How to Ride a Horse for Beginners

How to Ride a Horse for Beginners [tips you need to know before you ride a horse]

Have you ever thought about riding a horse but don’t have the slightest idea how? If you are a beginner, the best way to learn how to ride is to take horse riding lessons from a professional. Contact local horse stables or horse veterinarians and ask who teaches how to ride horses in your area.

Horseback riding is a very popular and fun sport for all ages. It is an exciting and gratifying activity for beginners as well as advanced riders. 

horse riding tips for beginners
Horse Riding Tips for Beginners

Most all horse lovers comment on the wonderful feeling they have closely bonding with their horse. Taking up horse riding will change your life forever.

Horses are amazing animals as they have their own personalities just like humans. They are very intelligent and even recognize people as they have a good memory.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about how to ride a horse for the first time!

How to Be Safe Around Horses

The most important thing for all riders is to always be thinking about safety when you are around horses but this is especially true for new riders. 

Beginner riders don’t have the experience to quickly recognize potentially dangerous situations so need to think about being safe at all times.

Horse Safety Rules

Horse Safety Rules
Horse Safety Rules

Here are a few great rules to help keep you safe around horses.

  1. ALWAYS make sure you wear a helmet! Most riding facilities that you will visit or ride at require helmets when mounted on a horse. 

    A helmet could save your life if you were to accidentally fall off.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings at all times as you are around a very large, strong animal that can behave unpredictably. 

    Make sure to watch your step as it is not uncommon for a horse to quickly shuffle its feet and step on your toes! A horse’s hoof stepping on you is painful!
  3. Never walk directly behind a horse! A horse can kick very quickly and if startled by your presence a kick could break your leg!

    If you need to walk behind a horse for any reason, make sure you keep your hand on the horse’s side and hindquarters as you approach. 

    You can also talk to them and make a soothing noise while gently maintaining your hand on their body as you move.

    A horse cannot fully see behind them so may spook easily if you come up without them knowing you are there. 

    ALWAYS leave enough room between you and the horse’s hind end to not get accidentally kicked. 

Horse Terminology You Need to Know

There are some important horse terms you will learn as you become more experienced. We will cover many of them in this article.

Horse Terminology
Horse Terminology

Some of the more important horse terms for you to know concern the equipment needed for riding, certain anatomy of the horse, and the gait of a horse. 

Proper Horse Riding Attire

The best clothing that a new rider should wear is simple and comfortable. 

You want to make sure you wear long pants that will prevent your legs from rubbing against the saddle. 

Tight pants that restrict movement, such as skinny jeans, will make it tougher to mount and dismount. 

Horse Riding Attire
Horse Riding Attire

Close-toed shoes or boots with a small heel are your best option as they will help your feet stay in the stirrups. 

Try not to wear anything that could get wrapped up or caught on something such as scarves or long jewelry.

Tack and Equipment

Before you ride for the first time, you will notice the horse will be wearing a few different pieces of equipment. Riding equipment is called tack.

Depending on whether you will be riding English or Western, there are a few pieces of important tack that will be required. 


The saddle is the piece of equipment that sits on the horse’s back and is the spot a rider sits on. 

Stirrups are attached to the saddle and where a rider places their feet. 

The girth is the long strap that goes under the chest that helps hold the saddle in place on the horse’s back. 

You may notice before the horse is ‘tacked up’ that it may be wearing a halter. The halter sits on the horse’s head and is used to lead the horse and bring them in from a pasture or a stall. 

Bridle and Reins

The bridle and reins go on the horse’s face to help you maintain control of your horse. You utilize the bridle and reins to steer and stop. 

The bit is attached to the bridle and goes in the horse’s mouth giving them direct feedback of your directions via the reins. 

English vs Western Riding

English vs Western Riding
English vs Western Riding

English Style Horse Riding

English-style riding is a discipline that has five main categories;

  • Dressage
  • Eventing
  • Pleasure
  • Jumping
  • Saddle Seat 

It can be challenging to start riding English as it can be tough for beginners to learn to ride on an English saddle. 

The design of the English saddle does not provide as much ‘balance aid’ as a Western saddle does. 

When riding English, you use both hands to hold onto the reins. You will also learn to “post” at the trot of the horse. 

Posting is where you raise yourself out of the saddle slightly with every other stride or step the horse takes. 

It can make the trot more comfortable for you, especially if the horse has a bouncy trot. 

Western Style Horse Riding 

Why is Western Style Riding More Popular?

Many riding instructors like to start beginners out as Western riders because the saddle has a higher pommel and cantle and a saddle horn. 

The higher pommel and cantle are the front and back of the seat. The way they are situated will help you not move too far forward or backward in the saddle. 

The saddle horn is what a lot of beginner riders like to hold onto as it helps them feel more balanced when riding. 

NOTE: Once you get the feel for holding on to the horse with your legs you won’t need to hold the saddle horn for security.

While riding Western, you will hold the reins with one hand instead of two. 

Western Horse Show Riding

Horse shows are a big part of the Western-style riding culture. 

In a Western horse show, there are classifications such as Ranch Riding, Rodeo (Barrel Racing, Pole Bending, Keyhole), Pleasure, Reining, and Trail Ride classes. 

What to Expect the First Time Riding a Horse

Your first horseback riding lesson may be a bit more of a hands-on learning experience while being on the ground. 

You can expect to be shown how to safely and properly handle a horse on the ground. 

Learning how to halter and lead a horse is the first step. Once the horse is tied up, you will learn about grooming and the proper use of all the tools.

NOTE: You may be surprised how high up from the ground you feel when you first ride a horse! It is a long way down so be careful.

Then you will be shown the tack and get to know all the names and uses for each piece. 

Every instructor will be different, so it depends on where you go for your lessons.

What Not to Do When Riding a Horse

Riding a horse for the first time can be quite scary as you are on top of a very large animal that can have a mind of its own. 

One of the main things while riding that you should try not to do, is kick! 

Some horses are extremely sensitive, and one kick can upset them and make them buck, rear, or take off. 

A novice rider may also yank or pull very hard on the reins. You don’t want to do this as you can hurt the horse’s mouth!

Remember, your reins are connected to a piece of metal called the ‘bit’ that sits inside the horse’s mouth. Being gentle is the key thing to remember.

Pay close attention to your riding instructor as they will notice things you may not be thinking of.

How to Ride a Horse

How to Ride a Horse
How to Ride a Horse

Learning to ride a horse is not hard if you have a good instructor and follow these easy steps!

Step One: Grooming

Grooming is the first step in getting ready to go riding. Making sure the horse is clean before tacking up is an important step. 

There is a huge variety of different brushes and tools used to groom a horse. 

The main ones are a curry comb, stiff brush, soft brush, mane brush/comb, and a hoof pick. 

Your instructor will guide you in the order to use the brushes and tell you any quirks the horses have.

Some horses don’t like their belly or flank touched. Some don’t like their face brushed. It’s safest to have the horse tied up just in case they try to walk away while you are grooming.

Step Two: Tack Up

After grooming your horse it is time to put the saddle and bridle on them. This step is often called tacking up! Or to ‘tack up’ your horse.

Depending on where you decide to take lessons, the instructor may have the horse tacked up for you the first few times. 

Some instructors want you to learn how to tack up a horse right from the beginning. 

If so, they will instruct you on how to do so depending on if you will be riding English or Western. 

Saddle Pad and Saddle

In both disciplines, the first thing you need is a saddle pad. This will sit over the horse’s back and just over the withers. 

Then you will place the saddle on top. It should sit right in the middle of the saddle pad. They both should sit just behind the horse’s shoulder. 

The girth will attach to one side of the saddle, run underneath the belly, and attach to the other side of the saddle. 


The last piece of tack that you will have to put on is the bridle. 

You will slide the bit into the horse’s mouth (the instructor will guide you on how), and slide the top of the bridle over the ears and horse’s head.

Then fasten the throat latch and noseband (some western bridles do not have a noseband). 

In English, there may be a few other pieces such as a breastplate, martingale, and exercise boots.

Step Three: Mounting Your Horse

Mounting a horse for the first time can be nerve-wracking! It is a pretty big step to get your foot in the stirrup. 

Typically, you will mount from the left side of the horse. 

You will want to hold onto the horse’s reins in your left hand to keep the horse from walking away. 

Where to Put Your Feet

Putting your left foot in the stirrup, you are going to step up (like stepping up a staircase) into a standing position. 

Now you want to swing your right leg up and over the saddle and gently sit down and push your other foot into the stirrup. 

You want to make sure that once you are in the saddle, you sit up nice and tall with your shoulders back. 

Your toes should be pointing up, with your heels being pushed down. 

The easiest way to describe it is you want it to be a straight line down from your shoulder to your hip, and then down to your heel. 

This will help keep you balanced while sitting in the saddle.

What is a Mounting Block?

A mounting block is basically just a small ‘step’ that you can stand on to help you mount your horse more easily.

Some people have a hard time mounting a large horse. The step up to the stirrup can be a big one! 

Also, a mounting block can ease the strain on your horse when mounting. Make sure to have your instructor show you the proper technique before you try.

How to Hold the Reins

Your instructor will guide you in how you will be holding the reins. 

Typically, in western riding, you hold the reins with one hand and in English, you hold the reins with two hands. 

You always want to make sure you are not yanking on the horse’s mouth, as the reins are attached to the bit. 

Have enough slack in the rein so the horse can move around, but you don’t want too much slack causing you to not be able to signal your horse to stop.

Step Four: Riding

Once you have mounted your horse for the first time, you are ready to move into the first gait, which is a walk. 

After you have both of your feet in the stirrups comfortably and correctly, you will hold the reins in your hand or hands per your instructor’s directions. 

Make sure you keep the reins slack to not pull on the horse’s mouth. 

How to Get Your Horse Moving Forward

Depending on how your instructor tells you to, you will give your horse a gentle squeeze with the lower part of your legs. 

Some horses are used to a little kissing sound or a small bump with your heels. 

All horses are different. Some horses know how to neck rein. This means they will move away from the feel of the rein on their neck.

How to Turn a Horse

If you wanted to turn to the left, you would simply move your hand to the left. 

That would cause the right rein to put pressure on the horse’s neck, causing them to move to the left and away from it. 

Same thing as turning to the right, just move your hand to the right.

For other horses, you must reach down a little further on the rein and gently pull and guide the horse the way you want them to go. 

You will also want to use your body to signal which way you would like to go. 

The horse can feel every movement you make on his back, so when you want to turn you can slightly shift your weight in the direction you would like to go. 

How to Stop a Horse

One of the most important things to know when riding is how to make your horse slow down, or stop. 

Some horses are trained differently than others, so make sure you listen to your instructor on how to stop the horse you are riding.

A lot of horses are trained to stop when you sink your weight into the seat, say “Whoa” (don’t yell), and pull back gently on the reins. 

You will do the same thing when you want to slow down as you do when you want to stop.

How to Trot a Horse

Trotting can be the bounciest gait of all of them so hang on for more fun!

Once you are comfortable with the walk, and your instructor is ready for you to move into a trot, you will do the same thing you did to walk. 

Gently squeeze your legs and give a small kiss to signal the horse to speed up into a trot. Remember to keep your heels down! 

It will feel awkward the first few times, so don’t get upset if it is difficult at first. 

The easiest way to get used to trotting is to start with a few steps at a time. Practice will help you be able to sit the trot for longer periods!

How to Canter

The canter is a 3-beat gait, and it almost feels as though you are sitting on a rocking horse. 

Most beginners will not canter on the first lesson, but that is up to your instructor. 

Asking for the canter varies from horse to horse so your instructor will let you know how to ask. 

Most of the time, you move your outside leg back just a few inches and squeeze gently with both of your legs. 

You will want to keep yourself balanced in the center of the saddle and let your hips move with the horse’s gait. 

If you stiffen up, it may make it harder to stay balanced as you are working against the horses’ natural movements.

Step Five: Dismounting

Dismounting can be tough as it feels like you are high off the ground (and your legs may feel like jelly after your first lesson!) 

Make sure your horse is completely stopped before you try dismounting. You will want to take both feet out of the stirrups, so you don’t get stuck. 

Swing your right leg up and behind you, so you are almost lying in the saddle (you want your belly on the seat), and then slowly slide to the ground. 

You can hold the saddle with your hand to give yourself a little more support. Remember to dismount on the left side of the horse, the same side you mount.

Related Questions

Can I Ride Without a Saddle?

Yes, you can ride without a saddle if your horse is well-trained. Riding without a saddle is called bareback riding. 

Because there is no saddle, the horse will be more sensitive to your movements. 

You want to make sure to keep yourself balanced so you do not slide off one side. 

It can be hard to ride bareback as you do not have the balance aids that a saddle offers such as the stirrups or horn to hold onto. 

It may be easier for a beginner to practice in a saddle with no stirrups first!

Is it Easy to Ride a Horse?

For a beginner, it can be physically hard work to ride a horse! But the basic skills of horse riding are not hard to learn.

You must make sure your posture is correct, so you stay balanced, while also handling the movements and pace of the horse. It can be tough to do all these things at once, but practicing will help make it easier.

Do Horses Like to Be Ridden?

It depends on the horse. Some horses enjoy the attention that is given to them before riding and enjoy getting out for some trail riding. 

Many showhorses seem to be as excited to participate in the event as their owners are!

However, some horses don’t seem to enjoy being ridden so keep this in mind as every horse is different. 

Will I be Sore After Riding a Horse?

Horseback riding does not hurt most people (unless you have a physical ailment) but you typically are sore the next day. 

That is because you are using muscles that are not normally used. Sitting on a horse’s back for a prolonged period of time can cause pain.

The good news is that the more you ride, the less sore you will be!

Caution! Some people with a bad back or physical issues may find that riding a horse worsens their condition and causes pain.

Does Riding a Horse Hurt The Horse?

If proper care is taken you won’t hurt your horse when you ride them. On the other hand, it is possible for a totally unskilled, uncaring rider to hurt their horse.

Learning to ride from a professional is the best way to make sure that your ride is enjoyable for both yourself and your horse.

How Long Does it Take to Learn to Ride a Horse?

Everyone is different but in general, it can take up to two years to develop all your skills to safely handle the basics of riding and horse care on your own. 

How Much Does it Cost to Own a Horse?

Every horse owner knows that having a horse can be quite expensive. Buying your horse is just the beginning!

You must be ready to pay for hay and grain, medical treatment, the farrier, training, riding tack, brushes, bedding, and more! 

It can cost up to $6,000 a year (or much more) depending on the care and training your horse needs

Is it Better to Rent or Buy a Horse?

When you are just starting to ride horses it is much smarter to just rent for a while. Once you learn more about riding then consider buying your own horse.


Now that you know the basics of horseback riding, you can get in the saddle! The more you practice, the better you will get at horseback riding. 

Before you know it you will become a good rider and have a passion that will last a lifetime!

How to Ride a Horse for Beginners

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