The Top Ten Beginner Horse Riding Mistakes

Girl riding pony

Beginning to ride a horse can be a daunting task, and there are several common mistakes that new riders often make. The following are very common issues amongst new horse riders and tips to help correct them so both horse and rider can stay safe.

  • 01 of 10

    Being Unsafe

    beginning horse riding, man putting on helmet for safety

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    Riding horses is inherently dangerous. It is also common for long-term and more experienced riders to disregard safety measures, setting a bad example for beginners. Safety equipment used while riding horses is a must. Accidents are unpredictable, and a helmet can save you from brain injury, disability, and even death. All helmets should be ASTM (American Society of Testing and Materials) approved, which lets you know that it complies with essential standards.

    You should also ensure you know the horse you are riding, be prepared for mishaps, and ensure that the areas you plan to ride in are safe and free from hazards. A phone to call for help if needed is a must. Keeping these safety measures in mind allows you to have a fun and relaxing ride. 

  • 02 of 10

    Being Tense

    beginning horse riding focus on relaxing not tense

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    Riding a horse as a beginner can be daunting. Horses are large, and you are high up in the air when on their backs. However, being anxious and tense may cause your mount to be nervous as well. Horses feed off of the energy of the humans around them.

    Being tense will also make it impossible to have a correct seat and hand position. It will help if you focus on relaxing, sink your weight deep into your heels to elongate your leg, lower your hands, and move with the horse's motion with your seat.

  • 03 of 10

    Standing on Your Toes

    beginning horse riding, put weight into your heals, not toes

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    Using your toes to push your weight up and off the saddle can be tempting. This is very common when riders first learn to post the trot. Trying to lift yourself out of the saddle by rocking up (usually hunching the shoulders and trying to "hop" out of the saddle) and standing on your tip toes will likely have you behind the rhythm of the trot and double bouncing heavily in the saddle. Your hands may go up as you try to counterbalance yourself. This leads to a grumpy horse and an unbalanced, uncomfortable rider.

    To combat this, you must fix your leg position. Keep your lower leg still, with your feet under you as if you were standing on the ground with your knees slightly bent. Elongate your lower leg and sink your weight into your heel. Learn to use your core muscles to help you post the trot and to move with your horse.

  • 04 of 10

    Feet Too Deep in the Stirrups

    beginning horse riding, feet not to deep in stirrup

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    When riding, you should always wear some type of boots with raised heels. This will help keep your foot from becoming caught up in the stirrup should you fall off. Not putting your feet too far forward in the stirrups is also critical. The bottom of the stirrup should rest against the ball of your foot.

    Additionally, make sure your stirrups are the proper length. The stirrup should hit your ankle bone when your legs hang free with your feet out of the stirrups. This will enable you to have your foot in the proper position.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10


    beginning horse riding; straight back, don't slouch

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    Posture is always important, but it is even more so when riding a horse. Riding a horse and having a correct and effective seat is all about balance. If you hunch your body over, not only does this lead to an ineffective seat, but it can also disturb your horse's balance as well.

    When riding, sit up straight, but be relaxed. Use your core muscles to move in sync with the horse's movement. Keep your chin up and look where you are going. You want to stay supple and tension-free.

  • 06 of 10

    Holding Your Breath

    beginning horse riding, don't hold your breath

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    As a beginner horse rider, it is natural to be nervous while riding. Sometimes, without realizing it, some beginners will hold their breath while riding. This is a dangerous habit as it can lead to you not getting enough oxygen, becoming light-headed, and you might fall off of your horse.

    Combat holding your breath by taking deep breaths and focusing on your breathing. It can also be helpful to sing or hum a rhythmic tune, such as "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."

  • 07 of 10

    Gripping the Reins Too Tightly

    beginning horse riding, grip the reins loosely

    nd3000 / Getty

    Always remember that the reins you are holding are directly connected to a rigid metal bit in your horse's mouth. You must never yank or tug on the reins. Having a constant tight grip on the reins is annoying and possibly even painful for your horse, and they will not understand any other commands as your hands are constantly telling them to stop. Gripping the reins too tightly may also cause you hand cramping and pain.

    You must soften your hands and make subtle adjustments with the reins. Hold the reins firmly but lightly, as if you were securely holding a baby chick in each hand. Don't squeeze too hard and squish your chicks!

  • 08 of 10

    Looking at the Horse

    beginning horse riding; look ahead

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    Beginner riders are often fascinated with their horse and want to look at it, or they're nervous and want to keep an eye on it. Looking down means you can't see where you are going. It also causes your spine and seat to stiffen because your head is down and your neck is bent. Any stiffness in your body makes it more difficult for your horse to carry you.

    Always keep your head up and your eyes looking to where you are going. When turning, look at your destination before cueing for the turn. This puts you in better balance with your chin up and your eyes forward.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Sticking Your Elbows Out

    beginning horse riding; keep your elbows in

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    As mentioned above, an effective seat while riding a horse is all about balance. In the beginning, many new riders will struggle to find their balance and will lift their hands and arms, sticking their elbows out to balance their upper body. These movements make it impossible to effectively balance, move fluidly with the horse's movement, and to correctly use your hands.

    Good balance will come with more experience. Aim to move with the rhythm of your horse. Your elbows, forearms, wrist, hand, and reins should all be aligned along with the bit in your horse's mouth. Elbow should be near your body, not poked out to the sides.

  • 10 of 10

    Going Too Fast

    beginning horse riding; don't go too fast

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    This mistake does not refer solely to the speed of riding the horse. Horse riding is a complicated and potentially dangerous sport to engage in. Becoming a safe, confident, and effective rider takes time, patience, and education. Doing too much too soon can lead to disaster.

    Always enlist the help of an experienced horse trainer or coach and never do anything you are not comfortable doing. With time and perseverance, you will gain the necessary skills to have fun and harmonious rides while keeping both you and your horse safe.

Final Thoughts

Riding a horse can be great exercise and very relaxing. However, when beginning as a rider, it may seem overwhelming. The number one priority for any rider is always safety. Relaxing and moving with your horse with a natural hand, body, and leg position will enable your horse to move comfortably and confidently. Remember that practice makes perfect, and always take it slow.