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5 Common Mistakes Horse Riders Make

by ihearthorses

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No matter what we do in life, there is always a learning curve. Horsemanship and horse ownership are no exception. Horses are large animals with minds of their own and can be deadly if you are not careful. This is why we encourage new horse owners to get the assistance of someone who is already experienced with horses. In this article, we will discuss five of the most common mistakes horse riders make. Are you new to horses and worried about making mistakes?

Studio portrait of a brown Oldenburg sport horse with black background

Here are 5 Common Mistakes Horse Riders Make

1. Asking too much of you and your horse too soon  

In school, we start by learning our ABCs. As horse riders, we have our own set of ABCs that we need to learn to develop solid horsemanship. 

A = Always be safe before you ever get on your horse. You need to know how to handle your horse safely on the ground before riding. This article on ground safety is an excellent place to start. 

B = Before riding, gain your horse’s respect. A loving relationship with your horse is based on respect and decisive leadership.  

We have several articles here on iHeartHorses you can read about everything from groundwork exercises and activities you can do with your horse to help develop a loving bond that will last a lifetime to reasons to use groundwork, and how to use it to modify your horse’s behavior.

C = Care is providing for your horse’s needs 

It doesn’t matter if you rent a horse at a stable or own your horse. Horses can drain a wallet very fast! Besides the obvious expenses of feed, shelter, and equipment, other expenses go into this crazy passion of ours. Horses need proper hoof care, worming, seasonal shots, teeth floating—and heaven forbid one of them gets hurt. 

2. Stirrups are the wrong length

Another mistake from new horse riders is having the stirrups adjusted to the wrong length. 

Correct stirrup length gives the rider more confidence, better communication with the horse, and is safer.  

If your stirrups are too long, you will tend to be reaching down for the stirrups with your toes. Riders who are reaching for their stirrups cannot keep the proper toes up-heels down position necessary for good security, saddle contact, and communication to their horse.

On the flip side, stirrups that are too short will have the rider relying on the stirrups for balance, and hinder him from developing a proper seat. In western riding, your stirrups should be short enough not to lose them while keeping a toes up-heels down position, but long enough not to rely on them.

English riding discipline has shorter stirrups lengths. But the rider is encouraged to use their knees for support, not the stirrups. English stirrup leathers are considerably narrower than Western saddle fenders. Therefore, they move around more. If the stirrup is used for support, instead of the knee, the lower leg will move, possibly giving the horse mixed signals.   

common mistakes horse riders make

3. Heavy hands

The rider uses their hands to send signals to the horse through the reins to the bit. As you develop good horsemanship, you will learn the importance of having light hands, instead of heavy hands. We want to teach our horses with three steps: ask, insist, demand

When we ask, we send a light cue to the bit; this can be a slight jiggle of the rein with our finger or a small pull with one hand. To insist, we make the signal stronger. Demand should be strong enough to get results, but not so hard that the bit is hurting the horse and he gaps his mouth to get away from the bit.  

Heavy-handed is when the rider skips these steps and goes straight for demand or gets even rougher with the reins than a demand command would warrant. Let me ask you this: Do you want a boss who asks you to do something or one that goes straight to demanding, or worse yet yelling? Nobody wants to be yelled at right away. Neither do our horses. By having light hands, both you and your horse will have a better riding relationship.  

4. Losing your temper

Every horseback rider, new or experienced, will have times of frustration and disappointment. This may stem from a multitude of situations. Maybe your horse keeps kicking his back leg as you are trying to pick it up to clean it. You are trying to clean all those rocks out; you’d think he would appreciate it. Right? Or, he loaded in the trailer to go to the show. Why won’t he load to go home? These are only two examples of all kinds of frustrations horseback riders and owners experience.

The worst thing you can do is lose your temper. Losing your temper with your horse will only end up in more frustration for you and the horse. As horsemen, we have to rise above our feeling of disappointment to always communicate effectively with our horse.  This is one of those horse rider mistakes that’s a pretty easy fix with patience!

5. Having the wrong bit 

Having the wrong bit can make what intended to be a good ride turn into a disaster. When it comes to bad habits, using a stronger bit to fix the behavior is not usually the answer. You may have heard a trainer say, “He needs more wet blankets.” 

This expression refers to the horse needing back-to-basic training and more time under the saddle learning. Think of it like an athletic coach making the team run the same drill over and over.

Don’t get me wrong. Some bits have their uses. For example, snaffles are used to start colts, and other bits are used to help teach the headset and collection, to name a few. But a severe bit in the wrong hands can be a weapon.

Before moving on to a harsh bit, the rider needs to have light enough hands that the reins do not come unattached when tied with thread. My father used this technique to teach me to be light-handed, and now I use it for my students.

The girl looks into the eyes of a beautiful horse

Final thoughts

Remember that good horsemanship has a learning curve. The trick is to never stop learning. There are several ways to improve, take lessons, go to clinics, watch videos, or go to shows and rodeos to learn more. It takes time, dedication, and, most importantly, patience with yourself and your horse to develop good horsemanship.  

Did you learn something new? Make sure to share these mistakes horse riders make with other horse lovers in your life.

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About the Author

Wendy Sumner grew up on a quarter horse ranch in Wyoming. She helped raise and train horses to be shown in the American Quarter Horse Association. At college, she received her Equine Science degree and pursued her love of everything equine. She has spent the last 35 years raising and training horses and teaching lessons. We are excited that she has agreed to join our team as a researcher and writer. 

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