Posts Tagged ‘Horseback Riding’

Horseback Riding Tips: How to Begin Horseback Riding

As the sun melts the layers of snow from the hard winter, many people are searching for excuses to spend evenings and weekends outside. For those of us who know the joys of horseback riding, our excuse is saddled and ready to ride. Perhaps this summer will be the year that we truly appreciate the majestic relationship between horse and owner as we experience one of the many equestrian campgrounds that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources maintains. For those who do not yet know the joys of horseback riding, perhaps this will be the summer that we finally take the plunge and appreciate the beauty of riding atop such a powerful and graceful creature. While the idea of sitting on a horse nearly 5 ½ feet in the air may be intimidating, these horseback riding tips will take away any of your fears.Princeton

Preparing for the Ride…

The key to successful horseback riding is preparation. Before riding, mounting, or even selecting a horse, you should always make sure to find a certified riding instructor. These horseback riding lessons are a small investment that can pay off in dividends in your riding career. Horseback riding lessons from a qualified instructor can make riding faster, easier, and safer. And the knowledge that you gain in these classes will be the foundation for a lifetime of horseback riding. When selecting a horseback riding instructor, you want to make sure to select someone who is certified. The American Riding Instructors Association (ARIA) says that a certified riding instructor is not only proven his or her competency in horseback riding, but she or he is also committed to safety and learning. With a qualified instructor at hand, you can confident as you begin to prepare for horseback riding (and have a good source for additional horseback riding tips).

The next step of these horseback riding tips for preparation is to learn all aspects of horsemanship. Horsemanship, more commonly referred to as horse whispering, is a fancy word that describes the various learning techniques to prepare a rider to understand and care for a horse. The American Horsemanship Association argues that the key to learning the horsemanship necessary for horseback riding is finding opportunities to interact with certified instructors. Summer camps, weekend retreats, and equine conferences can be great opportunities to gain knowledge and experience with horses. And never underestimate the value of a good book. While reading will not provide you with the hands-on experience required of mastering horsemanship, these books can provide a strong foundation of knowledge that you can enhance through real-time interactions.

Caring for the Ride…

Horseback Riding Tips

The next step to proper horseback riding preparation is making sure that your horse is well-maintained. You would not plan to drive a car without gas…and your car is not a living creature. Proper care for your horse is essential to successful horseback riding.

Taking care of your horse begins with food and water. (Shocking, I know.) We often underestimate the value of a well-fed (in both quantity and quality of food) and watered horse. According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are several key considerations when preparing your horses meal: what to feed and when to feed. The bulk of a horse’s diet should be roughage with grains used sparingly (as needed) as a supplement. You should design (perhaps with consultation) a diet that is appropriate for your animal, considering the size and type of work of you animal. Any changes to the horse’s diet should be done slowly over time. The timing of your horse’s diet is also crucial for success. Horses naturally graze slowly over time. You will want to give your animal access (whether in a stable or a pasture) to food throughout the day so that you can replicate this timetable. And you also want to avoid feeding directly before or after exercise as this may irritate the animal’s stomach. Much like food, water should be available to the animal throughout the day. A horse will select when to consume liquid (as we are all aware, “you can lead a horse to water…”). The key to hydration for a horse is in proper water storage systems. The weather can make water storage difficult (e.g., heat leads to evaporation or cold leads to freezing) and contamination can be a costly dilemma. You will want to invest in an effective water storage unit.

In addition to being well-fed, a maintained horse is properly groomed. According to Equestrian Magazine grooming is not only important for the health of your horse (as it promotes a healthy coat and skin), but can be crucial for bonding an animal and garnering trust. After securing your horse, you will want to pick your horse’s hooves of all dirt, debris and foreign objects. (The proper and effective techniques to pick a horse’s hoof can be learned through Horsemanship courses.) You will also want to brush a horse’s coat repeatedly with multiple tools (e.g., curry comb, dandy brush, or a soft brush). Each of these treatments is important and serves an important function for the animal. Your well-groomed horse will be a better horseback riding partner.

These horseback riding tips have already mentioned multiple tools that you will need for proper horse care (e.g., multiple grooming tools, a water storage unit). Make sure that you are prepared for the tasks by having all the necessary equipment. You are probably excited at the prospect of buying bits, bridles, and saddles, but the list of required equipment is much longer. You should consult with an expert, perhaps your horseback riding trainer, for what items your horse needs or visit a website that has these items listed (for example, You want to make sure that you consider all of these items and the many costs of horse ownership, such as storage, veterinary costs, and training among others, before purchasing your own horse. A horse can be an expensive, but highly rewarding, investment if you are properly prepared.

Pairing for the ride…

With some base knowledge learned through riding lessons and your horse fully prepared for the ride, you are now ready to team up with your horse. You will want to spend some quality time with your horse. Just walk around together. You want to get a sense of how the horse moves while gaining each other’s trust. Horse trainer Ben Rubenstein claims that you should spend a fair amount of time just sitting on the horse so that you can get a sense of the horse’s body and can assess your horseback riding equipment. (You can make any changes that you sense necessary by doing this task fully.) You also want to spend some time understanding how to lead your horse.

There are a couple of tricks that can help you learn to lead the horse. (Although this is something that you also want to work with a certified instructor during horseback riding lessons.) Western Horseman Magazine claims that the key to understanding a lead can actually be a different four-legged friend: a dog. Take a dog out on a leash into an open area and observe the dog’s different gaits. Try to understand how and why the dog changes between these strides before taking the leash and leading the dog through them. If a dog isn’t around, then you can observe your own running patterns through your backyard. How does your body react to quick turns? Or uneven turf? You can start noticing patterns of movement that will quicken your understanding of how to lead a horse.

You can take this knowledge about the lead onto your horse in a safe and controlled environment. You will be focusing on the relationship between you and your horse so you will want to minimize all other distractions. The easiest horseback riding tip to improve your safety and your horse’s concentration is to ride in open areas as a beginner. You will not have the ability to watch out for obstacles with enough time to minimize their threats because you will be focused on the animal close to you. An open field or pasture will be perfect for these early riding sessions, particularly as you are mastering taking the lead of the horse. With a certified riding instructor at your side, these early experiences will give you the skills, knowledge, and confidence you need to be an expert rider in no time.

The Trail-Riding Warm-Up: Your complete guide to preparing for the trail all year long

Horse Trail Riding

Trail-riding. Not only is it the single most popular activity among horse-owners, but it’s about all we can do in the wintertime (unless you have the luxury of an indoor arena – lucky you!).

Yet even though trail-riding is a relaxing, seemingly low-stress activity, it requires an acute level of awareness, coordination, and cooperation from your horse. There are lots of tricky obstacles, alternating terrains, and unexpected occurrences out on the trail, and it’s vitally important that your horse is warmed up and prepared to handle each one. And in cold weather, when your horse’s muscles are stiff and snow cover makes things slippery, a proper warm-up is an absolute necessity.Inflatables

Here, we walk you through a basic warm-up routine for trail-riding, particularly in wintertime. Happy holidays and happy riding!

First things first

Get your horse out, brush him off, and pick out any impacted snow or mud from his hooves. IF YOUR HORSE IS SHOD, I STRONGLY ADVISE REMOVING HIS SHOES BEFORE WINTER RIDING – slick metal shoes greatly increase the risk of slipping and falling in the snow or on the bumpy frozen ground.

While it is often a good idea to lunge your horse for 10-20 minutes before riding, allowing him to blow off steam and really limbering up his muscles, I do NOT advise it in cold weather. Not only does lunging move the horse around in tight, fast circles – dangerous on the slippery winter ground – but it’s simply too intense on your horse’s cold, stiff muscles. In cold weather, skip the lunging and proceed directly to saddling.Gummibåt svømmebasseng

Arena warm-up

After saddling, take your horse to the arena and walk him on the rail for a healthy 10-15 minutes, longer in cold weather. Starting out with a nice, slow walk – rather than loping figure-eight or long-trotting – lets your horse know that this will not be a fast, quick workout requiring intense spurts of energy. Instead, you are gearing up for a long, relaxing ride out on the trail.

After walking for a bit, move your horse into a trot. In warmer seasons, I would suggest moving from the trot into the extended “long-trot”. There is simply nothing better than the long trot for extending the muscles and limbering up the horse. In cold weather, however, the long trot can snap cold tendons and lead to slipping and falling. Skip the long trot and, after gently trotting for a bit, fall back down into the walk.

Repeat the walk/trot pattern until you feel ready to move into the lope. In warm weather, I suggest moving the horse out into the center of the arena for loping figure-eight, which develop coordination and suppleness through the body. But in the wintertime, tight, fast figure-eight are dangerous. Instead, lope the horse calmly along the rail, and not for very long. Drop down to the walk, reverse, and lope in the opposite direction. You don’t want to encourage exhaustion or over-excitement, you simply want to move the horse through his gaits so he is warmed up for the trail.

However, figure-eight are still a good idea because they get your horse bending through his body and coordinating his footwork. In cold weather, simply do them at the walk or MAYBE at the trot, encouraging your horse to navigate the winter ground but making sure you don’t push him into slipping or falling.

Another good exercise for coordination – and for preparing your horse for fallen logs and other obstacles out on the trail – is walking or trotting over ground poles. The poles can be raised to different heights and placed in different patterns to further encourage coordination and alertness. However, ground pole work is impossible in snow-filled arenas and generally more headache than it’s worth in cold weather. I highly recommend it for warmer seasons, but don’t feel guilty skipping it in the wintertime.inflatable water slide


While stretching is important for demanding disciplines such as dressage, it’s not terribly important for the trail. However, if your horse is still feeling a stiff after the warm-up and doesn’t seem to be “striding out”, it might be helpful to stretch his legs a little.

Dismount your horse and get him comfortable and relaxed at a standing position. Grab one of his front legs and extend it out in front of him, gently lifting it upwards. Let him relax into it, and gently start to move the leg side to side or in small circles. Lots of horses LOVE this stretch, and will bow their heads into it to feel it more! Do the same to the other side. After the front legs, move to the back. Lift and extend one hind leg out behind him, gently lifting it upwards. Unlike the front leg stretch, horses don’t seem to like this stretch as much and may try to fight you. Simply hold the stretch until he relaxes, and repeat on the other side.

While there are other stretches you can do with your horse, I have found this routine to be both easy and the most helpful, encouraging stride extension and really limbering up the shoulder and hip muscles. But PLEASE BE CAREFUL IN COLD WEATHER. In fact I generally advise against any stretching in cold weather, but if it’s necessary, be careful and make sure your horse is amply warmed up before stretching.

On the trail

You and your horse should now be warmed up and ready to enjoy a long, leisurely trail-ride. However, there are still helpful exercises you can do out on the trail to increase performance and safety.

A great exercise out on the trail is going up and down hills. Trotting or loping uphill and walking back down quickly builds muscle, power, and stamina. Be careful that you don’t over-excite your horse, as a “chargey” horse can be very dangerous out in the open, and in wintertime be especially careful that you don’t work your horse into a sweat. A layer of sweat can bring the horse’s temperature down dangerously in cold weather. If you see sweat, STOP RIDING.

Another great exercise for the trail is less physical than it is mental. Most horses – especially when they catch sight of the barn or trailer after a long ride – become what we call “barn sour”. Their ears perk up, they whinny, and they begin trotting or loping back to the barn, anxious to get back to their friends and rid of you! This is simply not acceptable. If your horse is getting barn sour, turn him around and ride him in the opposite direction. You can even trot or lope if you want. Slow down, turn him around, and calmly walk back in the direction of the barn. If he gets barn sour again, repeat, repeat, and repeat. I cannot stress enough how important this exercise is for trail-riding safety. Horses who think its ok to be barn sour will run off on their riders, completely out of control. They must understand that for as long as you’re on their backs, they must listen to you, and not to their friends whinnying from the barn.

Trail-riding is generally a leisurely, carefree activity, but winter can bring added dangers. Be sure to check out our post on winter riding safety: Trail-riding is generally a leisurely, carefree activity, but winter can bring added dangers. Be sure to check out our post on winter riding safety: Winter Horse Riding Tips

The cool-down

Trail-riding isn’t an intense, high-energy workout, so a proper cool-down isn’t a huge concern. However, it’s generally a good idea to walk your house around in the arena a few times before putting him away. Not only will this ensure that his pulse has been brought down and his muscles are relaxed, but your horse needs to understand that coming back to the barn doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the ride. If he thinks that he gets unsaddled, rubbed down, and fed as soon as he gets back to the barn, he is more likely to become barn sour. He needs to understand that his work will be done when you say it’s done!

You can also stretch your horse after riding, but stretching should be done on warm muscles. A long, wintery ride of mostly walking will not make the muscles warm enough for safe stretching, so I generally advise against it.

Finally, MAKE SURE THAT YOU STALL YOUR HORSE AFTER A COLD RIDE. Even if he’s typically out at pasture, stall him for the night and turn him out again in the morning. It is absolutely tantamount that your horse’s temperature not be brought down too much or too quickly, which can easily happen if he’s turned out into the cold after a ride. If you have accidentally worked him into a sweat, throw a blanket on him for the night and leave him in the stall for the next day or two.

We hope you’ve found our tips helpful and thorough. Here at Nelson, our waterers run all winter long, and we think our horseback-riding clients should, too. Happy riding!