We have all seen a movie where someone jumps onto the back of a horse and rides off into the sunset. They make it look so easy, and they also make it look like a lot of fun. But before you go and buy a stable full of horses, you might want to know, is horseback riding hard?
Although popular media often makes it look easy, horseback riding can be a difficult sport to learn. People often struggle mentally and physically, and it can take years to master the art of riding.
That being said, it really depends on what type of rider you want to become. Leisure riding is much less difficult to learn than competitive riding, and people can often learn enough to ride un-competitively with just a couple of lessons.
What Is Horseback Riding?
At its most basic, horseback riding is the action of riding on the back of a horse. However, it is often so much more than that. Riders must learn to control their posture and the horse’s movements while also avoiding obstacles. They must learn how to communicate effectively with their horse and having a strong foundational knowledge about horses can help with this. Riders may also find themselves having to train a horse, but this takes a much higher level of skill.
Riding levels vary and are decided by the rider’s skills and experience.
- Beginners often have little or no experience riding or with horses in general. They may be overconfident in their ability or extremely nervous.
- Novice riders often have some experience, are comfortable on a horse, and can walk, trot, and canter.
- Intermediate riders have strong control of themselves and their horse and are comfortable riding both inside and outside of an arena. They often have years of experience and practice.
- Advanced riders have mastered the art of riding and are confident in all aspects of horseback riding. Additionally, they can train and handle a more spirited horse.
Each level poses a distinct set of difficulties and riders might struggle with different things at each level.
So How Hard is Horse Riding?
Horseback riding is often a difficult sport to learn. However, how hard it will be will depend on what level of rider you hope to become. If you are only interested in some weekend guided trail riding, then riding will be easier to learn. However, if you expect to take part in races, challenges, or other events, you will find it much more difficult to learn the skill.
Basic Riding Skills
Basic riding skills are those that are taught to beginner riders and, while still difficult to learn, are the easiest things to master.
- Mounting and Dismounting
- Stopping and Moving
- Backing Up
- Strengthening Muscles
Advanced Riding Skills
Advance skills are those you can begin to learn once you have mastered the more basic skills. These can require more practice, but because you have a working knowledge of horses, some might be less difficult to learn initially.
- Perfect Posture
- Higher Control
- Controlled Speed
- Half Halt
- Rhythm and Tempo
- Various Gaits
- Refined Riding
- Types of Riding (Western/English)
- Show Rules
- Quick Turns
- Dealing with Problems
- Connecting with Your Horse
- Much More
What Will I Learn in Beginner Lessons?
Although it is possible to teach yourself, most people find it easier to take lessons when they are first learning to ride. What you learn will depend on the instructor and their teaching itinerary, but most beginner lessons will teach the following things.
- Safety: Instructors will often spend a few minutes talking to you about the various safety aspects of riding before you even meet a horse. They will teach you how to act, where to walk, and how to interpret a horse’s warning signals.
- Tacking Up: After the basics have been covered, riders will often spend a few moments grooming the horse and learning how to put the equipment on correctly. This is important for both the comfort and safety of the horse and rider.
- Leading: Before you get on the animal, you will probably be asked to lead it around the arena. This will help you become familiar with the horse’s movements while learning the various walking commands. It will also help the animal become more familiar with you.
- Mounting: Before you can ride, you will need to get on the horse. This often looks much easier than it is. Riders will learn how to get on and off the horse safely before eventually learning proper mounting techniques in later lessons.
- Commands and Aids: Next, you will have to learn how to communicate your desires to the horse. This will vary depending on how the horse was trained. However, instructors will often teach riders how to instruct the horse to walk and how to turn the horse. Instructors will usually lead the horse during this stage to ensure everyone is safe.
- Walking: Once the instructor feels you are ready, they will stop leading the horse and allow you to take over. This is when you will learn how to ask the horse to walk and how to stop the animal.
- Trotting: Depending on how long the lesson is and how well you are doing, the instructor may teach trotting. However, this is not always taught in the first lesson.
- Grooming: Before saying goodbye, you will be asked to dismount, disrobe, and groom the horse. This is when you will learn about the various types of brushes and when/how to use them. You might also be asked to clean the hooves.
This is what you can typically expect from a beginner lesson. Subsequent lessons will build upon this one, as riders start to practice their posture and build the muscle strength needed for more advanced riding.
What Makes Horseback Riding Difficult?
Because everybody enters the sport with different strengths and weaknesses, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes riding a difficult sport to learn. However, most riders admit to having struggled with the things listed below.
Finding and Affording Lessons
Lessons can cost anywhere from $60 a session to $200 a session. Sessions are typically between 1 and 2 hours long and may be offered individually or in a group setting. Since most serious riders will take anywhere from 2 to 4 lessons a month, this can quickly become expensive. Additionally, it can sometimes be difficult to find a local instructor who is competent.
If you are just dabbling in the sport as a weekend hobby, you may be able to borrow or rent a horse to ride. However, more serious riders will need to have horses of their own if they want to enter competitions. Owning a horse is not an inexpensive venture, and even if you board the animal, it could cost several thousand dollars a year.
Aches and Pains
One of the things that movies often leave out is how physically taxing riding is on a rider’s body. Building your core muscles can help alleviate this, but it takes time, and some riders lose interest when they realize how physically demanding the sport is.
A rider’s posture is important to both the rider and the horse. If the rider’s posture is stiff, the horse may be uncomfortable or unable to relax. Additionally, the wrong posture can increase soreness and pose a danger to the rider. Some riders really struggle to find the right posturing while riding, and this can contribute to a whole host of other complications. Additionally, some events require riders to maintain perfect posture, which can be quite difficult to do.
Falling is to be expected when riding a horse and riders should take some time to learn how to fall off a horse safely. Being afraid to fall can cause a rider to become unconfident, which can affect how their horse behaves.
People who are overly anxious or easily frustrated might find themselves having a harder time learning to ride. Patience is important when working with animals because they might not always do what you want them to do.
As with anything else, horseback riding takes time and practice to become great. However, some people really struggle with this because they want to master it yesterday. Besides patience with yourself, you will need to have patience with your animal. Horses have days off too, and they might not want to work on jumping today!
Fear—and overcoming fear— is important when learning to ride. However, people often struggle to let go of their anxieties and relax. Some of the most common fears include fear of falling, fear of going too fast, and fear of not being able to stop or control the animal.
Working with Animals
Animals can sometimes be unpredictable and stubborn. Even the most well-trained horse might have days when they decide they do not want to be ridden. Being able to communicate with your horse and sense their moods will help, but people should always expect the unexpected.
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