Category Archives: Horseback Riding

Beginner Horsemanship Dos & Don’ts

Horsemanship dos and don’ts are important to teach to beginners because children love horses and therefore, horses can be a magnet to them. Teach your children to be safe around horses with help from a Certified Horsemanship Association instructor in this video on beginning horsemanship.

Learning to Sit the Trot

One of the hardest things to learn how to do. Takes lots of core strength and balance. I always remind my students that after Training level you can no longer rise in the trot. (Note) – First level you can rise in the lengthening.The rider must learn to have soft hips and relax to follow the horse’ rhythm. The horse must be soft in their back and in the rider’s hands for them to easily sit the trot.

Canter – Your Horse’s Problem or Yours?

Canter Sequence
Canter Sequence

Canter has a definite left and right leg sequence. If your horse is on the wrong leg his legs are moving in right canter sequence on the left reign or left canter sequence on the right reign. A correct sequence is:

  1. outside hind
  2. inside hind and outside fore together
  3. inside fore

Your horse stretches his inside fore further forward than the outside to help him stay balanced (As you would put out a hand to steady yourself) which is why he needs to strike off correctly.

Take a look at these common mistakes – and why they won’t help your horse.

  1. Turning your horse’s head or leaning your body to the inside.Imagine all your weight was on one side of your body on a corner. You’d put out your other leg to try to stay upright, right? That’s exactly what he’ll do. To stay balanced he’ll throw his weight onto his outside front leg and make it his leading leg.
  2. Using your outside leg harder. If your outside leg is banging on your horse’s side he’ll bend away from it. If he’s bent to the outside he’ll take that lead.
  3. Turning a tight circle in the hope you’ll ‘encourage’ your horse to take the correct leg will only unbalance him. If he feels he’s falling to the inside he’ll throw his weight to the outside and take the wrong lead.

Most riders know the aids to canter but how you give them can have a huge effect on your transitions. Sitting trot is a key part of any canter transition. Do you avoid sitting for too long so you don’t upset your horse? Think again! What you actually need to do is sit for longer so he has time to relax.

Practice sitting trot. As you sit relax every muscle in your seat. Forget about how you look. If you’re a bit unstable initially it’s actually less unsettling for your horse than sitting and asking for canter in one stride.

Your horse must bend to the inside to strike off correctly but to do that he needs to bend through his body not from his head. Keep your contact even in both hands and use your body to bend him. He’ll mirror everything you do with your body with his. Turn your shoulders and hips to the inside and he’ll do the same.

Your outside leg moves back to tell your horse which leg to start cantering with (his outside hind). A firm nudge from your inside leg tells him when to go. Once in canter remember to move your outside leg back into position so you stay square and balanced in the saddle or you’ll unintentionally be asking him to move his quarters in.

Practice asking for canter on a 20m circle. Stay in sitting trot. Canter half a circle and trot half. Concentrate on the transitions. Ride 10 on each reign before you finish. Stay calm. One wrong lead isn’t a disaster. Settle your trot and ask again.

Remember your horse can only do what you ask. If he gets the wrong leg stop and think for a second. Are you sure it’s his fault? Or is he just doing what he’s told?

Do you want to keep up-to-date with the latest equestrian news, laugh at some funny horse bloopers or get inspired by beautiful horse quotes?


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Basic Necessities for Safe, Enjoyable Trail Riding

Trail riding offers us the opportunity to see the world in a unique way, to enjoy the outdoors while enjoying the greatest sport on earth – horseback riding. Not only is it good for people to get out, see beautiful scenery, it is also great for the horse to have a change of pace. Of all the equestrian activities, trail riding is probably what most horses would choose to do if they were allowed to make a choice on what work they do. Most horses seem to enjoy going down the trail.

Basic necessities for safe, enjoyable trail riding include the following:

A capable horse

A horse that is trained well enough to be safe riding out on the trail – knows basic commands and is obedient under stress; doesn’t panic easily

The horse is fit enough for the work asked of him – you’ve done some basic riding and conditioning prior to going out on the trail

Tack that fits properly – it doesn’t matter if it’s English, western, endurance – just so it fits your horse well, does not interfere with him being able to move freely, and fits you as a rider also so that you, too, are comfortable. If you use a breast collar or crupper, make sure it’s fitted properly so that it doesn’t rub on the horse’s shoulders or between his legs. Use a saddle pad that provides enough cushion to protect the horse’s back but not one so thick and heavy that it creates a lot of heat under the saddle. Look through some good trail riding handbooks and tack catalogs for ideas and recommendations. A good rule to remember is to never, ever try out brand new tack or equipment on a long ride.

Tack and equipment that is safe. Don’t have a back cinch that hangs way down several inches below the horse’s belly where a branch or weeds may get caught in it, or worse, the horse’s foot when navigating a steep downhill. Don’t use a tie-down if you can avoid it – a horse that lies down in water can easily drown by not being able to get up when wearing a tie-down. These are just plain dangerous for the trail. Use the least amount of “stuff” possible – avoid “gadgets” – leave the draw reins for arena work, the headsets, etc.

Shoes or other protective foot gear is important. Don’t take a barefoot horse out on a rocky trail if he is not used to it. It takes a long time for stone bruises to heal, and your horse could easily suffer an abscess that will put him out of commission for weeks.

A capable rider

If you’re brand new to riding, don’t set out on the trail alone. Get some experience in the arena until you’re comfortable that you can easily control your horse, that you will not panic if your horse gets a little spooky, and know your horse well enough to know how he reacts under new circumstances. It’s never a good idea to go out alone on the trail anyway. Try to always go with a friend, for safety’s sake. Generally it’s not the natural obstacles or critters out there that you have to worry about; more often, it’s the two-legged monsters that you have to watch out for.

Be fit to ride – ride enough before you go on a trail ride so that you are fit enough to ride for a couple hours without feeling exhausted, sore, uncomfortable. Know your own limitations and don’t over exert yourself. Trail riding is supposed to be fun, not wear you out and make you miserable. Hurting is no fun.

Wear safe, comfortable clothing. Like new tack, don’t wear brand new boots or shoes, or tight jeans first time out. Murphy’s luck will have it – you’ll have to walk a nice long distance for some reason (horse throws a shoe, whatever) and you’ll end up with blisters on your feet.

Safety helmets are highly recommended. Not only do they protect your head if you should fall off, but for trail riding they are wonderful – you can skim under tree branches and not get scratched or have to worry about scraping your head. It’s just good common sense to wear a safety helmet.

Take drinking water for the ride. As with any other outdoor activity in NM, you need to always avoid getting dehydrated. Carry along a water bottle or two – always. There are lots of easy ways to pack water – you can find water bottle holders that attach to the saddle, or you can carry them in a fanny pack, or camelback if you’re going for a really long ride. I always preferred to carry a couple water bottles that I could balance in a fanny pack, easily accessible for me, no bouncing on the horse. Be careful about using large saddlebags filled with heavy items like water – these can bounce on your horse’s loins and make him very sore in a very short time.

Be prepared – use a cantle bag or similar to carry a rain poncho, small first aid kit, sunscreen, snacks, hoof pick.

Once you’ve discovered the pleasure of trail riding in small doses, you may be interested in trying some longer rides, camping out with your horse, maybe a competitive ride.

Competitive trail riding and endurance riding are both sports that demand a lot of both horse and rider. You have to spend a lot of hours in the saddle, riding lots of miles, preparing for the competition. These sports really test your skill as a horseperson as you go the distance, and your horse’s athletic ability and heart. When you have a good horse for a partner and a good trail to ride. When you are able to meet the challenge and finish the ride with a sound, happy horse that is ready to go out and do it all over again the next day, it’s an incredible feeling of accomplishment. There’s nothing like riding many, many miles to develop your skills as a rider. And there’s nothing like spending hours in the saddle to really get to know your horse.

Regardless of whether you have an interest in competing, or simply want to ride for pleasure, it’s wonderful to have a fit, well-conditioned horse.

Recommended reading:
Trail Riding, by Rhonda Hart Poe
Go the Distance, by Nancy S. Loving, DVM
The Complete Guide to Endurance Riding and Competition, by Donna Snyder-Smith
Have Saddle, Will Travel, by Don West

NATRC Rider’s Manual

Cross Train Your Horse, Books One and Two, by Jane Savoie
For the Good of the Horse, by Mary Wanless
For the Good of the Rider, by Mary Wanless
Endurance and Competitive Trail Riding, by Linda Tellington-Jones

Ruth Bourgeois is an avid trail rider, distance and former competitive trail rider, and trails advocate who moved to New Mexico partly to enjoy the vast trail riding opportunities. Ruth lives in Taos, New Mexico with her four horses and is self-employed, doing web design and marketing ([]). She is a founding member of the Equine Spirit Sanctuary, a horse rescue and sanctuary (