How to Ride a Horse Safely

Side view of girl wearing riding hat galloping on horseback
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You can't learn to ride a horse from a website, book, or video. The best way to learn to ride a horse is with a competent coach or instructor, who can catch bad habits before they become ingrained, advise you of ​​mistakes you may be making, encourage you, and offer advice to keep you safe and comfortable.

But you can prepare and learn what you'll be learning once you're on a horse whether you plan to learn to ride English or Western. Here's what you'll need to learn to competently ride a horse. 

Before You Begin Your Ride

The first thing you'll learn about riding may not be actual riding skills. You may come across riding schools where you'll simply get on the horse and start riding. But learning to tie, groom, and lead are essential skills that help you learn to understand horses, stay safe, and increase your enjoyment. This is especially important if you plan to head out alone once you're able. 

Saddle up

With your horse safely tied and groomed, it's time to saddle up for your ride. Learn how to put on an English or Western saddle and bridle, and how to do up the cinch on a Western saddle.

Mounting up

With your horse waiting, groomed, saddled up, and ready to ride, you'll want to get going. But don't rush things: It's important to understand how to mount your horse and once you're up there how to sit correctly in the saddle as you ride.

Walk on

When you first begin riding, you will feel awkward and unbalanced. You may feel unable to make all your body parts do all the things they are supposed to at the same time. You may be using muscles not familiar with the job you are asking, and have difficulty remembering all you are supposed to do. The key is practice.

Walk, Halt, and Turn

  • How to walk and halt: ​The first thing your instructor will explain is how to cue the horse to walk. If you've never ridden before, it will take a little time to get used to the motion of the horse.
  • How to turn (English): Most English riders will learn to use a direct rein to turn their horses.
  • How to turn (Western): Most Western riders will likely learn to neck rein.

Trotting, Jogging, Cantering, or Loping

As your confidence and skill increase, it is time to learn to ride at faster paces. Challenge yourself, but never feel rushed. Learning to ride is supposed to be fun, not scary.

  • Posting the trot: Trotting can be a lot of work to learn, especially posting the trot. Again, practice is key. Soon it will become the natural thing to do.
  • Sit the trot: ​Learning to sit the trot can be tricky. These tips can help get the bounce out.
  • Canter or lope: The canter/lope is a lot of fun, and once you are secure almost easier than trotting.

Riding Safety

These aren't riding skills, but safety with horses is always the first priority. Your coach can help remind you of these safety tips as you ride because it can be difficult to remember so many new things.

  • Arena etiquette and safety: Just like rules of the road prevent traffic chaos, arena etiquette prevents riders from getting too close or cutting each other off.
  • Safety on the trail: Riding on a trail is an adventure that comes with a few hazards. Be prepared by knowing what to watch for.
  • Riding more safely after dark: If you get caught (or go out) riding after dark, extra caution is required.
  • Safety riding along roadsides: Generally, horses and traffic don't mix. But if you have to ride along roadsides, stay safe.
Horseback Riding Safety Tips

The Spruce / Theresa Chiechi

Beyond the Basics

These skills go beyond the basics. Learn how to fall off and do an emergency dismount under the supervision of a knowledgeable coach. Always wear a helmet and proper boots or safety stirrups. Consider using a chest protector and a mouth guard as well.

  • Backing up or rein-back: There are lots of situations where backing up is handy.
  • Ride bareback: Riding bareback is fun, and in the winter, warmer!
  • How to fall off: Emergency dismounts and falling the right way may help you if your horse bolts, bucks or otherwise misbehaves, although there is no sure way to prevent accidents and injury when riding horseback.
  • How to do an emergency dismount: What your coach can teach you about getting off fast.

Care for Your Horse After You Ride

Being a good horseman/horsewoman means you look after your horse even after its job is done. You don't want your horse to be uncomfortable, and you don't want it to think that being ridden is all work and no play. Here's how to get out of the saddle and reward your horse.

Stable hand grooms a white horse
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  • Dismount: Because we have other things to do, unfortunately, we have to get off our horses sometime. Properly dismounting from your horse is the first step after you've finished your ride.
  • Look after your horse after riding: A sign of good horsemanship is a horse that is not only ridden well but cared for well. Here's how to cool down your horse and groom it after riding.
  • Reward your horse with safe treats: Reward your equine friend for a job well done. But do it safely.