Preparing a horse for a ride

Thanks in part to Hollywood, we have this image etched in our minds of cowboys riding their horses into the sunset with the wind in their hair. Riding a horse is indeed an enjoyable activity, but they need lots of care and preparation for that great ride. These tips will show you how to get started.

Preparing a horse for a ride

1. Finding the right equipment

When riding, the most important items of clothing are a good-quality riding helmet (to give protection in case of falls) and suitable foot­wear.

  • Solid, leather riding boots are a good investment and much safer than sneakers or other soft, casual shoes.
  • Keep your mount's comfort in mind, too­ — it stands to reason that a horse will perform better for you if its bridle and saddle fit well.Sturdy footwear and an approved helmet are essential­ items for all riders.
  • Choose between a plain crash helmet or elegant riding hat and calf-length or ankle boots.
  • Horse riding as a sport is no longer the province of the wealthy, and youthful modern riders need not be overly ­concerned with the dress code observed by the well-tailored, 1930s equestriennes.

2. Catching and releasing

  1. When catching your horse, approach it with a titbit such as a lump of sugar, then slip the halter over its head.
  2. Lead from the shoulder and do not let the horse trail behind you; if it jumps forwards, it may knock you over.
  3. When releasing a horse into its paddock, always turn it to face the gate as you remove the halter. If the horse kicks out as it runs off, you have time to be out of range by the time it turns away.
  4. Never tie a horse to a flimsy post or other anchor, and never tie it below the level of its withers. If ­startled it may pull back and snap the anchor; if tied too low it could damage its neck.

3. Make sure the horse is ready

  • Bits fit in the horse's mouth between the front and back teeth, and from the outside, they should just wrinkle the lips.
  • It should be possible to fit three fingers between the throat latch of the bit and the horse's gullet.
  • Check your horse's feet, picking out any mud and stones with a hoof pick or narrow screwdriver.
  • Saddle and mount the horse, then shorten the reins.
  • Hold the reins between your ring finger and little finger and index finger and thumb; your thumbs should be pointing upwards.
  • To turn right, pull gently on the right rein while keeping the left hand close to the neck and not too high.
  • Reverse the procedure to turn left.

4. Riding on roads

  • When riding on a public road, always keep well to the side and travel in the same direction as the traffic.
  • If your horse is nervous of traffic, you may be able to ride with another person whose animal will keep it calm.
  • When you go out for a ride, always give your horse's muscles — and your own — time to warm up.
  • Walk for a while before trotting and cantering, and spend some time walking at the end of the ride so that the horse can cool down.

5. A reward at the end

After unsaddling, rub the horse's back, neck and inner thighs with a rough towel to help relax its ­muscles and absorb any sweat that has built up. Allow it a short drink, but do not let it drink its fill until it has been released into its paddock.

Follow these guidelines for a smooth ride with your favourite animal.

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