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7 Common Mistakes Horse Riders Make & How To Avoid Them

Horseback riding is a sport like no other that requires skill, patience, dedication, and lots of learning. Whether you are a beginner or experienced rider, you can still make mistakes, as that is part of learning.

However, to continue to grow as an equestrian, it is important to identify the mistakes you make while riding and learn how to avoid them. Learning how to avoid some of the most common horse riding mistakes will help you improve your skills as an equestrian.

Here are the 7 common mistakes horse riders make and how to avoid them:

Riding With Ill-Fitting Tack

Not only does ill-fitting tack affect your posture, it also affects your horse. By riding in a saddle that is too small or too big, your posture and balance can be thrown off.

For your horse, an ill-fitting saddle can cause behavioral problems, discomfort, and even lameness. A saddle that does not properly fit your horse can lead to a sore back, white spots of hair from pressure marks, pinched nerves, and even kissing spine.

Woman making sure a saddle fits her horse

Horses may show behavioral problems over time from the discomfort of a saddle that does not fit properly. Your horse may become angry when you tack them up, especially when tightening the girth. They may be reluctant to perform different gaits or even buck as a sign of discomfort.

Also read: Guide to Natural & Artificial Horse Gaits

When it comes to the bridle, proper fit is key to a happy horse. One of the most common mistakes people make with bridles is not fitting the bit properly or using the wrong type of bit.

A bit that is too wide or too narrow can cause discomfort. In addition, placing the bit too high or too low in the horse’s mouth can cause several issues.

How To Avoid

When purchasing a saddle, be certain to take both you and your horse into consideration. No matter what discipline, the saddle should sit level on the horse’s back. A saddle should never go past the 18th vertebrae on a horse, as that is the end of the weight-bearing area.

In general, the tree or bars should provide adequate protection for the horse’s back while placing the rider in the ideal spot to be balanced.

To ensure that your saddle fits you and your horse, you should enlist a professional for help, such as your riding instructor or a saddle fitter.

For the bridle, be sure that the bit you use is one centimeter wider than your horse’s mouth to avoid pinching. When wearing the bridle, the bit should fit so there are a couple of soft wrinkles in the corner of the horse’s mouth.

Be sure to not be using too much bit for your horse. It is often best to start with a snaffle and then work your way up if your horse needs more.

Not Taking Your Time

Woman cuddling with her horse's head

One of the most common mistakes people make with horses is not taking their time. Horses require lots of patience and it is best to start things off slowly when trying something new.

Rushing your horse to learn new things will often cause you problems. By asking too much of your horse can cause them to be stressed or even become lame if they are not physically prepared.

In addition, it can be dangerous for you and your horse, as expecting too much too soon can lead to accidents.

How To Avoid

Your horse needs to work their way up to new skills, as it is important they are mentally and physically ready. You and your horse must respect and trust each other in order to grow together.

Groundwork is key to building a good relationship with your horse. By taking the time to focus on groundwork with your horse you will strengthen your relationship and improve your riding.

Your horse needs time to develop and when given a new task, they will need time to process what you are asking of them. Always be sure to take your time and never rush your horse.

Not Listening To What Your Horse Is Communicating

Horses can’t simply just tell us what is wrong. Oftentimes your horse may be communicating a problem to you and you don’t even realize it.

If your horse is acting odd or has unusual habits you don’t understand, it can be the sign of some underlying issue. For example, if your horse always bucks when you are riding, this may be a sign of something more serious. Your saddle could not be fitting right or your horse has a back problem.

How To Avoid

Become familiar with your horse’s habitats and body language. If all of sudden something changes this may be a sign your horse is sick, injured or uncomfortable.

Pay close attention to their ears, head carriage, legs, eyes, and muzzle. By learning what a horse’s body language means you will be able to better identify how they are feeling.

If they start acting differently when being ridden, this can be a sign of something wrong. Identify any changes you notice while riding that are abnormal and reach out to an expert for help to ensure your horse is alright.

Learn more about horse communication by reading our guide on the clear signs a horses is happy.

Forgetting the Basics

horse riding basics and common mistakes

A common mistake that can be made by more experienced riders is forgetting the basics. As you increase your skill level and take on new challenges, it can be easy to forget the basics of riding.

Maybe over time you haven’t spent enough time focusing on your posture or maybe you haven’t practiced riding without stirrups in a long time. No matter your experience level or discipline, it is always important to practice the fundamentals of riding.

How To Avoid

Remember to focus on your posture, balance and don’t forget the fundamentals of horsemanship. Remember the basics you learned such as mount on the left side, pass other horses with plenty of room, take your time and use your aids. Having a good riding position will help you and your horse perform better.

Lunge lessons can be a great way to take time and focus on some of the basics of riding. They are an effective way to tune your position and further develop your skills.

There are many great exercises you can practice on the lunge line that will improve your riding. Riders of all levels can benefit from lunge lessons.

Riding With Too Heavy of Hands

It is common for riders to rely too much on their hands which in return can lead to heavy hands. Riding with heavy hands can often be uncomfortable for your horse and may cause them to toss their head or rear.

Heavy hands put too much pressure on the horse’s mouth. Instead of riding with soft hands and releasing when your horse gives to pressure, some people ride with heavy hands the entire time.

Keeping constant pressure on your reins is problematic as it can cause sores, dullness of aids and discomfort in your horse.

How To Avoid

heavy hands on a horse - common equestrian riding mistake

By using your legs, seat and voice as aids can help you from relying on your hands so much. Ride with light hands and give to your horse when they respond to pressure.

Don’t rely on your hands for balance and make sure your reins are not too long when you ride.

Losing Your Patience

It can be easy to lose your patience while riding. Maybe your horse was perfect in the warm up ring but spooked at everything in the show ring or took off bucking during your lesson.

Though at times riding can be frustrating, it is important to not lose your patience. Taking your frustration out on your horse will only lead to more issues.

How To Avoid

If you are starting to lose your patience with your horse, take a deep breath and take your time. Instead of giving up or yelling at your horse, work with them to figure out what the problem is.

Spend time making sure your horse isn’t nervous and work with them to get over any fear they may have.

Not Taking Proper Care of Tack

Though it can be tempting to put your tack straight away after every ride, you want to avoid doing this. Not taking proper care of your tack can cause it to wear down and become damaged, which can lead to accidents when riding.

It can be easy to skip cleaning your tack, but this is an important step you shouldn’t forget. Cleaning your tack not only improves its longevity but also allows you to see any areas showing signs of damage or wear.

Girl checking the tack on her horse

How To Avoid

You should clean and inspect your tack on a regular basis. Use a saddle soap cleaner and conditioner on all your leather pieces and store your tack covered in a cool, dry place to avoid mold.

Don’t forget to clean the metal pieces and your girth, as these are commonly overlooked. Be certain to also wash your saddle pad regularly, as dirt and hair can build up which can be irritating for your horse.

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