Holding the reins incorrectly
4. Holding the reins incorrectly
Think of the two reins from the bridle (the leather straps leading from either side of the horse’s bit to your hands) like your steering wheel on a car. If you pull one rein to the left, the horses head (and body) should follow. I tell beginning riders to imagine holding the reins like an ice cream cone; if you tip your wrist, your ice cream will fall out of the cone.
Whether you are riding English or Western, you’ll want to choke up on your reins when you ask the horse to come to a stop. Don’t hold the reins above your head or pull back above your shoulders (as the rider on the left is doing) in an attempt to stop the horse. If riding Western, slide your left hand toward the horse’s neck while tightening your reins and you’ll have better control.
5. Hysteria on horseback
I’m the first to admit that horseback riding can be a frustrating experience the first couple of times. There is a lot to learn in the riding arena and out on the trail. Regardless of your frustration level, yelling, screaming or swearing at your horse is not going to help the situation. In fact, your horse will be confused as well. Please keep in mind that most animals are not able to process complete sentences. When a horse hears a rider say, “please stop! You are going too fast.” The horse has no idea what you are asking it to do. Saying “whoa” and pulling back on the reins at the same time tells the horse to stop. When the horse does as directed, loosen the reins to reward the horse for following your commands.
6. Dangerous distractions
Horseback riding should be a place to re-connect with nature. Silence your cell phone and leave backpacks and purses back at the ranch. If foul weather looks eminent, check to see if the ranch has rain slickers. It’s best not to ride with plastic rain ponchos, as they can flap in the wind and scare the horses. The same holds true for backpacks; horses may be spooked from unfamiliar noises such as backpacks slamming the backs of the riders, thus scaring the horses.
7. Miscommunication while riding
Riders be advised that horse commands are not universal. What means stop to horses in the United States might not hold true in other countries. Always ask for a run down of horseback riding commands no matter how experienced the rider. For the novice equestrian, remember that holding on tightly with your legs is often the command for moving forward to the horse. If you are trotting or loping (cantering) and banging your legs against the side of the horses flanks, the horses response is to sped up. Be clear with your communication while horseback riding.