What You Need to Know About Horses as an Equestrian
Horsemanship is a never-ending learning process, and even the most experienced equestrians use training and instruction to further their skills and knowledge. While you can ride for fifty years and still learn throughout this time, there are basics of horse knowledge that every equestrian should learn from the very beginning.
What is some of the basic horse knowledge that every equestrian should know? Every equestrian should be taught the fundamentals from the beginning. These fundamentals will cover how to safely work around a horse, how to tie a horse, how to groom, how to tack up, and how to begin (and end) each riding lesson. The majority of these basic rules are meant to keep both the rider and the horse safe while working together.
If you’re just now getting into horses, this article is a great place to start when it comes to setting a goal for things you need to learn and know. Read on to learn the details of these equestrian basics!
Basic Horse Knowledge: Safety
It would be impossible to overstate the importance of safety. Horses are much bigger and vastly stronger than we are. Your safety, and the safety of the people around you, should be your first priority. A close second should be the safety of your horse. Here we will talk about some of the very basics of equestrian safety – including wearing the proper attire, where to stand, and how to act.
Wear Proper Attire When Working With Horses
You should be prepared when you go out to work with a horse. Make sure that you are wearing close-toed shoes (preferably boots). Horses can be unpredictable and may step where you are not expecting them to step – sometimes on top of your own feet. While this will hurt no matter what you are wearing, close- and hard-toed footwear will help to prevent injuries to you.
A helmet is also a must. Helmets should be worn anytime you get on a horse. If I’m working with a horse I don’t know or even a young horse on the ground, I like to also wear my helmet just to give me an extra level of safety. Horses are big, humans are small; sometimes horses can just throw us around a bit! And this is why it’s important to always use a helmet!
Do Not Stand Behind Your Horse
One of the first things you will likely be taught when learning to care for horses is that you should not stand directly behind them. Most horses do not want to kick you, but horses are prey animals and startle easily – if they are suddenly made aware that there is someone (or something) behind them, they may spook and kick out reflexively.
Many people may learn this, and will assume that it is safe to stand 3 – 4 feet behind the horse. This is actually the most dangerous place that you can stand. The horse can kick out much further than the length of his legs, and at 3 – 4 feet away, you will get the full force of that kick. If you are going to stand behind the horse, stand far enough away so that there is no chance of being kicked or standing directly behind the horse so if they do kick, they can’t get much power behind it before they hit you.
When you walk behind a horse, always make sure you have one hand on them and you are as close to them as possible. This alerts them to your presence and position, and eliminates any surprises. If you have an ornery horse who decides to kick you anyway, the kick will have very little force if your body is against his.
Be Calm Around Horses
Horses spook easily – some more easily than others. A startled horse can turn into a dangerous situation, so do what you can to eliminate as much surprise as possible. Avoid making loud noises, and don’t run unless there is an emergency. Stay calm, and speak calmly. Your horse will feed off of your energy, so you want to exude confidence and peace.
Basic Horse Knowledge: How To Tie A Horse
You will want to tie your horse up to groom, tack, and at any other time you need the horse to be secured temporarily. Tie the horse with a lead rope or on cross ties – you should never tie your horse with the bridle, as the bit or hackamore can cause injury to the horse if he should startle and pull back.
When tying, it is important to use a quick-release knot. If you are not familiar with this knot, here is a tutorial I made that you can reference:
Being tied up and confined can frighten a horse, and if a horse is spooked he may pull back wildly – if you are unable to calm him, he may injure himself in an attempt to escape. A quick-release knot allows you to free your horse by simply pulling on the end of the rope.
One important safety tip when tying up a horse – never, ever place a limb or a digit inside of a loop. If your horse spooks in the middle of tying, the force of him pulling away will trap your fingers or arm and your bones will easily be broken or severed. You should never tie yourself to your horse, period.
Basic Horse Knowledge: Grooming Your Horse
Grooming is not only an important bonding experience, but it is also important to the health of your horse. Dirt, mud, and manure can get stuck to your horse’s coat and should be removed for the health of the coat and skin. Hooves need to be picked out regularly to avoid fungal and bacterial infections. And the mane and tail should be brushed out on a regular basis so that it does not become tangled and matted.
While the order varies among riders, there are five points to hit when grooming your horse. You will need to pick out the horse’s hooves before and after every ride – removing mud, manure, dirt, and rocks from your horse’s feet. You will also use a curry comb – a stiff metal or rubber comb that is used to break up any dried mud or dirt on your horse’s coat. After you use the curry comb, you will use a stiff body brush to brush the dirt away, and then you will finish the coat with a finishing brush – this is a softer brush that will help your horse’s coat to shine. You can also use the finishing brush on your horse’s face, unless you have a gentle face brush. Lastly, comb out the horse’s mane and tail – start from the bottom and work your way up, detangling patiently so as not to cause pain to your horse. You don’t need to brush out the mane or tail every time you groom, as this can cause the mane and tail to thin out.
To get a complete breakdown of how to groom a horse, visit my article How to Groom a Horse: Complete Guide.
Basic Horse Knowledge: Tacking Up
Tacking up can be tricky and it is best to have an instructor helping you to learn. Tacking up will take practice before you are comfortable doing it on your own.
You will first put the saddle pad or blanket on – never put a saddle on a horse’s back without anything under it. Next, you will put the saddle on top of the pad. Make sure that you run up the stirrups (English) or loop the stirrups onto the saddle horn (Western) so that they do not hit the horse’s belly as you are placing the saddle.
Properly tightening the girth will take practice. If it is too loose, the saddle will not be secure and you will fall off while you are riding. If it is too tight, it will be uncomfortable for the horse and he might let you know about this discomfort by throwing you. The girth should be snug, but four of your fingers should be able to slide between the girth and your horse’s belly.
Placing the bridle on your horse can also take some time to get used to. When you first pick up a bridle it can seem confusing – so many different segments and buckles to it. It will be helpful to watch a tutorial or have an instructor help you in the beginning. Just be gentle and go slowly as you are working around the horse’s face.
Here is an article that will walk you through how to tack up your horse using English tack: How to Tack Up a Horse English (Complete Guide.)
Basic Horse Knowledge: Warming Up & Cooling Down
When you first get onto a horse, it is important to warm them up before you really get to work. Warm-ups have the same benefit for horses as they do for people. Warming up allows the horse’s tendons and muscles to loosen up and stretch, lessening the chance of injuries. Warming up also allows the heart rate and respiration to gradually increase and bring oxygen to the muscles.
Cooling down is also vitally important when riding. Horses are sensitive to overheating, and if a horse is not properly and gradually cooled down after working, you run the risk of heatstroke, damage to the internal organs, and colic.
Warm-up practices will vary by horse – some younger, athletic horses do not need as much time warming up as an older, stiffer horse. All horses need adequate cool-down time.
Acquiring Horse Knowledge
There is so much to learn about horses, and in your equestrian life, you will never stop learning. While at first it will seem overwhelming, the brain is meant to be pushed outside of its comfort zone, and many of these “rules” will quickly become second nature to you. If you are practicing safety for both you and your horse, the rest will fall into place through hard work and patience.
When it comes to horseback riding, one of the basics you’ll have to learn is the different commands you’ll use to communicate with your horse. Visit my article to get a complete breakdown of the different commands you may use: Horse Commands: Top Horse Training & Riding Commands.
P.S. Save this to your “Horse” board!