Horse Riding Lessons Blog

Preparing for Your First Show: Part 2 – The Horse’s Dress Code

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We’ve checked out your show day outfit. Now let’s look at what the horse needs to wear.

The Horse
If you don’t have a dressage saddle, don’t worry. Until you know for sure that you want to ride pure dressage, stick with the saddle you use in your horseback riding lessons since you’re comfortable in it. Saddles are expensive, so you don’t want to rush into a new purchase before you’re ready.


Although saddle blankets come in interesting colors these days, don’t use them in a test! A white one looks more polished, and you want to make a good impression on the judge.

The bridle and bit need to be English not Western style. You’re safest with a snaffle bit or a Happy Mouth (which I use). Make sure you and your horse are used to an allowed bit in your horse riding lessons.

A comprehensive list of permissible dressage show bits can be found in Rule DR121 of the USEF Rule Book at

Rule DR121 covers the dress code. Paragraph 1 covers the saddle, Paragraph 2 covers the bridle, and Paragraph 15 covers bits permitted in dressage.

Even though the rules don’t mention the Introductory Tests – as they were created by the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) and not the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) – USEF regulations also apply to the Introductory Tests.

Here are some other simple rules to bear in mind:

  • You cannot use a martingale in a dressage test, but a breast plate is allowed.
  • You should remove martingale stops from your reins.
  • Remove ALL bandages, over reach boots, exercise boots, etc. from your horse.
  • YOU WILL BE ELIMINATED if your horse is wearing anything on his legs!
  • Make sure your riding whip is no longer than 120cm

Check Paragraph 7 of DR121 for a full list of prohibited equipment.

By watching riders at a competition before you enter one, you’ll see how their horses are tacked up. Don’t be afraid to ask competitors questions: they are usually very happy to help.

Next we’ll be looking at how to prepare for show day. 







Which is the Best Horse Breed for Beginner Riders?

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What Type of Whip Should You Use in Your Horseback Riding Lessons?

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When you first take horseback riding lessons you’ll need to work on developing steady, independent hands before you’re ready to carry a whip. Unless your hands are quiet and controlled, you’ll do more harm than good with one.

But you may find that your leg aids are not sufficient to energize your mount. Ask your instructor if you may be allowed to use a whip as back-up.

Although horseback riding books explain the use of the two basic types of whip, but they are not equally well suited to beginner riders.

Dressage Whips

These are long riding whips, around 43 inches long, used to tap the horse on his hind end or behind the rider’s legs without taking the hand off the reins. It is used to ask the horse for more impulsion when he’s not moving forward with enough energy.

Being long, it’s easy for inexperienced hands to accidentally touch the horse with it. When you begin learning to ride English style and are essentially learning dressage, it’s still not a good idea for you to use this whip. Better to use a form of jumping whip.

Jumping Whips

The crop or bat is shorter, being around 24 to 29 inches long, and not as flexible as the dressage whip. The crop has a popper at the end, which is a loop of leather. The bat has a flat piece of leather at the end, these days often shaped like a hand.

The rider cannot apply it behind the legs without taking a hand off the reins. It is also used to tap the horse’s shoulder as a wake up call to let him know the rider has a whip.

Although made for jumping, this type of whip is better for a beginner rider. You have to make a deliberate move to use it, and won’t inadvertently hit your horse.

If you are riding a sluggish horse which needs a bit of motivating then a jumping crop or bat is a good buy.


Riding Etiquette: Part I

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If you watch English style riders at a show as they warm up together, you may wonder how come they don’t run into each other.

The anwer is: riding etiquette. There is an accepted set of rules about riding in an arena with others which ensures the safety of everyone.

It’s useful to learn these rules as soon as you start taking horseback riding lessons. Other riders will greatly appreciate your good manners and be impressed that you know what to do at such an early stage of learning horseback riding.

Entering the Arena

Don’t enter the riding arena (indoors or outdoors) until:

(a) You’ve made sure no one is about to pass the entrance

(b) You’ve asked permission to enter. In the U.S. the phrase is “Door, please.”

(c) You’ve had a reply from the other riders that it’s safe to come in.

The reason for this, apart from ensuring you don’t get knocked over by other riders, is that a horse already in the arena can easily get spooked if another suddenly walks in. Its rider will not be happy with you!

Mounting, Dismouting & Halting

To perform any of these, ride into the center of an imaginary 20 meter circle at either end of the arena. Do this when adjusting the stirrups or tightening your girth – anything which involves your horse standing still.

Watch out for anyone riding across the diagonal who may be about to ride through your ‘circle.’  When you’re beginning to ride, the more experienced horse people will be lenient if you don’t always notice.

Distance From Other Horses

Try to keep a distance of 10 feet from the other horses. This may not always be possible, and again the more advanced riders will understand that you don’t have as much control as they do.

If you are trying to do the right thing, you’ll be quickly forgiven for any inadvertent ‘gaffes’ on your part.

Do You Keep Losing Your Stirrups?

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A common problem when you start taking horseback riding lessons is keeping your feet in the stirrups. They have a habit of slipping out, making you lose balance and feel unsafe.

This is pretty scary early on in your horseback riding training because you’re unable to concentrate on controlling the horse while you ’fish’ for that lost iron.

Here’s an exercise to help.

Work Without Stirrups

When a stirrup comes off one foot is supported and the other is left dangling. You lean more on the supported foot and you’re now sitting crookedly which feels precarious.

Halt your horse, and place each stirrup iron across the front of the saddle. Stretch both legs downwards, then put your heels down as if your feet were still in the stirrups. Relax and ask your horse to walk, using your legs as normal. Ride round the arena, and follow this with large circles in both directions.

Center your weight in the saddle. This exercise will highlight any uneven distribution of pressure on your seat-bones and is a chance for you to correct it.

Taking Back Your Stirrups

Uncross your stirrups and place the balls of your feet on the treads. The leathers feel too short, don’t they? You may want to take them down a hole, but it’ll be easier for you to rest both feet evenly in them now.

You lose an iron when you bring your knee up while riding instead of lengthening the leg. If both feet come out, you’re pulling both knees up – and probably gripping the saddle with them.

Riding without stirrups lengthens both legs and centers your weight, so you place equal pressure on both stirrups.

Retrieving a Lost Stirrup

Learn to ‘find’ a lost stirrup without looking down. Stay calm and turn your toe inwards while seeking the iron. It takes a bit of practice. Being able to get back your stirrups without having to halt the horse is very useful and will stop you from worrying every time your foot slips out.

Any time you lose a stirrup, take it as a useful sign that you need to readdress your position in the saddle.