The Ultimate Guide to Riding Horses: Tips and Techniques for Success

Are you eager to embark on a thrilling adventure with a magnificent equine companion? Horseback riding is not only an exhilarating activity but also a harmonious partnership between rider and horse. Understanding the different styles of riding, choosing the right equipment, and mastering essential techniques are pivotal to your success in the equestrian world.

From Western to English, there are various styles of horseback riding, each with its own distinct techniques and equipment requirements. Understanding these differences is essential for a fulfilling and safe riding experience. In this ultimate guide, we will delve into the nuances of horseback riding, offering valuable tips and techniques for success.

Join us as we explore the intricacies of choosing the right equipment, mastering essential riding techniques, avoiding common bad habits, and advancing your skills in the equestrian realm. Whether you’re a beginner seeking to establish a strong foundation or an experienced rider looking to refine your abilities, this comprehensive guide will equip you with the knowledge and expertise needed for a fulfilling journey with horses.

horse lesson girl riding

The Different Styles of Horseback Riding

Horseback riding is an exhilarating experience with diverse styles, each offering a unique way to bond with these magnificent animals. Key amongst riding disciplines are English and Western riding, each with distinct equipment, attire, and technique.

English riding is characterized by a more formal appearance and a closer contact with the horse. The rider uses a smaller saddle without a saddle horn and maintains a shallower seat. Handling the left and right reins separately allows for precise movements, making it great for jumping and dressage. Riders are taught to use subtle cues such as leg pressure to communicate with the horse.

Western riding originates from cattle herding in the Americas. It features a heavier, sturdier saddle with a saddle horn for roping purposes, and a deeper seat that offers comfort over long rides. Western riders typically guide their horse using neck reins—the horse follows the direction in which the neck is laid. It’s a more relaxed style, popular in trail riding and rodeo events.

Regardless of the style, safety is paramount—proper footwear, long pants, and a horseback riding helmet are essential.

For beginners looking to learn, it’s advisable to seek professional instruction from horse trainers or joining a jumper training program. Local riding schools often offer horse riding lessons, covering foundational skills to establish strong rider partnerships.

Riding Style

Saddle Type

Rein Usage

Common Activities


Lighter saddle

Left and right rein

Jumping, dressage


Heavier saddle

Neck reins

Roping, trail riding

Avoiding bad habits early on through structured lessons with qualified instructors like a JutagirEquestrian Specialist & Trainer can help both beginner and experienced riders to progress safely and confidently in their chosen style.

Choosing the Right Equipment

When embarking on the journey of horseback riding, choosing the right equipment is essential for the comfort and safety of both the rider and the horse. Essential riding gear includes items like saddles, bridles, reins, girths, and bits, as well as personal protective equipment such as helmets, long pants, and boots with small heels to ensure a secure position in the saddle. Properly adjusting and using this equipment is crucial to create a comfortable and safe experience. Selecting the correct gear based on your preferred riding style, whether Western or English, can significantly enhance your riding skills and overall enjoyment.

Saddle Types

The choice of saddle is fundamental in horseback riding, with the two main types being English and Western saddles, plus the alternative Australian stock saddle. English saddles are designed for close contact with the horse, facilitating subtle cues and balance required for disciplines like jumping and dressage. They are smaller, and the rider does not sit as deeply. Guidance is given through both reins for precise movements.

In contrast, Western saddles, known for their distinctive saddle horn, are built for stability and comfort over long rides with longer stirrups and a deeper seat. This makes them suitable for ranch work, roping, and leisurely trail rides. The Australian stock saddle bridges the gap between English and Western styles, providing a secure experience with its deep seat and poley (knee pads) for added security. When selecting a saddle, factors such as fit, materials, and design are critical considerations for both the horse’s and rider’s comfort and safety.

Saddle Type


Best for


Smaller, close contact, no horn

Jumping, Dressage


Heavier, saddle horn, deep seat

Trail riding, Roping

Australian Stock

Secure, deep seat, poleys


Riding Helmets

A riding helmet is a vital piece of equipment in horseback riding, serving as the main protection against head injuries. These helmets should be ASTM approved, indicating they meet stringent safety standards. It’s imperative to ensure the helmet fits properly and is in good condition—outdated or worn-out helmets may not offer adequate protection. Regardless of one’s level of riding expertise, wearing an ASTM-approved, properly fitted helmet is a non-negotiable safety measure that should be observed at all times while riding.

Saddle Pads and Blankets

For Western riding, a saddle pad that is at least one to one and a half inches thick is recommended to accommodate the weight of the saddle, which can be up to 50 lbs. A saddle blanket can be added for extra comfort. These items are not just for the rider’s comfort but are crucial for the horse as well—saddle pads and blankets provide cushioning and help distribute the saddle’s weight evenly to prevent back soreness and injuries. Before every ride, it’s important to check that the saddle pads and blankets fit properly and are positioned correctly to maintain the horse’s comfort and health throughout your riding adventures.

Essential Riding Techniques

Mastering essential riding techniques is a journey that combines understanding equine behavior and learning to effectively communicate with your horse. Whether you’re an aspiring beginner rider or an experienced horseback rider seeking to refine your skills, the foundation of good horsemanship lies in building a strong and trusting relationship with your horse. Set aside sufficient time, often months rather than weeks, to develop a rapport with your horse, ensuring a bond that enhances both comfort and performance.

Taking horse riding lessons from a proficient coach or instructor like a Jutagir Equestrian Specialist & Trainer is invaluable. Expert guidance can help correct bad habits early on, impart crucial advice, and uphold safety standards. Expertise from seasoned horse trainers, especially in specialized disciplines like a jumper training program, can accelerate your understanding of riding nuances. This dedicated mentorship forms the bedrock of a successful rider partnership and is essential to become a competent equestrian in both English and Western riding styles.

Body Position

The hallmark of a skilled horseback rider is proper body position, which is vital for stability, balance, and effective communication with the horse. Envision an imaginary straight line that connects your ear, shoulder, hip, and heel—maintaining this alignment is the key to proper posture on horseback. To ensure clear signals to your horse, the angle behind your knee should be close to 90 degrees.

During more dynamic activities like a gallop, lean back slightly while keeping your seat deep and secure. It’s important not only to find the right position but also to hold your body without stiffness to allow fluid movements. Below is a table to summarize the body positions for different horse speeds:

Horse Speed

Body Position

Key Points


Upright and relaxed

Align ears, shoulders, hips, heels


Lightly lean forward

Angle behind knee close to 90º


Seat deep

Outside leg back, lean back


Lean slightly back

Buttocks under, smooth motion

Perfecting these positions will harness the full spectrum of rider aids, facilitating maximum efficiency and completing the dance between horse and rider.

Rein and Leg Pressure

Communicating with your horse through the reins and leg pressure is an art every horseback rider must master. Neck reining allows for a subtle command where laying the rein against the horse’s neck signals a turn without needing to pull on the bit. When using leg pressure, apply force with the opposite leg in the direction you want the horse to turn—this inward pressure guides the horse smoothly.

To transition from trot to canter, deepen your seat, gently move your outside leg back, and apply pressure with the inside rein and outside leg. This combination of cues encourages the horse to pick up the right lead. For a straight line motion, balance the pressure on one rein with that on the opposing side of the girth. Stopping is gradual; increase rein pressure while using a calm voice command such as “woah” or “stand”.

Using the Saddle Horn

The saddle horn, a feature found on Western saddles, can be used as an anchor point for balance and control, especially during mounting. Hold it with your left hand, along with the reins, for stability as you swing your left foot into the stirrup. While this component is integral for Western riders performing tasks like roping, it can become a crutch if relied upon for balance during recreational riding.

Western style riding endorses the use of the saddle horn for specific functions, while English riders must learn balance without this feature, as their saddles lack a horn. Let’s strive to avoid using the saddle horn for simple balance to prevent ingraining bad habits and to cultivate effective riding techniques right from the start.

Neck Reining

A signature of Western riding, neck reining requires a horseback rider to hold both reins in one hand, signaling the horse in which direction to move by laying the reins against the neck. For a right turn, gently bring the reins across the horse’s neck to the right side, and vice versa for a left turn. Neck reining showcases the symbiosis between horse and rider—responsive horses trained in this method can effortlessly execute the rider’s intended path with just a light touch. If a horse is not accustomed to neck reining, the rider must direct the horse’s head with firm yet gentle pressure on the bit to guide them, avoiding confusion and ensuring a clear directive.

Common Bad Habits to Avoid

When embarking on the journey of horseback riding, it is crucial to identify and steer clear of poor practices that could compromise safety and development. Several widespread habits pose risks both for riders and their equine partners. Being aware of these can help avoid setbacks and ensure a more rewarding experience.

Lack of Communication with the Horse

One of the most significant issues that can arise for a beginner rider is the lack of effective communication with the horse. Horses are highly intuitive animals that respond to nonverbal cues and emotions from their riders. A common mistake is approaching a horse with overt nervousness or using confusing signals, leading to unpredictable behavior.

It’s essential for a rider to:

  • Maintain a calm and gentle demeanor at all times.
  • Use a soothing voice to reassure the horse.
  • Be patient and allow the horse to get accustomed to your presence.

Subtle cues, such as a gentle leg squeeze, can urge the horse to walk forward, while a peaceful voice can maintain a calm atmosphere. First interactions dictate the success of future communication, so investing time in establishing a clear and calm rapport with the horse is paramount.

Incorrect Body Position

Another habit to avoid is poor posture while riding. New riders often hunch, hold the reins too tightly, or cling to the saddle horn, leading not only to a lack of stability but also to potential back pain and other injuries. To align your body properly, remember to:

  • Sit centered over the horse’s back.
  • Visualize and maintain a straight-line posture.
  • Keep shoulders and back in line with relaxed yet alert composure.
  • Maintain eyes forward to guide both you and your horse effectively.

Here’s a concise list for checking your posture:

  • Ears, shoulders, hips, heels in alignment
  • 90º knee angle for stirrup position
  • Centered and balanced seat
  • Eyes looking ahead, not down

Adhering to these point

Maintaining the correct posture will not just enhance stability and balance but will also minimize the risk of injury and improve communication. It’s much like dance—balance and rhythm are essential.

Overuse of Rein or Leg Aids

Over-reliance on rein or leg aids can create confusion and discomfort for the horse. Applying excessive pressure can result in the horse becoming desensitized, requiring even stronger aids to achieve the desired response. Riders should:

  • Use aids subtly and release promptly.
  • Avoid constant pressure which may cause resistance.
  • Learn to adjust the pressure to match the sensitivity of the horse.

A Harmonious Partnership

A rider must strive for a harmonious partnership with the horse, where aids are applied with a refined understanding of the horse’s responsiveness. A gentle touch often speaks louder than a firm pull, and patient guidance outweighs hurried commands. By steering clear of these common errors, both the horse and rider can forge a relationship that epitomizes the grace and precision of equestrianism.

Advanced Training and Skills

For those eager to take their horse riding expertise to a higher level, advanced training programs like those at Blackhound Equestrian come into play. Harnessing the depth of 25 years of horse instruction experience, Kate Jutagir and her team provide a meticulous curriculum tailored to foster each rider’s and horse’s abilities. Advanced riders, in particular, can expect to delve into specialized skills that are essential for higher-level equest riding, such as emergency dismounts, strategies for navigating falls safely, and techniques for riding bareback which not only can prove beneficial for warmth during winter months but also enhances one’s balance and connection with the horse.

Safety remains the crux of advanced training, extending beyond the basic horseback riding helmet to include supplementary gear like boots tailored for riding, safety stirrups designed to prevent foot entrapment, chest protectors that shield riders during falls, and even mouth guards. Mastery over the three primary gaits — walk, trot, and canter — prepares riders for intricate courses and high-speed rides. With Kate Jutagir’s extensive knowledge, advanced riders learn to refine their use of crucial aids, such as leg pressure, seat positions, and nuanced hand movements, to communicate effortlessly with their equine partners, making high-level training a meld of discipline, art, and science.

Jumper Training Programs

At Blackhound Equestrian, the jumper training programs are the pinnacle of the facility’s offerings, catering to both novice enthusiasts and competitors aiming for the upper echelons of the hunter/jumper discipline. The programs are meticulously structured to lay down a robust foundation while simultaneously bolstering personal development in the sport. Kate Jutagir’s expertise is evident in the comprehensive nature of these programs, focusing on developing a complete equestrian education that emphasizes the synergy between the horse and rider.

Riders enrolled in the jumper training programs undergo drills and exercises tailored to perfect the rhythmic movement requisite of a horse approaching a jump and to improve their own balance and seat. Situated on a vast expanse of 65 acres, Blackhound Equestrian’s facilities are geared towards excellence, and with its content co-authored by over 265 equestrian specialists, its appeal stretches far across the horseriding community.

Rider Partnerships

The connection between a horse and rider is much like a dance, where communication and harmonious movement are vital. At the core of Blackhound Equestrian’s ethos is the commitment to nurturing such rider partnerships. The development of trust and understanding between horse and rider is pivotal. Through the tailored programs spearheaded by Kate Jutagir, riders learn the subtle intricacies of their horse’s temperament, how to read their non-verbal cues, and adjust their guidance accordingly.

The training process at Blackhound Equestrian is not just about instilling discipline in the horse; it’s also about refining the rider’s intuition and responsiveness. Seasoned instructors help students to focus on enhancing this dynamic relationship, which is vital for safety and success, particularly for those striving for a future in equestrian sports. Here, the rider is not just a horseback rider but a partner in an intimate and complex dance that requires patience, empathy, and skilled execution.

Speed Control

The adrenaline-infused aspect of horse riding is often associated with speed, but control is the fundamental pillar of mastering horse gaits. Whether it is the serene walk or the swift gallop, which can clock up to 25-30 miles per hour, riders must possess the skills for speed modulation. Speed control is intricately tied to one’s understanding of body position and alignment: a centric, balanced pose is key for guiding the horse through different paces reliably.

At Blackhound Equestrian, riders are taught to hone speed control by mastering nuanced hand signals and leg pressure, and positioning their seat correctly. This ensures seamless transitions between the walk, trot, and canter — often ranging from 10 to 17 miles per hour — setting a safe yet challenging pace for all riders. By employing pressure differentially on the reins and the girth, riders keep the horse riding straight and steady, an essential skill especially when navigating turns and jumps. The experienced riders thus become adept at managing the pace, dictating the horse’s rhythm, and maintaining their poise as they train to maneuver through routines with precision.

Finding the Right Trainer

Embarking on the journey of horse riding begins with finding the perfect trainer, a decision not to be taken lightly. It goes without saying that having professional guidance not only enhances your learning experience but also ensures safety and effectiveness. When scouting for suitable instructors, dive into a local search, seek recommendations, and consider setting up an initial class to gauge compatibility. It’s important to ask around or look into reputable training centers in your area, as this can connect you with seasoned trainers whose expertise aligns with your riding aspirations.

Before settling on a trainer, collect all pertinent information. Inquire about the types of lessons offered, be it individual or group settings, and evaluate what suits your learning style best. It’s also crucial to observe the training environment to ensure it fosters a productive and safe learning space. Transparency is key, so don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have about the trainer’s qualifications, teaching methods, and safety protocols.

Qualities to Look for in a Horse Trainer

A top-notch horse trainer embodies certain indispensable qualities that support a fruitful rider partnership. Primarily, they should highlight the significance of connection and communication with the horse. Effective trainers use distinct vibrations and vocal cues to aid riders in directing their horses with skill and assurance. Your trainer should star safety in their core curriculum – ensuring that riders are adept with emergency maneuvers like the one-rein stop to swiftly manage their horse’s pace and sidestep potential dangers.

Moreover, an ideal trainer is a beacon of confidence, calmness, and consistency. This triumvirate of traits is essential since horses are intuitive creatures that can pick up on a rider’s apprehension, particularly when handling novices. A reputable trainer imparts patience and persistence, encouraging riders to cement fundamentals before tackling advanced techniques. As the rapport between a horse and rider grows, the trainer’s role is to ensure that hand positioning and rein management are gentle yet meaningful, fostering comfort and a responsive ride.

What to Expect in Horse Riding Lessons

When you commence horse riding lessons, you can anticipate structured guidance under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable coach. A competent instructor is invaluable; they discern and correct bad habits promptly and offer counsel to ensure your journey in the saddle is safe and enjoyable. In preparation, it’s vital to make certain your attire fits snugly, and your gears such as a certified riding helmet, are comfortable – all of which contribute to your overall safety.

As part of horseback riding’s physical demands, preliminary stretches are recommended. Lessons will cover the basics of horsemanship, including how to communicate your commands to the horse subtly and effectively. Beginners, in particular, will need to learn to let their hips sway in unison with the horse’s gait and resist the urge to disrupt the natural movement of the horse’s head. Progressive mastering of the canter’s rhythm and refining your cues will be focal points of your sessions.

Additionally, grooming a horse pre-ride is a fundamental practice and one that should be incorporated into your routine from the outset. This not only serves as a warm-up for the muscles but also forms part of the bonding process with your equine companion. The patience and consistency in grooming, handling, and riding gradually build the rider-horse connection foundational for an enriching horseback riding journey.


I have owned over 50 horses and currently own a small horse farm with 8 horses. I have competed on and off for over 25 years while doing mostly trail riding and cow sorting these days. I write these articles to help anyone out there if you love this article pin it to your Pinterest or Share on other social media platform. Thanks for visiting.

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