How To Ride A Horse (A Step-By-Step Guide For Beginners)

One of the first things to understand about horseback riding is that you can’t learn to ride a horse from a website or a book. However, these sources can provide beginners with valuable information on how to ride a horse. A professional trainer is your best guide.

Here’s everything you need to know about horseback riding for beginners.

Horseback riding can be a lot of fun. Many people who love horses dedicate their lives to looking after these animals by becoming trainers, coaches, dealers, veterinarians, or professional riders. But some simply enjoy the pleasure that one can derive from riding a horse.

You can learn to ride a horse at any age, but how does one learn to ride a horse? We aim to answer all your questions here.

Can I Teach Myself?

Riding a horse is not the same as riding a bike. You can teach yourself to ride a bike, but a horse is a living being, and there is a precise way to ride a horse.

A professional trainer is the best person to teach you to ride a horse. They can spot errors and correct you immediately, ensure you don’t develop bad riding habits, encourage you, provide you with good riding advice, and ensure both you and your horse are safe and comfortable.

Is Riding A Horse Easy?

Horse riding is smooth and comfortable once you get the hang of it. However, when you just start as a beginner, you will have to put in as much effort into the sport as you would any other sport. According to Topend Sports (and based on ten components of athleticism), horseback riding is the 54th most demanding sport.

Riding a horse is not about quietly sitting on a horse and letting the horse do all the work. There is a lot of physical and mental work involved on the part of the rider to ride well and to keep the horse in control. You must be able to control the horse’s body as well as yours. 

You can spend a long time trying to perfect your riding skills and yet not attain perfection – or you could take a few weeks to become quite a good rider. It takes a lot of practice and also dedication to master horseback riding. It might even take several years to become a good rider and to develop excellent riding skills.

How To Ride A Horse

How Long Does It Take To Ride A Horse?

There are necessary skills that must be learned first before you learn to ride a horse, to ensure your safety and that you can control your horse. Once you have mastered the basics, there are advanced riding skills that you must learn so that your horse finds it more comfortable to carry you. How fast you master all these skills will depend on the amount of practice and effort you put in.

Is Horseback Riding A Risky Sport?

Horseback riding can be a risky sport. Some sources even deem horseback riding as one of the Top 10 most dangerous activities. There are chances of sustaining injuries. However, if you learn to ride well and wear the right safety equipment, like riding boots, helmet, and a protective riding jacket, you can ensure you are safe when you ride.

Is Horseback Riding Bad For Your Body?

Riding a horse is bad for you only if you have existing health issues that are exacerbated by the activity. Some of these health issues are back problems and knee problems. If you have any health issues that you are concerned about, talk to your physician before you learn horseback riding. You can also consult a physiotherapist about your health conditions. Most physiotherapists know about how horseback riding can affect your health.

A study conducted in 1996 cited some common health problems that regular horseback riders suffered from, like knee, lower back, rotator cuff, and hip problems.

Is It Challenging To Start Horseback Riding Again After An Extended Absence?

Many people learn horseback riding when they are young but give it up for periods when they are going back to school, moving to a new location, or even starting a family. It is natural for these people to find it a bit difficult when they get back to horse riding after an extended period. 

The body and mind must get used to handling horses. The older you are, the longer it will take for you to get back to horseback riding. That’s not to say it cannot be done. With regular practice, you will remember everything that you had learned.

Is Horseback Riding Expensive?

Horseback riding is not out of reach, but it can be a little on the expensive side. The good news is that you don’t have to own a horse to enjoy horseback riding. Leasing, part-boarding, riding on dude strings, and even taking lessons are some ways you can enjoy horseback riding inexpensively. 

The costs rise if you want to take up horseback riding as a competitive sport as you will require a more expensive horse, as well as more expensive gear – including a truck and trailer. Competitive riders usually have sponsors who help with the expenses.

Lady Trotting On A Horse

What To Expect From Your Horseback Riding Lessons

We have said it before, and we say it again – you cannot learn to ride a horse on your own – you need a professional trainer who can teach you horseback riding. But you can prepare for and understand what you will be learning. 

The First Step

The first step to riding a horse is not about learning to ride, but about understanding horses. You will learn a lot about these animals, how to stay safe and increase your enjoyment by first learning to be around a horse. 

Some riding schools simply get you started immediately. Others will ensure you get comfortable with a horse first. Your first few lessons might include learning to groom your horse and tie it. 

Saddle Up Your Horse

Before you saddle up, it is vital that you first tie and groom your horse. Once done, it’s time to saddle up. Learn how to saddle up a horse here.

Mount Your Horse

  1. Have someone hold your horse for you, so that you can concentrate on getting on.
  2. Check the girth. If the girth is not snug, the saddle can “roll” when you are getting on.
  3. To mount your horse, stand on the horse’s left side. (It’s traditional to work from the left side always, and your horse will be used to this).
  4. Hold the ends of the reins (the reins are what you will steer your horse with, so you want to keep these ready) in your left hand, but keep them loose. Hold them just in front of the saddle.
  5. Always start with your left foot. Place your left foot in the stirrup. Make sure that the ball of your foot is on the stirrup, instead of sticking your foot to your heel.
  6. Heave yourself up by putting all your weight on your left foot and stepping up to a standing position. At this point, your right foot will be hanging loosely next to your left.
  7. Swing your right leg up and over your horse’s rump. Be careful not to accidentally kick your horse when you swing your right leg over.
  8. Sit down gently on the saddle.
  9. Adjust the stirrups to the proper length. Or, you can get your trainer to do this for you.
  10. Place your right foot in the other stirrup. Again, ensure the ball of your foot is centered on the stirrup, and not your toe or heel.

Well done! You are now on your horse!

You can use a mounting block to bring you up to the level of the stirrup. That makes getting on the horse much more manageable. The rest of the mounting process remains the same.

How To Cue Your Horse To Walk

Once you have settled down on the saddle, the next step is to get your horse to walk. The first time on a horse can be intimidating for many beginners, but you must relax all your muscles because tight muscles will only make everything complicated.

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  1. Make sure that you have both your feet comfortably placed in the stirrups.
  2. Hold the reins in your hand/hands as directed by your instructor. English riders hold the reins in two hands, while Western riders usually hold the reins in one hand. You can find out more about the key differences between English and Western Riding here.
  3. Sit comfortably and deep in the saddle and keep the reins slightly loose. You shouldn’t pull back on your horse’s mouth as you get them to move forward.
  4. Give your horse a gentle squeeze with your lower legs to signal that it should start walking. Do not kick your horse. A lazy or quiet horse might need a couple of soft nudges with your heels.
  5. Sit up and ensure you hold your head up straight, and look between your horse’s ears and not at the ground.
  6. Once your horse starts moving, avoid repeatedly squeezing with your legs; instead, keep them long, still, and weighted firmly down in your heels.
  7. Listen to your instructor’s instructions on how to steer your horse with your legs or reins.

How To Trot On A Horse

Trotting is akin to jogging for a person. With each stride, your horse bounces up into the air a little. As a result, you will find that you will bounce along with your horse.

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  1. From a walk, gently squeeze your legs to ask your horse to move into a trot or a gentle run. If it continues to walk, you might have to lightly bump it with your heels.
  2. You can hold on to the horn (if riding Western-style) or the front of the saddle to steady yourself. Some riders use a grab strap that they attach to their English or Western saddle, so they have something to hold. 
  3. Trotting might feel awkward when you begin. It requires a lot of coordination, but hang in there, and with practice, you will soon get it right. 
  4. Although it might be your first instinct to squeeze your legs or your knees to hold on, avoid doing that. Relax your legs to help you get used to trotting.
  5. Allow your body to sink into the saddle while your legs hang long, steady, and weighed down into your heels.
  6. Do not use the reins to help you balance as that will hurt your horse in the mouth. To steady yourself, use the saddle horn or use a grab strap.
  7. Continue sitting up straight and tall, looking forward and through the space between your horse’s ears.
  8. To begin, start by trotting a few steps at a time. As you get used to the movement, work your way up to more extended periods of trotting.


Horseback riding is not difficult – especially if you love horses and understand their nature. Also, you must be willing to learn to ride a horse with the understanding that horseback riding takes time, practice, and patience. 

While some riders take a couple of classes to a few weeks to master the basics, others might need a longer time. Some of the best riders have mastered or learned horseback riding after years of rigorous practice. 

We have said it before, and we say it again – to learn to ride a horse, isn’t as simple as looking up the answer on the internet, or picking up a 300-page book on the subject. While these can give you valuable advice, you must learn from a trained riding instructor. 

Finally, don’t see riding as a chore. Enjoy your horseback riding classes, love your horse and be kind to it, and listen to your instructor’s instructions carefully. You will soon find that this sport that you once might have found intimidating is a beautiful and relaxing one.