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Top 8 beginner horse riding mistakes

By Anne Forsberg


Updated on

You may have visions of galloping across fields in front of stately homes reminiscent of Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy or even harbour dreams of competing at a world-famous equestrian event but learning to ride is a journey so sit back, or should that be up, and enjoy the ride.

Learning to ride is unique, like nothing else you will ever do.  Sitting on the back of a live animal is both a privilege and a learning curve.  Riding is a science, a discipline and an art all rolled into one.  Learn from those who have gone before you and avoid some of the most common pitfalls and beginner horse riding mistakes from the trivial to the most important.


  1. Don’t gallop before you can trot – it is always so tempting with something new to run before we can walk. Listen to your instructor, early progress can be frustratingly slow.  If you try to go too fast or jump too early on in your training, you could end up really frightening yourself or falling off more than you need to.  This also includes respecting your instructor’s choice of mount which should be quiet and steady to allow you to learn and gain your confidence

  2. Gripping the reins – a common beginner horse riding mistake usually due to lack of balance. On the end of the reins is a piece of metal in the horse’s mouth so the rider has a huge responsibility not to hang on for dear life at the expense of their mount.  It is better to ride with a slightly longer rain and a neck strap for emergencies and learn how to find true balance without relying on your handsHorse riding beginners

  3. Opening the hand – the opposite problem and one that tends to appear a little later when the rider feels more secure. The contact with the horse’s mouth actually comes from the rider’s elbow through a soft arm to a closed hand.  It can become a habit to allow the hand to open slightly and a canny horse will keep gently pulling the reins from you

  4. A loose foot in the stirrup – don’t listen to the old adage of ‘heels down’. The foot should be placed in the stirrup across the widest point, the ball of the foot.  The ankle should hang as if it is broken and the knee should be relaxed and slightly away from the knee roll of the saddle.  Later on, when you learn to jump, you will ride with a shorter stirrup and the intention is to really push down through the heel to support the weight of the rider over the fence.  When you are riding on the flat, i.e. not jumping, the stirrup should be longer and the leg soft and loose so don’t ram home your feet, a frequently observed beginner horse riding mistake.

  5. Don’t slouch! – Posture is King, you are not sitting on a sofa! Although your pelvis is placed in the saddle in a sitting position, your upper body should be erect and upright, more akin to standing.  Shoulders should be directly above your waist.  Most people take their natural posture onto the horse so if you spend a lot of time in front of a computer, then you will have to work hard to look good when riding.  Forget the term, ‘sit up’ as this tends to make the rider hollow their back.  Just grow taller as if someone were gently pulling your spine on a piece of string through the top of your riding hat.

  6. Find the right footwear – this is a common beginner horse riding mistake. Your ridged walking or ankle boots may be perfect for a muddy yard or field but when your foot is in the stirrup, you need a smooth sole and a small heel.  This allows your foot to move and more importantly, to slide clear if you fall off. Take some time to find the right footwear for you.

  7. You just sit there, don’t you? – perhaps the most common beginner horse riding mistake or misconception. Well, it should look elegant, effortless and harmonious but make no mistake, riding is a tough business that will use every fibre and muscle of your being.  Schooling a horse for 40 minutes or so is the cardiovascular equivalent of a game of squash and that’s before you talk about the mental involvement and concentration.  It’s just the top riders make it look so easy but they all started at the beginning like you once upon a time

  8. All the gear and no idea – no-one wants to be marked out as a beginner with shiny, clean boots and a smart hat but riding kit is designed for a reason. A correctly fitting hard hat is essential and no reputable establishment will let you ride without one.  But never ride in jeans.  Invest in a comfy pair of jodhpurs.  Jeans have seams where you don’t want them and will rub and chafe.  They are also usually insufficiently elastic for you to move easily in the saddle.  Dark colours are more practical and you can purchase different material weights to reflect the temperature of the season. Avoid loose clothing which, while it can help you move, can prove unsafe, flapping in the wind or become caught in the saddlery


It is worth taking seriously these and other commonly seen beginner horse riding mistakesIt is hard to prepare yourself for riding as nothing else in life really mimics the uniqueness of the experience.  So, try and hold in your mind some of these key points, a little harder to remember and adhere to once you are up there on the back of the horse.  And always listen to your instructor.  Learning to ride is an unfolding story and much of it won’t always make sense at the beginning.


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About Anne Forsberg

Anne has been riding since she was only 5 years old and she's been obsessed with horses ever since. An avid horsewoman now, she loves horses and this sport more than anything else, sharing stories and info that she hopes will be helpful and meaningful to anyone who's on their path to become a better horse owner, a better rider and why not, a better person. Learn more about Seriously Equestrian's Editorial Process.

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