Packing in on horseback and hunting in the mountains has always been my goal and now the goal is going to be realized. But here it comes, I have to learn how to ride a horse. Now at first blush, I thought this was nothing. Mount up, kick him or her in the ribs, and gallop off into the sunset or sunrise, whatever the case may be. The questionaire sent by the folks at Windriver Outfitters had a serious question, " Do you have experience riding a horse and when was the last time you rode?" My experience is limited to when I rode a wooden horse on the merry-go-round at the age of four. The music was outstanding, but now I have to get serious. My friend Charlie and I will be in the Nez Perce National Forrest in Idaho riding horses on an elk hunt. That is no place to be careless or foolish. We both took it seriously and contacted a riding stable. They put us through some training on horses. After taking the training, I really feel confident that this will be an enjoyable part of the trip, and not a nightmare. Below is a copy of the manual they gave us along with some tips at the bottom. It is an interesting read.
Stand on the near, left side of the horse. Gather the reins in one hand, put your left foot in the stirrup, and hold onto the back, (holding onto the saddle when mounting will cause it to slide). Keep both your hands on the front of the horse. You can also hold the cantle of the saddle (back or seat) with your right hand when mounting). Push up and swing your right leg over the back of the horse, keeping your leg from kicking the horse's flank. When mounted, gather your reins and then hang both legs down near stirrups and make sure they are the right length by having the stirrup reach your ankle. You should also be able to simply slide your feet into the stirrup while lifting your feet a few inches. Start off with a slow walk. To ask for this pace, squeeze your legs, (lower calf) and the horse should move off. Only kick the horse if he does not respond to repeated squeezes. You don't want to teach him bad habits by ignoring you. The walk is a 4 beat gait, meaning you can feel when each hoof hits the ground. After a few minutes stop and check your girth. You should be able to fit 4 fingers between the girth and the horse. If you can fit more, then you must tighten the girth. While walking, make sure to keep your heels down, back straight and chin up. Your body should form a straight line that can be drawn from your heel, to the hips, to the shoulders. Most riders think you pull on the left rein to go left and the right rein to go right. This is true, but not very effective and may cause long term health problems having to do with the mouth of your horse. Learn how to steer with your legs. For example if you want to go left, use your opposite leg (right leg) and put pressure on the horse with the leg. While you are putting pressure with your right leg, "open the door" with your left hand. That means you loosen up the reins only in your left hand and pull outward like you are opening a door. Doing those two things plus steering with your reins gives you perfect control. When stopping, pull back on the reins and sit deep; you may have to lean back a bit and put your weight into your bottom and heels. When halted, release reins as the reward and pat your horse. Once you are comfortable at the walk, you can try a trot. Trotting is quite bumpy and you may get unnerved and unseated. Do not take anything too fast. It may take a week or two to start to trot. If you are riding English, try posting. Posting is when you rise to the beat of the trot. To post, simply rise and fall, but when you sit down, make sure you are following the horse's outside shoulder (the one closest to the rail). When that shoulder is going forward, you rise. When it is going back, you go down. If you sit the trot, move your hips with the horse, otherwise you will bounce and the horse's back won't feel too great. To get the horse to move forward, as in any other gait, you must squeeze slightly with your legs. The trot is two beats. You should be able to count "1,2,1,2" while your horse is trotting. When slowing from a trot to a walk, sit deep and pull back slightly on the reins. Continue trotting until you can post effectively and are comfortable at the trot. The next step is canter. To ask for canter, squeeze your outside leg while having it back a bit and squeeze with your inside leg. Before you canter, sit in trot and then ask, as this will have you sitting ready for the canter. At canter you should sit back slightly, and when you feel you are sitting back too much, you will be sitting back just enough. Or you can go into a half seat when you canter, which is a modified two-point. The two point is the jumping position. At a canter, you rock forward and backward, with your bottom just slightly off the saddle. Cantering is also known as a lope to most western horseman. Cantering is much faster than trotting and will take time to get used to. Once you can canter, again, stay vigilant with your posture and heels. The more advanced you become, the more details are required to ride properly. Make sure to keep practicing posting and walking while learning how to canter, because these are skills you need to advance. Leads are important to the canter. If you pick up the wrong lead, the horse will be uncomfortable. The inside shoulder should be leading (it will look as if it is staying ahead of the other shoulder). After picking up the canter, glance down to make sure you have the correct lead. If not, slow down to a trot and pick up the canter again. Once you are comfortable at the canter, you can move on to a gallop. Galloping is much like a canter, but faster. You should sit slightly forward in the saddle and keep your bottom elevated.
Always wear riding boots that have a a flat sole with a slight heel. (To prevent stirrup slipping too far, resulting in your foot through the stirrup).
Always wear long pants when riding.
Never sit or kneel near a horse.
Try to always mount from the left side or near side. Horses are usually trained most on this side, but a well trained horse should be handled on both sides equally.
Don't run up to a horse. You can come up behind it, but make sure the horse knows you're there. Be cautious, you can pat him on his rump and say "whoa" or "easy boy" so he knows you are there! Always move to his shoulder and always talk to him so he knows you're coming closer.
This may seem strange to beginners, but try not to feel nervous around a horse. A horse can pick up what you are feeling and when you are nervous, the horse will feel nervous too.
Never yank the bit. Think that the horse has egg shells in his mouth. He'll thank you by being relaxed and free moving.
Always have a professional coach or trainer or experienced horse rider with you if you are just learning to ride. You should always ride in the presence of someone else in case of a fall or any other emergency so there will be someone to help you.
Putting a bridle on is harder then it looks! Horses can move their heads up and about a million other directions!
Always make sure that the girth is tightened appropriately. Double check before mounting. If you need help, do not hesitate to ask. If you make it too tight, the horse will be grumpy. If you make it too loose, the saddle will slip.
Horses are sensitive animals. Always make sure you are relaxed and calm around them, so as not to make them feel nervous.
When you are trotting, keep track of where your feet are. If they are under you, that is fine.
Never scream on a horses back, even if the horse gets nervous and starts to trot. Don't panic because the more pressure you put on the horse, the more scared you will make him.
If this is your first time riding, never try bareback. A lot of girls and boys think that bareback should be their first ride so they can feel the horse underneath them first. Wrong. The saddle is always there for your comfort, protection, and safety. Try a bareback session after you ride with a saddle.
It pays to train for a good experience.
If you have an interesting story or pictures, e-mail them to me, and we will publish them.
Good hunting, good fishing and good luck. Hank
P.S. Nebraska announced their fall turkey season. It starts September 15th and goes to December 31st of this year. Limit is two birds either sex. I like Nebraska Turkey Season and the way they set it up.