When Riders Make Mistakes: An Equestrian’s Handy Guide to Avoiding Them

September 03, 2021 6 min read

When Riders Make Mistakes: An Equestrian’s Handy Guide to Avoiding Them

No one makes mistakes on purpose, especially ones that would probably be detrimental to yourself or those around you. Equestrians, be it beginners or pros, still make mistakes. If that wasn’t the case, horse competitions wouldn’t be necessary anymore as all riders are flawless and best in show!

Small mistakes can be easily corrected by being more mindful while riding and reminders from your coach or instructor. However, severe mistakes can harm you permanently and possibly your horse as well. No rider is perfect, so it’s best to always check in with yourself and your riding habits to see if some of these common horse riding mistakes can be nipped at the bud straight away.  

Why mistakes happen to good equestrians, both beginners and pros

Riding mishaps happen for several reasons, but the biggest one is perhaps not staying alert to what is right in front of you. A wandering mind, a panicked, anxious disposition, or other outside distractions could keep you from riding your four-legged pal safely and correctly.

They also happen when incorrect or bad actions turn into habits due to an instructor or coach not pointing it out to you and not fixing the mistake at the beginning. When habits turn bad, it takes longer and harder for you to correct them because you’ve been doing it for such a long time already.

Other mistakes that equestrians make could be due to outside circumstances, such as an instructor with outdated ways of teaching. What the instructor thinks is the correct way of teaching may be so old-fashioned that they may not know that what they’re teaching you is no longer true, or what you need to be the best rider you could become.

The most common mistakes riders make

Which ones could you be making unconsciously? Reading through this list will get you closer to being aware of your areas of improvement, and now that you’re aware, you’ll correct them in no time.

1. Pulling on the bridle too much or having “chicken wings.”

For beginners, holding on to the reins can be a sign that they’re scared of falling. While this is completely understandable, putting too much pressure on the reins can confuse your equine when it comes to aids, mixing up what the pressure means with what they have already learned.

Some beginners go the opposite route, holding the reins too loosely because they’re sticking their elbows out inside of by their side. When this happens, you have no control over the horse. The reins are connected to the bit, which sends your equine cues or aids—and you can’t do any of these without properly holding the reins.

2. Gripping your equine with your legs.

Again, this is a problem usually seen in beginners who are trying to feel as safe as possible by holding on to the horse at any which possible. New riders are yet to remember and practice the proper form of riding, and the balance it takes to sit on the saddle.

When you grip your thighs on your horse too much, it lifts you from the saddle and tips you forward, ruining your back posture and throwing you off balance. When you’re off-balanced and off the saddle, the greater the chances of you falling off the horse, should your equine make sudden movements.

Another mistake that some horseback riders still do is digging their feet into the stirrups. Not only can this be uncomfortable for you, but it can also be dangerous without the proper footwear.

3. Incorrect riding posture.

Before you could trot around with your riding pal, you needed to learn how to properly mount and dismount, as well as what the correct riding posture is when you’re on your equine. While you may think that these are the basics, remember that horse competitions deduct points for bad posture, so even the pros neglect their posture from time to time, and sometimes when it matters the most.

4. Looking down or holding your breath.

These two actions are usually done unconsciously by equestrians, or by force of habit. Looking down or at your horse instead of looking at where you’re going with your equine partner can put you in harm’s way. It throws you off balance, ruins your posture, and messes with your confidence also—which can all be felt by your four-legged pal. When you’re not confident, that feeling of insecurity will likely be absorbed by your equine.

Holding your breath happens almost as naturally as breathing—you would never notice it until you’re gasping for air. This happens for both pros and beginners whenever they are nervous, trying out a new technique, or perhaps when it’s about your time to go into the show ring. Holding your breath doesn’t seem like much, but it hinders you from riding at your best when your body doesn’t have air.

5. Inconsistent training schedules.

Both humans and horses are creatures of habit. To master a new routine or lesson, you release the stress that comes with trying something new for the first time by doing it repeatedly, until it becomes second nature to you and your equine. However, this can’t happen when you don’t have a set training schedule with your instructor and your horse. Lessons are forgotten and you start from step one again.

6. Riding your horse without the proper helmet—or none.

You may see other riders throw caution to the wind and ride their equines sans a helmet, but that doesn’t make it right. No matter how much you love your four-legged pal and how much they love you back, your riding partner is a highly sensitive animal that can act or react differently than you’re used to. Remember that your four-legged friend is very powerful—falling or being thrown off a horse and hitting your head could place you in a life or death situation.

7. Wrong tack placement and care.

Even seasoned riders could miss a piece or two when it comes to putting their horse’s tack together. However, with each piece that’s missing from the tack, it could hurt the rider or the horse—or both.

Take an incorrect or ill-fitting saddle, for example. If the saddle is placed incorrectly, it could lessen the range of movement of your riding partner, or it could cause you to be thrown off the horse or slip off to the side.

Taking personal care of the tack you use is also important. Even high-quality tack needs regular cleaning to lengthen its lifespan, and it’s also a great opportunity for you to inspect each piece and check if everything is in good working condition or if there’s a need for replacement.

How to correct common riding mistakes

1. Be open to correction and going back to basics.

If you’ve been riding for a while, it can sting a little bit to be corrected on small techniques, as if you were a beginner. Oftentimes, the solution is straightforward and as simple as going back to basics and moving up from there.

2. Stick to an instructor, not a cheerleader.

An instructor or coach isn’t there to cheer you on, they are there to train you to be the best rider you could be. True instructors are not afraid to give their constructive criticism and have you do hard things, because they know you can take them on.

3. Always work harder and more mindfully than your riding partner.

A true equestrian such as yourself knows that the “effortless” look that a pro rider gives off during competitions was due to years of tremendous effort on the part of the horse and the rider. A real rider knows that you just don’t “sit there”—instead, you always work harder than your horse, no matter what. The cues, the movements, everything comes from your direction, and your horse will learn this and respect you for it.

How a proper tack helps in correcting rider mistakes

The support and protection that a proper tack provides for you and your equine are important, and potentially, a lifesaver on some occasions.

As mentioned earlier, incomplete tack or one in poor working condition will get in the way of a good, safe ride for you and your equine. When your saddle,saddle pads, reins,bits, and all else that comprise your tack are in tiptop shape, you and your horse will communicate better, your rides are safer, and it will help protect and prevent you and your equine from injuries.

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Middle Riser Anti-Slip Gel Pad - Kavallerie

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Rear Riser Anti-Slip Gel Pad - Kavallerie

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Everyone makes mistakes. In the equestrian world, where precision and the smallest of details are of the utmost importance, it’s easy to beat yourself up for making these mistakes. Through time and dedication, you can do what it takes to accept your shortcomings and do better—that’s what it takes to be a good rider.