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Horseback Riding for Beginners: What You Need to Know

Last updated: March 23, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Over the years, I watched many people learn to ride horses, and one thing I’ve learned is that it is essential for new riders to establish a solid foundation, to set them up for a safe and enjoyable experience.

Learning about horses and the right way to ride them is important for beginner riders; it will increase safety, comfort, and control while riding. In addition, it lowers the chance of accidents and injuries and makes it easier for the rider to communicate effectively and control the horse.

Horseback riding is a fun and rewarding activity that offers a unique connection with nature and animals. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to refresh your skills, this guide will provide you with the essential riding tips and techniques you need.

10 Essential Tips for Riding Horses

  1. Choose a horse that is suitable for your size and experience level
  2. Wear proper riding equipment, including a helmet and riding boots
  3. Learn the basic riding position and how to mount and dismount safely
  4. Follow proper riding techniques and maintain control while riding
  5. Be aware of your surroundings and take safety precautions
  6. Take a lesson from a reputable instructor
  7. Learn to communicate effectively with your horse using commands
  8. Take care of your horse by grooming and checking for any injuries
  9. Progress slowly and at your own pace
  10. Have fun and enjoy the experience
Picture of a young woman learning how to ride a horse.
Riding lesson

Choosing the Right Horse

The first step in horseback riding is choosing the right horse. When you’re a beginner rider, selecting a horse suitable for your size, experience level, and temperament is essential.

Choosing a horse that is a good fit for the equine activity you intend to participate is also important. For example, you don’t want to buy a Clydesdale for barrel racing. But the main thing with beginner horses is their temperament.

You should look for a calm, well-trained horse that is responsive to commands. A reputable riding instructor should match you with a suitable horse. If you’re shopping for your first horse, ask an experienced horseman for assistance and research the owner and horse before buying.

Be honest with yourself about your riding ability; you can get hurt riding horses beyond your capability to handle. I recently watched a green broke horse rear up and throw a young girl against a barn wall.

She should never have been on his back and was lucky to be able to walk away without serious injuries. She is a novice rider with a father pushing her to advance quickly. Choosing a horse that matches your skill level is crucial for maximizing your enjoyment as a beginner rider.

Essential Equipment

Once you have a horse, you’ll need to have the proper riding gear. The basic equipment you’ll need includes a riding helmet, riding boots, and proper clothing.


Horse riding helmets are essential safety gear for riders and is required at many equestrian facilities. They have proven to protect the rider’s head and brain from injury. However, not all riding helmets are the same.

The best horse riding helmets have been certified by equestrian regulatory organizations and feature MIPS technology. In addition, it is also vital the helmet fits your head correctly and is properly secured.

Riding boots

Horse riding boots are an important piece of equipment for every horse rider. They provide protection, stability, and support to the rider and enhance overall riding performance. Riders need to select the right size and style of riding boots to fit their needs and preferences.

Riding clothes

When horse riding, it’s important to wear clothing that is comfortable, safe, and appropriate for the weather. Here are some recommended clothing items to wear when horseback riding:

  1. Jeans or riding pants: Jeans or riding pants that are made of sturdy, durable material are ideal for horseback riding. They protect the rider’s legs and are comfortable to wear.
  2. Riding shirt: Horse riding shirts are designed to be comfortable, lightweight, and easy to move in.
  3. Riding jacket: A jacket specifically designed for horseback riding can provide extra protection from elements like wind and rain and may have added safety features like reflective material.
  4. Gloves: Lightweight gloves can help improve the reins’ grip and provide extra protection for the rider’s hands.

When horseback riding, it’s important to wear clothing that is comfortable, safe, and appropriate for the weather. This includes durable and protective pants and a comfortable fitted shirt; you don’t want your shirt flapping in the wind when riding.

Depending on the weather, you may also need a riding jacket, gloves, sun protection, warm layers, and comfortable undergarments. Proper clothing should be comfortable and allow for freedom of movement.

Picture of a young man horseback riding in the morning.
Going to train

Riding techniques for beginners

Horseback riding can be a fun and exciting way to spend your time, but it requires hard work and dedication, and it can feel pretty overwhelming at first but don’t worry. With the right guidance and a bit of practice, you’ll be riding like a pro in no time. Here are some important things you need to know.

Walking a horse

Walking is the slowest of the three basic gaits (walking, trotting, and cantering) and is used to warm up and cool down the horse. It is a four-beat gait where the horse moves its legs in a diagonal pattern.

So, you’re ready to start walking your horse. First things first, take a firm hold of the reins with both hands and make sure they’re the same length on both sides. This will give you more control of the horse’s head and help you guide it where you want to go.

Next, give your horse a little squeeze with your heels; this is your signal to start walking. It’s important to keep your heels down, back straight, and shoulders level; this will keep you balanced and in control of your horse.

Use the reins to guide the horse’s head and your seat and legs to control the horse’s pace. Start off slow, and as you and your horse get comfortable with each other, you can pick up the pace. And don’t forget to keep your eyes up and look where you’re going; this will help you avoid any obstacles or changes in the terrain.

Trotting a horse

Alright, now that you’ve got the hang of walking your horse, let’s move on to trotting. Trotting is a two-beat gait that is faster than walking but slower than cantering. The key to trotting is to have a good seat and timing.

When you’re ready to trot, give your horse a little squeeze with your legs and a light tug on the reins. Keep your heels down and your back straight as your horse starts trotting.

You’ll also want to start posting, which means rising and falling in rhythm with your horse’s motion. This will help you absorb the horse’s movement and maintain your balance. Keep your hands steady and avoid pulling on the reins; this will help you maintain control of your horse’s head.

Cantering a horse

Now that you’ve conquered walking and trotting your horse, it’s time to move on to cantering. Canter is a three-beat gait and is the fastest of the three basic gaits. It can be a bit tricky to master, but with the right technique, you’ll be cantering like a pro in no time.

When you’re ready to canter, give your horse a little squeeze with your legs and shift your weight forward, you may also need to give your horse a light bump with your heels.

You should sit deep in the saddle, keep your hands steady, and use your legs to control the horse’s speed. Remember, every horse is unique, and some may react differently, so it is prudent to speak to the horse’s trainer about riding cues.

Before you ride, it’s important to learn the basic riding position, how to mount and dismount a horse safely, and the basic commands and signals used in horse riding.

Mounting and dismounting

Mounting and dismounting a horse safely is an important aspect of horseback riding. Here are the basic steps for safely mounting and dismounting a horse:


  1. Approach the horse from the left side.
  2. Use the mounting block or step stool, if available, to get into the stirrup.
  3. Place your left foot in the stirrup and hold the reins in your left hand.
  4. Place your right hand on the horse’s shoulder or mane for balance.
  5. Swing your right leg over the horse’s back and settle into the saddle.


  1. Hold the reins in your left hand and the pommel or horn of the saddle in your right hand.
  2. Swing your right leg over the horse’s back and place your foot on the ground.
  3. Lower yourself down from the horse, keeping a hold on the reins and the pommel or horn for balance.
  4. Stand next to the horse’s left shoulder, hold the reins, and be ready to lead the horse or tie it up if necessary.

It’s important to practice mounting and dismounting in a controlled environment with an experienced rider or trainer to ensure that you are doing it safely and correctly. And always be aware of the horse’s behavior; if it seems nervous or restless, wait until it calms down before attempting to mount or dismount.

Here is a good YouTube video for beginner horse riders.

YouTube video

Basic commands and signals

Horse riding involves communicating with the horse using basic commands and signals. These commands and signals are used to tell the horse what to do and how to move. Here are some of the most common commands and signals used in horseback riding:

  1. Walk: To ask the horse to walk, use the command “walk on” or “let’s go” while gently squeezing the horse with your legs and releasing the reins.
  2. Trot: To ask the horse to trot, use the command “trot on” or (cluck-cluck) while squeezing the horse with your legs; you may have to give a slight kick with your heels.
  3. Canter: To ask the horse to canter, use the command “canter” or (kiss-kiss) while squeezing the horse with your legs and giving a bump with your heels.
  4. Stop: To ask the horse to stop, use the command “whoa” or “stop” while pulling back firmly on the reins.
  5. Back up: To ask the horse to back up, use the command “back” while pulling back gently on the reins.
  6. Turn: To ask the horse to turn, gently pull the reins in the desired direction.
  7. Slow down: Use the command “easy” while gently pulling the reins back.

It’s important to note that not all horses respond to the same commands and that it’s important to establish clear communication with your horse. And always be consistent with your commands and signals to avoid confusing the horse.

Picture of a young thoroughbred, not good for a beginner.
Young Thoroughbred

Balance and control

Maintaining proper balance and control while riding is essential for a safe and enjoyable riding experience. Proper balance and control allow the rider to move with the horse’s motion, communicate effectively with the horse, and respond quickly to any unexpected movements or situations.

To maintain proper balance and control, the rider must have a sound riding posture, use correct aids and commands, and develop strong core and leg muscles.

The basic riding position involves sitting upright in the saddle with your heels down and your toes pointing forward. Keep your arms relaxed and maintain proper balance and control while riding.

As a beginner rider, improving your posture by strengthening the muscle groups that support it is crucial to enhance your stability, fitness, and flexibility. I wrote an article that provides some riding position tips and exercises for beginners you may find helpful.

It’s important to practice and develop good riding habits and to work with an experienced trainer or instructor to learn the correct techniques.

Picture of three horseback riders on a training track.
Morning ride

Safety Precautions

Ensuring safety is vital when horseback riding, particularly for beginners. It’s crucial to be aware of potential hazards and take the appropriate safety measures to mitigate them. Here are some things to think about:

To begin with, horseback riding involves being on top of a large, powerful animal that can run fast and buck hard. It can be dangerous if proper techniques and safety precautions are not followed. By learning to ride correctly, you can reduce the risk of accidents and injuries to yourself and the horse.

Secondly, horseback riding can also be physically demanding, and it’s important to be in good physical condition before attempting to ride a horse. Riders should be aware of their physical limitations and take steps to prevent injuries, such as wearing proper protective gear like helmets, boots, and gloves.

Lastly, riding horses incorrectly can also cause pain and discomfort for the horse, which can lead to behavioral issues and make the horse less willing to work with you. It’s important to understand the horse’s needs and habits and treat them with care and respect.

Learning to ride a horse correctly and taking safety precautions is essential for both the rider and the horse. It reduces the risk of accidents, injuries, and discomfort and helps build trust and communication between the rider and the horse.

Safety should always be your top priority when horseback riding. To minimize the risk of accidents, you should always wear a helmet, follow proper riding techniques, and be aware of your surroundings. In case of an emergency, such as falling off a horse, it’s important to know what to do.

Picture of a young quarter horse.
Quarter horse

Horse Behavior and Communication

Here are some basic things a beginner rider should know about horse behavior and communication:

-Horses are social animals and have a complex system of communication.

-Horses have several basic body language cues that riders should be aware of, such as ears forward and alert, relaxed eyes, and a relaxed jaw indicates a relaxed and curious horse, while ears pinned back and wide eyes and a tense jaw indicate a frightened or angry horse.

-Horses also have a flight response, a natural instinct to run away from danger. As a rider, it’s important to be aware of this and to try to remain calm and in control while riding.

-Horses also have a herd mentality, meaning that they are naturally inclined to follow the lead of a dominant horse. As a rider, you should establish yourself as the leader but always remember to be kind and consistent in your training

-Horses are also sensitive animals and respond well to positive reinforcement. Rather than punishing a horse for making a mistake, rewarding them for good behavior is more effective.

It’s important to remember that horse behavior and communication can vary greatly depending on the horse’s history, so always ask the horse’s trainer or its previous owner about your horse.


Horseback riding is a fun and rewarding activity that requires patience, practice, and dedication. By following the tips and techniques outlined in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a confident and skilled rider.

Remember to take it slow, have fun, and always prioritize safety. Additional resources, such as books or videos, can also be helpful as you continue to learn and improve your riding skills.


Is horseback riding hard the first time?

Yes, horseback riding can be challenging for first-time riders. However, proper guidance and instruction can make learning easier and more enjoyable. It’s also important to remember that every rider has different learning curves; some may pick up the skills faster than others.

What do I need to know before horse riding?

Before horseback riding, it is essential to understand basic horse behavior and care, proper clothing and equipment, riding commands and techniques, and safety guidelines.