How To Better Your Horseback Riding Skills
Horseback riding is a sport of infinite possibilities when it comes to advancing your knowledge and skills. Sometimes, it’s easy to find yourself in a rut in training or riding simply because you don’t know how to advance any further. Well, I’ve compiled some tips that I’ve followed to become a better horseback rider and trainer.
Ride Bareback to Develop Security on the Horse
Part of becoming a better horseback rider is developing your “stickability,” or your ability to stay on the horse even in questionable circumstances. By developing this skill, you’re increasing your security in the saddle. Security in the saddle not only helps you stay on, but it also helps you ride with more confidence.
To develop security in the saddle, I always tell people to ride bareback. Riding your horse bareback, without a saddle, will make you rely on your balance and muscle to stay on rather than relying on stirrups, the pommel, or even the reins.
Riding bareback will help you to develop the correct muscles that should be used for riding. It will also help you to become in-tune with the horse’s movement and gaits, perfecting your balance.
Not only will bareback riding help you to become a better horseback rider, but you’ll also feel cool while doing it. There’s nothing like jumping on your horse tackless and taking off across a field.
To learn about other ways you can make your seat more secure, check out our article 10 Tips to Improve Your Seat on a Horse: Beginner’s Guide.
Learn How to Use Seat and Leg Aids to Direct Your Horse
Something that all professional horseback riders know how to do is to use ALL their aids when it comes to directing the horse. Beginner riders will rely solely on the reins to communicate with their horse; if you want to become a better horseback rider, learn how to rely on your seat and leg aids just as much as you rely on the reins.
When a horseback rider rides just off of the reins, they’re not encouraging the horse to carry itself correctly or think through the exercise; instead, they’re simply dragging the horse along for the ride.
If you want your horse to carry himself better and if you want to have better communication with your horse, then start learning how your seat and leg aids can affect your ride.
Try Many Different Horseback Riding Disciplines
If you want to become a better horseback rider, try dipping your toes into other riding disciplines than the ones you’re used to. Not only will this challenge your riding, but you’ll also be able to learn some techniques and training methods that will give you a broader view of the horse world.
I remember being a young rider who enjoyed jumping. One day, I took a dressage lesson and realized how much dressage could benefit me in the jumping ring. By training in dressage, I would have more control over my horse; I could easily shorten and lengthen their stride to find the perfect spot for the jump.
This is just one example of many when it comes to finding how practicing other riding disciplines can make you more effective in the discipline you focus on. If you want a broad knowledge of the horse world, try reining, dressage, liberty, jumping, foxhunting, eventing, hunters, equitation, and the list goes on and on!!
To learn about all the horseback riding disciplines out there, click here!
Watch and Study Other Horseback Riders and Trainers
One thing that has greatly benefitted me when it comes to becoming a better horseback rider is studying other riders and trainers. By doing this, I’ve gotten to learn many different methods and techniques used throughout the horse world.
When it comes to working with horses, every horse is different. One horse may respond great to a method that another horse won’t respond to at all. By studying other equestrians, you can use all these other methods you’ve learned to find the perfect way to communicate with that one horse.
Because of the age we live in, we have the ability to watch and learn from horse trainers without ever meeting them. By becoming familiar with a bunch of different training techniques, it will also help you weed out the ideas you’re not so fond of and solidify your own personal training style as well.
Get an Experienced Horse Person to Critique Your Ride
As much as no one likes to be told what they’re doing wrong, it’s a big part of becoming a better horseback rider. If you want to become a better horseback rider, have an instructor or an experienced horse person watch you work with and ride your horse.
An instructor or an experienced horse person won’t critique you just to critique you; their job is to point out what you’re doing wrong so that you know what you need to work on. They’re also great to have around whenever you have questions or need help solving a problem with your horse.
If you’re interested in taking horseback riding lessons, read our article How to Prepare for Horseback Riding Lessons.
Work With Many Different Horses
A great way to become a better horseback rider is to work with many different horses. I like to think that a great horseback rider can get on any horse and make it look good. Maybe you can ride your personal horse really well, but what happens when you get on a horse you don’t know?
Working with different horses will give you the experience of working with many different personalities, abilities, and vices! You’ll be able to learn how to handle the bucking horse, the horse that likes to bolt, the horse that refuses every jump, and the horse that is absolutely perfect. You’ll get to ride the strong and forward horse and the lazy horse that doesn’t want to go forward.
You’ll be able to learn how to ride and handle all kinds of different horses. This will make you a more skilled and confident rider when it comes down to it.
Learn How Horses Think and Act in the Wild
Part of becoming a better horseback rider is being able to read each horse and what they’re trying to communicate to you. The thing that has benefitted me the most is simply watching horses together out in the pasture and how they act towards each other.
Understanding how horses communicate with each other will help you to see what the horse is trying to communicate to you. Also, understanding the flight instinct in a horse and how it affects their view of the world will help you to figure their reasoning behind certain actions.
You can incorporate the communication you see between two horses into your training sessions. You can approach and obstacle or situation differently since you know that the horse sees it as a danger. All of this will help you to become a better communicator and horse trainer.
Start Incorporating Groundwork Into Your Daily Routine
Groundwork is any training you do with your horse while you’re on the ground instead of in the saddle. Groundwork is known as the foundation of horse training; if the horse can’t do something on the ground, they won’t be able to do it in the saddle.
Groundwork is beneficial in a number of ways; firstly, it helps to establish a relationship between you and your horse. A horse builds connection face-to-face, not seat-to-saddle. Groundwork helps to communicate your leadership to your horse.
You get to create a personal space that your horse has to respect. Lastly, groundwork helps to introduce new training techniques and exercises to your horse in a simple manner before translating under saddle.
I cannot stress enough how much my abilities with my horses skyrocketed when I started incorporating groundwork into my training. To learn some easy groundwork exercises, check out our article, 5 Best Groundwork Exercises For Your Horse.
Understand the Pressure & Release Principle of Horse Training
In order to become a better horseback rider, it’s vital that you master the training principle of pressure and release. Horses learn by the release of applied pressure. For example, if you want your horse to go faster, you’ll use leg and seat pressure to cue them forward. As soon as the horse responds correctly, you take the pressure off of them.
One mistake that many beginner riders make is that they forget or don’t know that they’re supposed to release pressure once the horse responds correctly. In order to become a better horseback rider, learning when to recognize the correct response from the horse will help you know when to release the applied pressure.
Understanding the pressure and release principle of horse training will not only make your communication more clear to your horse but it will also help you to become a more soft and subtle rider.
Learn How Body Language in the Saddle Affects Your Horse
You are constantly communicating with your horse under saddle, even if you don’t realize it. Your horse can feel even the slightest movement and tension under saddle. Learning how to have complete control of your own muscle tensions and movements will help you to become a better horseback rider.
I used to have a horse that would get easily worked up over even the smallest things. Whenever I would feel her getting just a little bit nervous, I would subconsciously tense up, pitch forward in the saddle, and apply pressure to the reins. My body language would usually egg her on into a full-blown meltdown.
One day, I tried something different. When I felt this horse start to get antsy, I sat deep and heavy into my saddle and focused on controlling my breathing. Believe it or not, but the horse settled down!
Horses feed off of the environment you create. If your body language is mimicking an anxious and nervewracking atmosphere, then your horse will most likely follow suit. Learning how to keep control of your own body language even in iffy situations will help you to become a better horseback rider.
Set Specific Short-Term and Long-Term Goals With Your Horse
Goals give us something to work towards and look forward to. Without a horseback riding goal in mind, you’re probably not serious about advancing your skills as a horse person. If you’re someone who wants to keep getting better at horseback riding, work on setting short-term and long-term goals.
Before you go out to the stable each day, have an idea of what you want to accomplish for that training session. This would be a short-term goal. Accomplishing your short-term goals should lead to accomplishing your long-term goal!
Long-term horseback riding goals may take months and even years to accomplish, but having an idea of where you want to be in the future will give you something to work towards. You should learn everything you can about what’s involved in reaching your goal. Simply by accumulating this knowledge, you can become a better horse person.
Study The Horse Anatomy and Mechanics
A good horse person is knowledgeable about horse anatomy and understands the mechanics that go into each movement from the horse. Not only that, but a good horse person will use this knowledge to help the horse carry itself more correctly.
Have you ever felt that your horse was just dragging along under saddle? You felt as if the horse’s mind wasn’t really engaged and that they weren’t picking their feet off the ground enough…simply just plodding along. An experienced horse person will know how to get the horse’s body and mind engaged in the workout.
They’ll understand the cues to give in order to extract more energy from certain parts of the horse. They’ll know how to help the horse carry itself in a way that caters to the horse’s anatomy. If this is something you’d like to learn more about, I highly recommend taking dressage lessons! It’s a great place to start when it comes to understanding each movement of the horse.
Surround Yourself with Horse People That Know More Than You
There’s a theory out there that if you want to get better at something, then surround yourself with people who know more about the subject than you. This also applies to becoming a better horseback rider.
There’ also another saying out there that “you become who you hang around.” If this is the case, surround yourself with horseback riders you look up to and aspire to be like. Their knowledge, abilities, and mindset will not only be shared with you but will also rub off on you.
I’ve never met a horse person who wasn’t willing to share their opinion or advice with someone. This works in favor of those who want to become a better horseback rider. Take time to glean from better equestrians and ask for advice.
Enter Horseback Riding Competitions
There’s nothing greater than a competition to push you to train harder and become better. If you want to become a better horseback rider but need motivation, find a show circuit to join. The idea of regularly competing will help you to set both short-term and long-term goals for each ride.
Not only will the need to win compel you to become better, but you’ll also get to see and meet some other great riders. You’ll get to ride your horse in different environments, which is a challenge in and of itself.
Depending on the discipline you are riding in, you can get feedback from the judges. This is why I appreciate dressage so much; at the end of each test, you’ll get a scoring card with notes from the judge on things you did well and things you could improve.
If you plan on entering some competitions in the near future, check out our Horse Show Checklist: All the Essentials.
Spend as Much Time Around Horses As You Can
Last but not least, if you want to become a better horseback rider, spend as much time around horses as you can. Let the world of horses consume your life! As you become more familiar with the animal, their way of thinking and moving, and how they react to what’s around them, you’ll start to incorporate these things into your training.
If I’m having a horse training problem I can’t figure out, I will sometimes randomly get the answer as I’m grocery shopping or at work. This is because horses consume so much of my thinking! There’s a principle that the more you think about something, the more of that thing you become. Let this be you with horses!
If you’d like to read more horseback riding tips, click here to see our library of articles dedicated to this subject!
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