Beginning Horseback Rider Mistakes

4 Rookie Riding Mistakes To Avoid

I’ve grown so much in my riding; I cringe to think of the hell I must have unwittingly put my trainers through. You have to start somewhere when learning a new skill, and although I didn’t start at the bottom, I definitely had some challenges to overcome. Learn from my rookie riding mistakes so you can become a better rider.

Of course you all have heard about Bad Cop, of Good Cop-Bad Cop fame, yelling at me to sit my ass back. But up until now, I’ve never thought of all the things they didn’t yell at me about, or that they had a right to yell at me a lot more about but didn’t.

Here are four things I would go back and yell at me for doing. Things I shudder to think of my trainers silently enduring. Seriously, thank your trainers for being hard on you; they are making you a better rider!

  1. Steering. I was not a beginner when I started working with Good and Bad Cop. I knew how to neck rein. I knew how to ride one or two handed. But Gangster and I just could not get on the same page about what direction we were going. In one particularly perplexing session, we were loping to the left and I would want to change directions to the right and that damn horse would ride to the wall and stop. I’m not even kidding. That little turd of a horse exploited my inability to find the right balance of neck reining, leg pressure, and shifting of weight. He would just opt not to go any further if he couldn’t tell where I was trying to go. The sign of a great teaching horse for sure, but incredibly frustrating for someone new to such a fully-loaded reining horse. I can’t imagine the head-shaking I missed by the trainers at that time.
  2. Exercise the horse before a lesson. This in particular is one area in which I’m surprised that the trainers did not dismount, mid-lesson, and come over and strangle me. I have a half-Arabian, a breed known for their endurance. My horse in particular needs regular and vigorous exercise. He can’t be left for a week and then hopped on for an easy cruise. He needs to be lunged and worked in order to get the wiggles out, to help him come to his mind and focus on the work at hand. But my silly self didn’t understand this concept for the longest time. So here my poor trainer would show up to give me a quick tune up and instead would have to ride the dang horse around for 30 minutes and work him into a good lather. Then they could put me back on him and expect some semblance of accomplishment to take place. And not once did they ever ask, “Do you even understand what exercise your horse means?” That’s probably for the better anyway. I didn’t know. I would have assured them, “Of Course! He’s just really energetic.”
  3. Body position. You’ve heard of the “sit your ass back” admonishment. But what does that really mean? For some reason, forward means safety in my mind. Probably because it approaches getting into the fetal position. But that is not a good way to ride. At. All. Especially if you have a pony who every now and then likes to give a little spook or crow hop to make sure you’re still awake up there. One especially annoying day (for the trainers, not for me) bad cop marveled that maybe I should be a hunt-seat rider instead of riding the western reiner I had selected, since I was riding so far forward. Eventually I got more confident and I put myself back a little. I still creep forward and have to reposition my body, but at least I can catch myself now. I am willing to bet that I may have had to search for different trainers if I didn’t figure out this issue. I’m positive they wouldn’t have wanted to be at a horse show and have to claim the hunched forward rider on the underworked horse scrambling around the arena.

    Leaning Forward While Loping
    Poor quality photo and poor quality riding… you get the idea, look at that lean!
  4. Last but not least: getting off his face. The same way that I subconsciously thought the fetal position gave me safety and control, so too did cranking down on my poor horse’s face. This is something I forgot I did. And then I found photos of the very first time I showed in reining. There is not a bit of slack to be found in those reins. My fist was clenched so tight on those short little reins I probably had no blood flow left in my fingers. And the absolute disdain for my riding is written all over my horse’s face: nose flaring, mouth agape, neck tight trying to avoid my tyrannical grip. Luckily the trainers weren’t at that show to see that little display. But you can see the photos for yourself. Have a good laugh, and then GET OFF YOUR HORSE’S FACE. If you’re a trainer you can use me as a cautionary tale for your budding riders: GET OFF HIS FACE.
Beginner Horseback Riding Mistakes Arabian
How many things can you count I’m doing poorly here? Photo credit to Chris T. Sloan, sorry you had to photograph such a hot mess!

I have years left of learning, a lifetime really. But the unsung heroes are the patient trainers who continue to work with me, through my fears, my faults, my ignorance (and my money). They could probably tell you 10 more things I am doing wrong that I don’t even know about. So have patience with yourself, wherever you are in the process. And for God’s sake, thank your trainers. We’d all be a mess if it weren’t for their tireless work to make us better riders, our horses better mounts and our relationship with our animals that much more meaningful.

Ride on!

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Arabian Reining Horse Better Rider
There’s hope! Look how much better in tune we look a little less than a year later. Photo credit to Chris T. Sloan.
Arabian Reining Horse Beginner Show
Had to add this one. My elated face after nodding to the judges that my pattern was complete. I get a little nervous so it’s a good feeling to finish! Photo credit to Chris T. Sloan

Riding Mistakes to Avoid

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Theresa Rice

Writing a modern day western and telling my daily stories of humor, sadness or inspiration. Depending on the day, it might be all three.

2 thoughts on “4 Rookie Riding Mistakes To Avoid”

  1. I love this! I have the same issues- I had a very very heavy hand for a long time until someone finally taught me the right way. I grew up taught by old school cowboys before I think I truly learned to ride. I also leaned forward a lot and learned the hard way how much off balance I was putting my horse….when he tripped and fell on me. We all have to learn somehow!

    1. Yay! It is so fun to hear about other people’s experience 🙂 Glad I’m not the only one out there!!

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