as they sound: they’re for schooling, or training. Under very little pressure, both you and your horse gain experience showing at a schooling show. Your competition is other beginners like yourself, so the playing field is fairly level. You can find schooling shows by checking in a local horse publication, looking for signs in your local tack and feed store, or checking online for upcoming equine events. Schooling shows are usually put on by local riding clubs or commercial stables. The classes vary depending on the discipline of the show, and the shows usually last only one day. The entry fees are very affordable, usually around $10 to $15 per class. Western only Some schooling shows feature only Western riding classes. Among others, these classes usually include Western pleasure: Horses in Western pleasure are judged on how well they carry themselves and move with a Western rider. The horses are judged at the walk, jog, and lope. Trail obstacle: In trail obstacle classes, judges evaluate horses one at a time and observe them as they encounter obstacles in an arena, such as a mailbox, a wooden bridge, and a tarp laid out on the ground. Equitation: Riders, not horses, are judged in equitation classes. Judges look for proper body position at the different gaits of walk, jog, and lope. Western schooling shows sometimes have timed gymkhana events, in which horses run one at a time around barrels or poles. On occasion, the shows also have showmanship classes (which require a handler, who’s being judged, to present a horse for evaluation) and halter classes (which are performed with the horses “in hand” instead of under saddle). However, halter classes are more typically part of a breed show, which I discuss later on. Riders are expected to dress in Western apparel, although they don’t need fancy clothes or expensive tack on their horses. English only A great many schooling shows are for English riders, specifically those who ride hunt seat. Classes usually include Hunters over fences: Horses are judged one at a time as they negotiate a series of fences. Judges look for good form as the horse approaches and jumps over each obstacle. Hunter hack: One at a time, horses are judged as they’re asked to negotiate two small fences. Judges look for good form as the horse approaches and goes over the jumps. Equitation: Only riders face judging in this class. They’re evaluated for proper body position at the walk, trot, and canter. Jumping is the primary focus of these shows, which are great for helping novices in the show world get their feet wet in the ring. Riders in these classes enter the arena by themselves and perform the course as prescribed by the show steward. Before the class begins, riders memorize the course and walk it on foot to become familiar with the pattern and distance between jumps. The figure shows riders in an English schooling show. Western and English Some schooling shows feature classes in both disciplines, usually on different days. Because multidisciplinary shows have a large number of classes, they usually take two days to complete. Finding a one-day schooling show with both disciplines is fairly rare, but some do exist. They give riders a chance to find out about the other discipline and see how different Western and English horses really are. Raising the bar at rated shows Beyond the world of schooling shows lay the rated shows. These events are recognized by the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), formally known as the American Horse Shows Association and the United States Equestrian Association. The USEF represents the United States in the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the international group that recognizes high-level competitive equine events around the world. The USEF, which is a national body, rates horse shows A, B, or C, with A shows offering the greatest competition and prestige. C-rated shows are the events most attended by novices to the show world. B shows are for those who are beyond C shows but aren’t quite ready for the A level. The shows are often part of a circuit, which means that several shows are held during a given show season in a particular region. Local horse show associations usually hold rated shows over two days or more, and the shows can be discipline specific or open to all breeds and disciplines. These shows follow USEF rules. Points are frequently awarded in certain disciplines, and in these situations, competitors may receive year-end awards. Welcoming competition in open shows Shows that allow all breeds of horses are called open shows. An open show can be a schooling show or a rated show (see the preceding sections). The term distinguishes a particular show from a breed-specific show, where only one breed is allowed to compete. Open shows can be Western or English or both. These shows can be a lot of fun to watch because you can see horses of every size, shape, and color competing against one another. Breed shows Nearly every breed of horse has a national association that represents it. Associations for the more popular breeds often have enough active members to sponsor breed-specific shows. Regional member clubs that belong to the national association usually put these shows on, although the national association may directly hold large national shows each year. The larger associations have one of these events annually, usually at the same venue each year. Breed shows typically offer classes in both Western and English. Many classes are the same as those you see in schooling shows (see the earlier section on schooling shows), although some shows also include driving classes (in which horses are judged in harness while pulling a cart) and other events specific to the breed. Paso Fino shows, for example, include a class in which the horses display their special gait on a wooden board so the judge can hear the quality of that gait. At Appaloosa shows, a heritage class allows exhibitors to dress themselves and their horses up in period attire. Most breed shows have a halter class, in which horses are not ridden but are rather presented to the judge wearing only a show halter. The judge evaluates the horses for their conformation (the way they’re built) and places them according to how closely each horse matches its breed’s blueprint, or standard. The figure depicts an Appaloosa halter class. If you’re interested in a particular breed, check out a local breed show. You can discover a lot about how these horses are shown and meet many other people with a passion for the same kind of horse. If you decide you’d like to compete in one of these shows, start working with a trainer who specializes in your breed of choice. Specialty shows Some shows focus exclusively on one event within a discipline. Before you can compete at a specialty show, you need to advance quite a bit in your riding, and you have to be mounted on a horse who’s specifically trained for one of these events. These shows may highlight one of the following: Reining: In this Western activity, horses go through a pattern at the lope and are judged on their responsiveness as well as their abilities. Cutting: A Western activity, cutting requires that the rider ask his or her horse to separate a cow from a herd and keep that cow from joining the group for a specified amount of time. Dressage: Called the ballet of the horse world, horse-and-rider teams are judged on their ability to execute a series of complex moves. Jumping: Events strictly for show jumping feature classes designed to challenge a horse and rider’s courage and ability to negotiate high fences. Gymkhana: This Western activity involves timed events in which horse-and-rider teams individually negotiate either barrels or poles with speed and precision. Vaulting: A form of gymnastics on horseback, vaulting features riders who perform various maneuvers on a cantering horse who’s moving in a circle while attached to a lunge line. At these shows, all breeds are usually welcome.

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Horseplay: Sports, Exhibitions, and Other Equine Activities

Article / Updated 06-12-2020

If you’re the kind of person who loves to get involved with activities and wants a horse to be part of your experience, you’re in luck. A whole slew of horseback riding activities are out there for horse owners (and even non-horse owners) who want to spend quality time with horses. If you’re the competitive type, you’ll find plenty to do outside the show ring to keep you busy. If you just like to do horse stuff for the sheer fun of it, you’ll find no shortage of events to choose from. Whatever your style or preference, chances are there’s a horse activity out there for you, as you can see in the sections that follow. Most of these events are geared toward people who own their own horses, with the exception of vaulting. If you don’t own a horse, consider leasing one you can use for your activity of choice. Just be sure the horse’s owner is okay with what you intend to do. Take part in trail events In days of old, most horseback riding took place out in the wilderness, on trails that had been forged by mounted travelers or migrating game. Riding on these trails was both exciting and challenging, and only the toughest horses and riders survived the harshest journeys. Decades later, horse people who appreciate this legacy developed two events that celebrate trail riding while also adding a competitive factor: endurance riding and competitive trail riding. The following sections look at both of these sports. Endurance riding The sport of endurance riding has grown in popularity over the past 30 years. Its most noteworthy event, the annual Western States Endurance Run (informally known as the Tevis Cup), takes place in Northern California and receives international coverage. Hundreds of smaller, local events are also conducted around North America every year. The object of endurance riding is to cover a given number of miles on horseback in the shortest amount of time. Endurance competitions often consist of 25- to 100-mile-per-day rides or multiday rides that usually cover 50 miles per day over a period of four to six days. The horse-and-rider team that gets to the finish line first is the winner. (Horses receive mandatory veterinary checks throughout the competition, and only horses who are considered physically fit are allowed to finish the event.) Endurance riding calls for a horse-and-rider team that’s extremely fit and athletic. The team has to undergo serious training in the form of conditioning over a period of months before it can compete in an endurance ride. This rigorous type of riding calls for a horse who’s extremely well-conditioned and comfortable on the trail. Riders must be very fit, too. Imagine sitting in the saddle for 100 miles with only a few short breaks in between. Achieving that kind of muscle strength and stamina takes considerable work. All lighter-weight horse breeds can participate in endurance competitions, although Arabians dominate the sport because of their great capacity to travel long distances. Horses in endurance rides wear any type of tack that the rider prefers, although most people use specially made endurance saddles and halter/bridle combinations. The following figure shows an endurance rider in competition. The American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) can provide you with more info on endurance riding. Competitive trail riding Competitive trail riding is for those riders who enjoy conditioning their horses for trail riding and want to hone it to a fine art. Competitive trail events consist of approximately 10- to 50-mile-per day rides through various terrains. Unlike endurance riding, competitive trail events are not races; instead of using time as a determining factor, judges evaluate horses primarily on their physical condition, with their obedience to the rider along the trail also a factor in many events. Speed is not important, as long as the horse and rider complete the ride within the minimum and maximum time limits. A veterinarian and a lay judge periodically examine the horses throughout the ride to determine their fitness as the day progresses. In order to compete successfully in competitive trail rides, horses must be comfortable being ridden on the trail, in good physical condition, and well trained and obedient. Riders need to be in good shape, too, because even a 10-mile ride can mean a few hours in the saddle. The rider determines the type of tack, although most riders use endurance saddles and halter/bridle combinations. Just about any breed can participate in competitive trail riding. The North American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC) has more details on competitive trail riding. Working equitation A sport that is catching on quickly in North America is working equitation. Combining dressage and cattle work, working equitation started in Europe and has made its way west. The purpose of the sport is to showcase the equestrian techniques of different countries that use mounted horses to work in the field. Riders are expected to dress according to their style of riding, whether it’s western, dressage, hunt seat, or Spanish. At the upper levels, working equitation has four phases: dressage, ease of handling, speed, and cows. For those just getting started in the sport, the lower levels include just dressage and ease of handling. Any breed can participate, and horse and rider teams can move up in the levels as they gain experience. The two North American organizations devoted to working equitation, the U.S. Working Equitation Association and the Confederation for Working Equitation, can provide you with more information. Play polo, the sport of kings Although the fast-paced sport of polo is thought of as a contemporary activity, this game is actually thousands of years old. Historians believe that polo originated in the Middle East around 500 BC — amazing that this sport is still played today! Nearly everyone has heard of polo, but few people know how it’s played. Like soccer on horseback, polo is a team sport with the objective of scoring goals against the opposing team. Riders use a long-handled mallet to drive a ball into a goal. Four riders make up a polo team, although many riders have more than one horse so they can trade off mounts throughout a game — hence the notion that wealthy people play polo with a “string of polo ponies.” Although the mounts used in polo are called ponies, they’re not technically ponies at all. (Ponies constitute certain breeds of small equines that measure 14 hands or less.) Just about any breed of horse can be used for polo, but the faster and more athletic the mount, the better. You don’t need to own a string of polo ponies to play polo. In fact, you don’t need to own a horse or even know how to ride at all. Polo schools are available throughout the country, and they provide riding and polo lessons to adults at costs that run about the same as skiing or scuba diving lessons. Contact the United States Polo Association for help in finding a polo school in your area. Vault into gymnastics I love watching the gymnastics competition at the Olympics every four years, which is probably why I get such a big kick out of vaulting, too. Vaulting is basically gymnastics on horseback. In vaulting, participants perform a number of actions on the back of a moving horse who has been fitted with a special surcingle, a leather strap with handles that goes around the horse’s barrel (see the following figure) and gives the vaulter something to hold onto. Rider movements include Basic seat: The vaulter sits on the horse with arms held out to the sides. Flag: The vaulter jumps to his or her knees on the horse’s back and extends one leg out straight behind with arms extended. Mill: This move is equivalent to the work done on the pommel horse in gymnastics. The vaulter swings his or legs and body into different positions while holding onto handles on the surcingle. Scissors: The scissors requires swinging into a handstand on the horse’s back as the legs scissor out to either side. Stand: The vaulter stands on the horse’s back with arms held out to the side. Flank: In this complicated series of movements, the rider holds onto the vaulting saddle and swings his or her legs up and through the air. Eventually, the vaulter lands next to the horse in the finale of the movement. Vaulting is done competitively and also for exhibition. In vaulting competition, you can participate as an individual or as part of a pair or team. You start off competing at the trot and work your way up to the canter. Some therapeutic riding programs also use vaulting maneuvers to help the physically and mentally challenged gain balance and muscle strength. Vaulters learn their craft a on a barrel horse (a fake horse) first before graduating to using a real horse. To get involved in vaulting, join a local vaulting club. You can find a club by contacting the American Vaulting Association. Drilling on horseback If your favorite scenes in Hollywood Westerns feature dramatic footage of the cavalry coming to the rescue, drill team riding may for you. Drilling is having a group of riders perform maneuvers together as a rider who sits alone calls out directions. Drilling on horseback is tons of fun, and it gives riders an opportunity to meet and socialize with others who enjoy the same activity. Drilling on horseback is a very old activity, one that goes back all the way to the Roman legions and possibly before. In the olden days, when horses were the primary vehicles of war, drilling was used to train mounted soldiers to follow commands with precision and obedience. Today, drill team work is for fun. Riders who enjoy drilling get together and form clubs that practice at least once a week. They perform their precision drill work in parades, at county fairs, and during horse shows. Most drill teams consist of ten to twelve horse-and-rider duos, sometimes more. A drill caller gives commands that horse-and-rider teams follow. Each command requires a specific movement, and when several horse-and-rider teams perform these moves in conjunction, the group ends up moving as a unit. The figure shows a drill team working together. Because of its military foundation, drill-team work calls for discipline on the part of the rider and obedience on the part of the horse. You need to memorize each maneuver and have your horse execute it at the moment you hear the command. In drilling, you rehearse exhibition drills, and after a few practices with your group, you know exactly what’s coming from the drill caller. The choreographed drills you perform at exhibitions, horse shows, and drill team competitions are the same drills that you and your team have practiced at home (or in the arena) many times over. Most drill teams use Western saddle tack and apparel, although English saddles and breed-specific tack (such as traditional saddles made especially for the breed being ridden) may also make an appearance. You can locate a drill team in your area by asking at your local tack and feed store for a referral. Or try looking online or in a regional horse publication for notices of exhibitions or drill teams seeking new members. Riding in parades If you’ve always wanted to participate in a parade but you can’t walk and play the sousaphone at the same time, then a horse may be just the answer. Maybe you can ride and play the sousaphone, instead! Then again, maybe not, but have you ever seen a parade without horses in it? Horses and parades go hand in hand. And as an equestrian, you automatically qualify to move from parade watcher to parade participant. Riding in a parade can be tremendous fun. You and your horse are in the spotlight (along with your mounted comrades), and all you have to do is look good and wave! The equestrian units you see in big spectacles like the Tournament of Roses Parade are part of organized riding groups. The riders may be members of a youth riding club, representatives of a breed organization or local riding club, or part of a horseback drill team group (see the preceding section). The group’s theme in the parade usually represents whatever the club is all about. For example, if the club is a military-style riding group for youngsters, the kids wear their uniforms and most likely carry flags. If the riders represent a local palomino horse club, all the horses are palominos tacked up in their finest garb. To participate in a big parade, you have to be a member of an organized riding group (unless you’re a local celebrity and can justify participating on your individual merits) and have a number of smaller parades under your belt. If you live in a small town, your local parade may be small and informal enough that individual riders can also sign up. If riding in big parades is for you, your first step is to join a local riding group. Of all the different kinds of riding groups, pick the one that best suits your age group and riding interests. Your parks and recreation department should be able to provide you with some names and numbers of riding groups in your area. Reenact history If you like to watch period films, particularly those set during the Civil or Indian Wars, you’ve no doubt seen reenactors in action. Although the vast budgets of today’s motion pictures may lead you to believe all those soldiers and cowboys you see on the silver screen are professional actors, in reality, these characters are usually mounted reenactors who dress up in period garb and ride their own horses in mock battles on a regular basis, whether cameras are present or not. Reenacting famous battles has been the hobby of thousands of horsemen for decades, as well as of non-horsemen who play the part of foot soldiers in this mock warfare. These people live in all parts of the country and recreate battles from a variety of wars and periods. Civil War reenactments are the most well-known, although reenactments of Native American and U.S. cavalry fights, Revolutionary and British battles, and scuffles from the Mexican-American War are among the many other events that are commemorated year-round in the U.S. by riders who seem to be possessed by the spirits of those who’ve gone before us. Getting involved with reenacting first means joining a reenactment group. These groups aren’t hard to find if you have Internet access. Putting “reenactment” and “horse” and your state in search engine should give you a list of groups near you. After you find the reenactment groups in your area, you can decide what type of person from the past you want to portray. If the Civil War intrigues you, you need to decide whether you want to be on the Union side or the Confederate side. If you like the idea of reenacting U.S. cavalry battles, you have to decide which role you’d like to play. After you join a group, you’ll find out all about how reenactments work and how you can incorporate your horse.

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The Road Less Ridden: Alternative Horseback Riding Disciplines

Article / Updated 06-12-2020

If you like riding Western saddle, hunt seat, or dressage but think you may want to try something a bit different, consider experimenting with another, more unique discipline. You don’t have to give up your main discipline—just add one or two horseback riding styles to your repertoire. Of course, if you try an alternative discipline and like it better, you can give up the tried and true and just be different! If you decide to try a new way of riding, make sure you do so with a qualified instructor. If your current instructor isn’t familiar with the discipline you want to learn, seek out someone who is. Holding on with bareback Before stirrups were invented in Central Asia back in ancient times, everyone rode bareback. Feet dangling and upper thighs gripping the horse for security, soldiers went into battle on horseback with nothing to hold them onto their horses other than talent and sheer will. Centuries later, I grew up riding bareback on my little bay mare, Peggy. She roamed all over the hills of Southern California with me clinging to her back like a monkey. Although my bareback riding was borne out of being a teenager who wasn’t able to afford to buy a saddle, the experience ended up being a blessing in disguise. I figured out how to stay on a horse using balance. When the time came to ride with a saddle, I was ahead of the game. Riding your horse on occasion with just a bareback pad, which is a cloth pad held onto the horse’s back by a cinch, can help your seat and balance — after all, you don’t have a saddle to support you. (You can see a rider using a bareback pad in the following figure.) Bareback pads are available at tack and feed stores, in equine equipment catalogs, and online. Bareback riding is enjoyable for a couple of reasons: Getting your horse ready for a ride is easier when you’re going bareback. No saddle to haul out of the tack room — just put on the bareback pad and you’re set for a ride. You can also ride without a pad, but be aware that your horse will sweat where your legs touch him. This sweat can leave you with big, embarrassing, horsehair-covered sweat marks on your seat and the back of your legs! Riding bareback makes you feel at one with your horse. No leather comes between you and your mount. You experience the movement of the muscles in your horse’s back and sides as you ride. You also feel a bit wild sitting up there without a saddle to hold you or stirrups for your feet. You can ride bareback in any discipline. If you normally ride English, you can use the same bridle and cues on the horse even though you’re riding without a saddle, and the same goes for Western. If you’re a Western rider and are so inclined, you can even compete with your horse in bareback classes at horse shows. When riding bareback, make sure your pad is tightly cinched and doesn’t slip as you ride. And be sure to wear a helmet in case you and your horse should happen to part company. Wait for your instructor to give you the go-ahead to ride bareback before you try it. You have less to support you when riding bareback, so you need to be skilled enough to stay on the horse on your own. Your instructor can tell you when you’re ready. Getting your kicks in saddle seat The English discipline of saddle seat is the youngest of the three styles of English riding. Developed in the Southern U.S. during the 1700s, this type of riding was created to give estate owners a comfortable way to ride when supervising their large tracts of land. Saddle seat riders sit deep in the saddle, and they sit farther back on the horse to help elevate the animal’s front end. This setup is in part the purpose of saddle seat riding: to allow the horse to lift his front legs high, producing a showy action. In saddle seat, you can ride a horse with a single rein bridle or a double bridle. The double bridle is unusual in that it has two bits, whereas most bridles have one. Riders using a double bridle have to figure out how to use each bit by manipulating the reins on each side individually. Saddle seat riders may ride for pleasure, but most are into showing. They compete on gaited horses such as the Saddlebred and Tennessee Walking Horse and on other breeds with showy action, including the Arabian and the Morgan. Check out the following figure to see a saddle seat rider in action. Sidesaddle: A feminine tradition One of the most interesting styles of riding is sidesaddle, a discipline that started during medieval times during an era when gallant knights rode forth into tournaments and battle to impress their ladies. In order for these women to truly appreciate the heroics of their knights, they needed to follow them on horseback. Sitting astride a horse was considered unladylike — and impractical given the elaborate dress women wore back then — so someone conceived the notion of riding with both legs to one side instead of straddling the horse. It wasn’t long before women throughout Europe were riding sidesaddle. It became a popular pastime among the well-to-do women of Europe over the next several centuries. These women brought the discipline to the United States, and the tradition became a part of American culture as well. Today, sidesaddles are made in all the same styles as traditional astride saddles, including Western, hunt seat, and dressage. Each of these saddles is used in its respective discipline, just as if it were an astride saddle. Sidesaddle riders can even compete in most of the same events as astride riders — and not always in special sidesaddle classes. Sidesaddle riders sometimes show up in regular classes at shows, although they are rare. Not too many riders use a sidesaddle, which is designed very differently than a traditional saddle. The saddle has only one stirrup, on the left side of the horse, and it has two pommels instead of one. The top pommel is curved, allowing the rider to hook her right leg on it. Riding sidesaddle uses very different muscles than traditional riding does because riders need to balance in the center of the saddle with both legs on the left side of the horse. This balancing act can be challenging at first because your body wants to list to the left. You need muscle strength to keep your pelvis pointing directly forward. The figure shows a sidesaddle rider. People who ride sidesaddle love this discipline. I tried it and really liked it. It’s a whole different way of riding! The good news is that you don’t need a specially trained horse for this discipline. All you need to know is how to sit in a saddle with both your legs on one side.

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Getting into Horseback Riding Shape

Article / Updated 06-12-2020

Before you start horseback riding, preparing your body for the task at hand is a good idea. This preparation means being at the right weight, developing muscle strength, and increasing your flexibility and stamina. Put yourself on a health and exercise regimen a few weeks before you begin your riding lessons. Your instructor will go easy on you at first, so you don’t have to be completely fit when you start. Also, the riding itself can help your body develop some of the muscles you need for this activity. You do, however, want to make sure you don’t get so sore that you can’t walk for days after a lesson and that you’re strong enough to perform some of the basic skills you need right from the beginning. Before you begin any exercise regimen or change your diet, talk to your doctor to make sure you’re in good enough health to tackle these changes. Lightening the load: Shed those extra pounds Weight can be a touchy subject, and most people have struggled with it at some point in their lives. Although most people would rather not have to think about weight, it’s an important issue when you’re riding. Here’s why: Saddle comfort: Your riding instructor probably has saddles that are made for people of standard weight. If you’re a heavy rider, you need a saddle with a larger-than-normal seat. You won’t feel comfortable or secure in a saddle that’s too small for you. Strain on the horse: Many equine professionals believe that a horse shouldn’t carry more than 20 percent of her body weight. More than that can cause soreness or even injury to the horse’s back. Most horses weigh around 1,000 pounds, so if you weigh more than 200 pounds, you need a horse on the larger side. Your riding instructor may not have a horse that’s big enough for you and so may put you on a horse who isn’t comfortable carrying your weight. And although most lesson horses are troopers and will carry you anyway, that’s really not fair to the horse. Ease in getting on and off the horse: If you’ve ever mounted a horse, you know that pulling yourself up into the saddle takes some upper body strength. The more weight you have to pull up, the harder it is. Very heavy riders often can’t get on without having to stand on a mounting block or something that’s very high. Using a mounting block is fine if you have one available (and is actually preferred by some because it puts less strain on the horse’s back when you mount), but if you can’t get on without one, you may find yourself stranded off your horse. You may be especially prone to long walks home if you trail ride, because trail riders frequently need to get on and off the horse, and sometime a big rock is not available. Energy for riding: Riding a horse requires physical strength and endurance. If you’ve ever carried excess weight on your body, you know how much harder it is to participate in strenuous activities without getting winded. When you’re at a healthy weight, you have an easier time keeping up with your horse. If you need to get down to as healthy a weight as possible before you start riding, the real question may be how to do it. Scores of diet books and fads can coach you through weight loss. I’ve found that eating plenty of protein and green vegetables, with a minimal amount of carbohydrates, does a great job of keeping my weight down while giving me the energy to ride. Cutting out sugar is also important if you’re a rider, because excess sugar causes weight gain and makes your energy levels fluctuate. A calorie is a calorie, no matter which food group it comes from, so you need to choose a diet you can stick to. The key to weight loss is using more calories than you consume in a day. You do this by eating less and moving more. So set some reasonable goals and take your time. Eat a balanced diet and start using some of the activities in the following sections in your exercise routine. If you’re interested in finding out more about losing weight, check out Dieting For Dummies, 2nd Edition, by Jane Kirby, R.D., and the American Dietetic Association (Wiley). Develop endurance with aerobic exercise Although all riders need good stamina, endurance is particularly important if you plan to ride English and/or take up trail riding. English riders spend much of their time in the saddle posting (moving up and down in the saddle), which requires lots of stamina. Trail riders spend hours in the saddle and need endurance to hold themselves in the saddle for long periods of time. To build up your endurance, consider walking, jogging, playing tennis, shooting baskets with your buddies, or doing some other type of aerobic exercise as often as you can. Start this new regimen at least a month before you start riding lessons. After you start riding, continue to ride regularly to help your body maintain its aerobic conditioning. If you take lessons or ride at least twice a week — preferably more — you can build and keep your stamina. Build strength The muscles most necessary for riding are those in your arms, legs, and abdomen. The more strength you have in these areas, the better you can communicate to the horse with your movements and maintain your balance in the saddle. The following sections include suggestions for building muscles in these three crucial areas. For more help, check out Fitness For Dummies, 4th Edition, by Suzanne Schlosberg and Liz Neporent, M.A. (Wiley). Arms Strong arms help you pull your body weight into the saddle. Arm strength is also valuable if you’re riding in the English discipline, because you need to maintain contact with the horse’s mouth through the reins. You don’t need arm strength to pull on the horse’s mouth (a major no-no), but you do need it to hold your arms in position for extended lengths of time while putting some tension on the reins. The following exercises, which use free weights and the weight of your body, can help build arm strength. By using light weights and more repetitions, you can build lean muscle mass instead of bulking up. Men may want to use 15-pound weights and build up to 20 repetitions for each exercise; women may want to start with 5-pound weights and build to 20 repetitions. When you’re ready to make the exercises more challenging, increase the weight or repetitions, do several sets of repetitions, or slow down your movements. Arm curl: This exercise helps build your biceps. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Have a weight in each hand, and let your hands hang at your sides. Alternating arms, slowly bring the weight toward your shoulder while keeping your elbow at your side. After you lift each arm all the way up, hold the weight at the top, and then slowly lower it the starting position. Triceps extension: To work out the triceps, which lie on the back of your upper arms, lie down with a weight in one hand. Straighten your arm so it’s standing straight up, perpendicular to your body; then bend at the elbow, lowering the weight toward your shoulder. Slowly extend the arm upward again. Switch to the other arm after you’ve finished your repetitions. Shoulder press: This move strengthens the muscles between your shoulders. Sit on a chair with a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the weights at shoulder height, with elbows bent and palms facing forward. Extend your hands upward above your head without completely straightening your elbow. Then lower your arms back to the starting position. Push-ups: This good, old-fashioned exercise helps build your upper body strength, particularly in your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Start with five and build up to ten or more. Don’t cheat! Hold your back straight and keep the movements slow and smooth. Legs Leg strength is one of the most important physical attributes for a rider. When on the horse, you use pressure from your legs to impart instructions. You also use them to balance in the saddle. And of course, your legs need to be strong enough to help you launch yourself into the saddle when you mount. The more you ride, the more strength you develop in your legs. To further this process along, try the following activities: Knee bends: This exercise helps strengthen your quadriceps, which run along the front of the thighs. Stand with your back against a wall and slide down slightly until your knees are bent at about a 135-degree angle. Let your arms dangle at your sides. Hold this position for 30 seconds, and do this exercise three times a day. After it becomes easy, you can deepen the bend, working up to a 90-degree angle. Leg lifts: This move can strengthen and stretch your adductors (at the inner thigh) and abductors (at the outer thigh). Lie on your side and support your head with your lower arm. Put your other hand on your hip, and lift your leg into the air as far as you can without pain. Hold it here for two seconds, and then slowly lower it to the ground. Start with ten repetitions on each side. Hamstring curls: This exercise strengthens your calf muscles and the backs of your thighs. Face the back of a chair and hold on for balance. Lift your leg and try to bring your heel all the way to your buttocks; then bring your foot back to the floor. Repeat 20 times for each leg. Abdomen Your abdominal muscles serve as the core of your balance when you’re sitting in the saddle. Strong abs help you maintain the proper position when you’re riding and keep you stable while the horse moves. Use the following exercises to tone your abdominals and keep them in shape for riding. Remember to keep breathing as you’re working: Crunches: Lie on the floor on your back with your hands behind your head and knees bent, with feet flat on the ground. Keep your head straight and lift your shoulders off the floor. Push your ribs toward your hips and hold this position for two seconds. Slowly lower your shoulders back to the floor. Repeat 5 times to start and build up to 20. Reverse curls: Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent toward your chest as far as they go comfortably. Contract your stomach muscles and lift your hips up off the floor, bringing your knees toward your chin. Hold for two seconds and then lower your hips. Repeat 5 times to start and build up to 20. Diagonal (oblique) crunches: Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Put your hands behind your head and raise your shoulders, turning your torso to touch your elbow to your opposite knee. Start with 5 repetitions on one side and then switch to the other elbow and knee. Build up to 20 reps. Cross-training: Practicing yoga and Pilates for flexibility and strength One way to get yourself in good shape for riding is to enroll in a yoga or Pilates class. These disciplines provide an excellent, low-impact body workout that stretches and strengthens the muscles you need for riding. Yoga The ancient activity of yoga increases the body’s flexibility and helps with balance and muscle strength. Yoga also helps you figure out how to control your breathing and truly relax, something that can come in handy when riding. Different types of yoga classes are available to the public, with Hatha yoga among the most popular. Any type of yoga can help you get fit for riding. Some yoga schools are even starting to offer yoga for equestrians, with exercises specifically designed to help riders with their work in the saddle. If you’re lucky enough to live near a yoga school that offers this class, by all means, enroll. If not, consider ordering a videotape or DVD that offers yoga for equestrians. You can also check out Yoga For Dummies by Georg Feuerstein, Ph.D., Larry Payne, Ph.D., and Lilias Folan (Wiley). Pilates A type of strengthening exercise developed by Joseph H. Pilates, this type of workout is popular with riders. It strengthens and stretches the entire body, particularly the core muscles that you need for stability and balance. Designed to improve flexibility and strength without building bulk, Pilates also includes mental conditioning that can help with coordinating your brain and your body — something infinitely useful when riding. Pilates classes are available around the country, and you can also purchase DVDs at fitness centers and online. Pilates For Dummies by Ellie Herman (Wiley) is another resource to try. Stretching yourself: Increase flexibility just before you mount Flexibility is important when you ride. If your muscles stretch easily, you can move more freely with the horse. You’re also less likely to injure yourself during a vigorous lesson and a lot less likely to be sore afterwards. The following exercises can help you stay flexible when riding. Leave yourself extra time before your lesson or ride (at least 5 to 10 minutes) so you have time to perform these stretches before you get on the horse. Be careful when you stretch, too. Use slow, smooth movements, and don’t stretch beyond the point where you feel more than a slight pull and mild discomfort. Quadriceps To stretch your quadriceps, stand up with your back straight and bend your leg up behind you. Hold onto your ankle so your knee is bent and slowly pull your ankle so your knee points down and behind you. You should feel tension along the front of your thigh. Hold this stretch for ten seconds and then switch to the other leg. Repeat this move twice for each leg. Hamstrings The hamstrings are a set of three muscles at the back of your upper leg. For this stretch, stand up in front of a fence; use your hand to brace yourself forward as you reach your leg up onto the fence, as high as you can go. Bend forward at the waist and hold this position for ten seconds. Do this stretch with the other leg, too, and then repeat. Inner thighs To stretch out your inner thighs, sit on the ground with your knees bent out to the sides and the soles of your feet touching each other. Relax your hips and then push down gently on both knees with your hands. Do this exercise twice for ten seconds each time. Lower back This stretch is particularly important if you have lower back issues that cause your muscles to tighten up when you ride. Lie on your back with your knees to your chest. Wrap your arms around your legs just below your knees and pull your knees toward you. Hold this position for a few seconds, and then relax. Repeat three to five times. Neck To prevent tension in your neck, stretch the muscles by tilting your head slowly first to the right (your ear toward your shoulder) and then to the left. You should feel a stretch in the muscles along the side of your neck. Then tuck your chin forward into your chest and then back up toward the sky. Next, turn your head as far to the right as you can while keeping your shoulders straight. Do the same to the left. Follow this routine several times, holding each stretch for at least five seconds.

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