Riding a horse is just sitting right? Nope! Staying on and controlling a horse requires the same sort of muscle strength and coordination that many other sports require—like ballroom dancing, martial arts, downhill skiing, and others. You need to learn how to use your body and balance to make your ride more comfortable, safe, and easier for your horse.
However, it's easy to pick up bad riding habits, especially if you don't regularly work with a trainer. Here are eleven of the most common problems to watch out for as you learn to ride your horse.
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Loose and Flat Hands
It's common for new riders to either let the reins slide through their fingers or let their hands hang flat.
Remember to close all fingers around the reins with a firm but gentle grasp. Imagine holding a baby chick and that's the right amount of pressure with which to hold the reins; you don't need a death grip, but hold them with enough force to prevent them from slipping through your fingers and becoming too loose. Your thumbs should be rotated up to prevent you from holding your hands flat, with palms facing the ground. Flat hands make it more difficult to give effective rein aids and holding the reins too loose means your horse can easily pull them through your fingers.
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When riding a horse, we constantly have to check and correct our posture and keep our shoulders back. Slouching your shoulders means you may have a more difficult time maintaining a good seat and effective rein aids. Over time, poor posture can lead to back and shoulder pain.
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Leaning Forward Too Frequently
Leaning forward is sometimes necessary, such as when jumping. However, when doing flat work (not jumping), leaning forward throws off your center of gravity when on a horse and can make it hard to cue your horse properly. Additionally, if your horse stops abruptly or spooks suddenly, this action tends to push you forward out of the saddle. If you're already leaning too far forward, you may be unbalanced enough to then fall forward over your horse's shoulder.
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“Heels down” is something most beginner riders will hear frequently from their coach. Making sure your heels are pushed down will help keep your foot in a proper position in the stirrup. Additionally, heels that are down increase the contact between your leg and your horse's body. This help you communicate with your horse and gives you a much more centered and secure seat in the saddle.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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Stiff or Heavy Hands
Stiff and heavy hands are as bad as hands that are flat and loose. Heavy hands are harder on the horse though, because if you ride with heavy hands you'll be putting too much pressure on the horse's mouth. This can cause problems like head tossing and rearing. To prevent this bad riding habit, don't clench your hands around the reins as if making a fist. Hold the reins firmly but gently.
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Looking down means you won't be looking where you are going. This affects your center of balance and doesn't allow you to prepare yourself for what's ahead, especially when jumping or on the trail and encountering various obstacles. When in the saddle, focus your gaze roughly ten feed in front of the horse.
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Leaning in on Turns
While banking your turns may be desirable when riding a bicycle, you don't want to lean inside as you ride circles or bends on horseback. In order for your horse to balance easily around tight turns, you want to keep your own balance as centered as possible. Leaning inward makes this more difficult on the horse. A good example is a way many barrel racers take tight turns. You'll see they actually keep their weight low and centered in the saddle, allowing the horse to make the bend quickly and efficiently.
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Sitting Chair Seat
Sitting in a chair position on a horse is a very common problem. This means you are sitting back and slouching down, as if you were reclining in an easy chair. This type of riding shifts your center of balance too far back on the horse and also pushes your legs too far forward and away from the horse's body, making it harder for your to communicate. Additionally, this posture in the saddle makes it hard to cue your horse with the reins, post or sit the trot, and keep your arms and hands in the correct position.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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As we're told to sit up straight and push our shoulders back, we may actually over-compensate and hollow out our backs. Having a hollow back affects your position in the saddle, affecting our balance and our ability to move with the horse. It also causes excess strain on our back and over time may result in back pain.
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Pinching With the Knees
In an effort to grip with our legs and stay on our horse, many of us pinch with our knees. This makes it hard to apply leg aids and affects your position in the saddle. It can make posting the trot more difficult and add bounce when you try to sit the trot. Try to relax at the knee and keep your heels down. Focus your grip on your calves and your thighs.
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Your elbows should always remain at your side while you ride unless you're going over a jump or you need to release your horse's reins when they cough or trip. After your horse has landed or recovered, elbows should be back at your side. Keeping your elbows straight and stiff affects your balance and ability to effectively cue your horse.