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Tuesday, 14 October 2008 21:44

Learn to ride a horse - and enjoy it!

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Like to learn how to ride a horse? Read on - you can learn the principles in a few minutes. Of course, if and when you do get aboard a horse, you will find there’s a lot more to horse riding than you thought, and your muscles probably won’t cooperate! But time and practice, and of course a good instructor, should help. Before long you should be able to enjoy your time aboard your horse, but it will take many hours in the saddle before you become a good rider.......and lots of patient instruction!

One really important skill in riding is sitting securely in the saddle at all times. This means thinking of your legs as “springy bananas”! They should be firmly held in a curved (slightly bandy!) position without gripping, with the heel low and the toe turned up a little pointing almost straight ahead. The leg should be lying over or just behind the line of the girth. Think of yourself as a little toy plastic cowboy, which can be clipped onto a plastic horse. Like the cowboy, your legs should be held in position around the horse’s body at all times. This should mean that you are not bearing all your weight on your bottom in the saddle, because some weight will be taken by your legs. This brings your centre of gravity closer to the horse’s which is in the middle of his chest, and it makes for a more balanced and more comfortable ride for you and your horse. Remember that horses can jump sideways or backwards very suddenly if they get a fright, and practically all horses are capable of sudden leaps, so you have to have be secure.

A good rider uses his or her legs, body, hands and arms to ride, but while you are learning it might be simplest to think of your legs as being the accelerator. By squeezing your lower legs together, in other words by pressing against the girth with your lower legs, you give the horse the signal to move forward. Continued pressure means acceleration. As soon as your horse responds, ease off your leg pressure as a reward. If there is no response to gentle squeezing, it might be because you might not be strong enough or the horse might be lazy, so you will need to try harder. The signal can be accentuated by gentle kicking movements with the lower legs against the horse’s sides or by tapping with a short whip on his rump, but this shouldn’t be necessary. The less obvious the signal is to the observer the better your horsemanship!

The brakes and steering are in your body, arms, hands and legs, but for the learner it is easiest to use mainly the hands and arms. Gentle pressure on the bit through the reins brings the horse’s mouth in a little towards his body, and effectively this applies the brakes. To turn left, look to the left, turn your upper body to the left, squeeze with your legs especially the right leg against the horse’s side, and slightly move your left hand out and back. If you want your horse to move off to the right, face right and turn your body to the right, slightly pull and move your right rein out and back, apply pressure with your left leg and your horse should move off to the right. Again the movements should be gentle and firm, hardly visible to the observer.

Another very important skill horse riders should try to acquire is managing their hands and body independently. You should be able to maintain the same light and even contact with the horse’s mouth through your hands and reins no matter what the horse is doing! Even when the horse is trotting, cantering, jumping or shying away from frightening objects you shouldn’t jerk the reins. If you snatch at your horse’s mouth with the reins he will soon become uncooperative, and who could blame him? Think of yourself as a waiter balancing a tray of full wine glasses, picking his way like a dancer around the chairs in a crowded restaurant without spilling a drop!

When you see really good horsemen in action, they make it look easy. You hardly see their hands or legs move, yet their horses are full of energy and movement and perfectly controlled. It might be hard for most of us to achieve the same results, and we may never enter the arena to compete. However, if you persevere you will get to the stage where you can relax, your horse can relax and you can forget about the mechanics of what’s going on underneath you. Then you can start to enjoy riding in the countryside. You can look up at the clouds and the broad horizon. You can breathe the sweet country air, hear the heartbeat rhythm of your horse’s hooves on the grass, and you can both feel the warmth of the sun on your backs. You’ll be able to lean forward, stroke your horse’s neck and say “Isn’t this wonderful?”.......and it is!

 

Dr Marjorie Orr, lifestyle farmer and veterinarian (retired)

Dr Marjorie Orr - veterinarian and lifestyle farmer. Dr Orr is a recognised authority on animal welfare in New Zealand and has served on several government committees, especially those concerned with writing codes of welfare for sheep and dogs. Her service to animal health and welfare has also been recognised by awards from the NZ Veterinary Association and MAF. She is also a strong SPCA supporter.

Website: www.lifestyleblock.co.nz/images/imgDrMarjorieOrr.jpg