If you’re learning to ride and thoroughly enjoying every aspect of being around horses, you probably think about your riding lessons for a long time after they have finished, and mull over the feedback given to you by your riding instructor to think about ways in which you can improve.
Often when your riding lessons are actually in process, there’s a lot going on and a lot to take in. It can sometimes be hard to concentrate on both what your instructor is saying and what your horse and body are doing- and to get all three things to match up! Particularly as a new rider, it will take time and patience for you to build the necessary theoretical knowledge and physical muscle memory that you will develop over time, especially if, like most novice riders, you are only able to ride for an hour or so once a week. While being in the saddle and undergoing instruction is of course the fastest and easiest way to improve your riding skills and knowledge, there is also a lot to be said for spending a little time looking into the theoretical aspects of learning to ride and examining your riding style and what you can do to improve it. Everyone learns in different ways, and while riding is of course a very physical, hands-on hobby, it can often be helpful to take a step back and look at your riding objectively as a spectator.
If you can get somebody to film one of your riding lessons for later playback, this is a good way to learn about some of the mistakes that you may be making. Even if this is not possible, you may find that your riding instructor consistently pulls you up over the same errors, your position in the saddle or something specific that you are doing (or not doing). It can be frustrating to feel as if you are not making any progress in one specific area, although the chances are that you actually are making progress, albeit slowly!
With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of five of the most common mistakes made by novice riders, with a view to helping you to address them. Read on to find out more!
Your position in the saddle and your posture when riding are the keys to every aspect of horsemanship. Your posture and balance affect literally everything you do with your horse, from how secure you are in the saddle, to how well your horse understands your aids . Two of the most common errors made by novice riders are not sitting up straight with square shoulders, and not keeping your head up. Your head alone weights around 15lb- if your head is tipping downwards looking at the reins and saddle, the rest of your body will also be out of alignment. When you first mount up, concentrate on keeping your head up and your neck relaxed, before moving downwards straightening your spine, bringing your shoulders back, and lengthening your legs from the heel rather than the toe. You may be surprised how much of a difference this simple, ten second exercise makes to the way you feel in the saddle!
While the competent and experienced rider keeps close contact with the saddle and flanks of the horse with the whole length of their legs and rides using their whole body rather than their individual limbs, when you start out as a new rider, your main directional aids for the horse are your hands and your heels. ‘Keep your heels down!’ is an oft- quoted retort of the riding instructor teaching a novice class, and learning to keep your heels tilted downwards is something that only comes with practice. If you find that you are having consistent problems keeping your heels down or that you find you need to point your toes to keep contact with your stirrups, the chances are that your stirrups are too long, and should be shortened somewhat.
Your reins are your direct point of contact between your hands and your horse’s mouth, and how you deal with them affects how your horse will respond to you. You should be able to feel your horse’s mouth on the other end of the reins- but only lightly. You should not feel as if you are hanging onto your horse’s mouth- or that you cannot feel it at all. One common novice error is to use the reins to balance, and feeling more secure by hanging on tightly. Not only does this pull on your horse’s mouth, but it also upsets your posture and puts your hands in the wrong position. If you need to hold on, use the front of the saddle or a neck strap.
When something unexpected happens (as will occur from time to time with even the most well schooled horse or pony) the novice rider often has a tendency to freeze up and stop ‘riding,’ instead becoming a passenger aboard the horse rather than being in control. If your horse spooks, trots off or jumps, listen to the sound of your instructor’s voice and follow their direction in telling you how to manage this, and most importantly, do not freeze up! You might not know how to address the issue at hand, but try to keep your posture, stay relaxed, and don’t let everything that you have learnt thus far fly out of your head. Easier said than done, but it will come with practice!
Riding can be a very elegant sport, with horse and rider moving as one symbiotic unit and appearing to undertake even the most complicated of manoeuvres seamlessly and with ease. However, just half an hour on a horse for the novice rider soon brings home the point that this doesn’t happen by chance, and that learning to ride is a long drawn out, sometimes difficult process that cannot be rushed. When you first start to ride, the chances of you managing it elegantly and with aplomb are slim- riding takes some getting used to. However, you can start to build the foundations of your future riding success from day one, by trying to ensure that all of your movements, transitions and exercises in the saddle are made smoothly and gently, rather like a dance, rather than sudden jerky actions that surprise your horse and feel rather heavy-handed.
It cannot be overstated that learning to ride takes time and experience- there are no shortcuts to be made along the way. Don’t get frustrated if things don’t seem to be happening for you at the speed you would like them to- give it time.
Overall, the most important thing to do is to keep listening to your riding instructor at all times, keep learning, and stay relaxed. It is of course vital to keep it fun and enjoyable too! Happy riding.