Horse Riding Lessons Blog

When Are You Ready to Compete in Horse Shows?

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Learning horse riding, for beginners, is usually with the aim of either trail riding or competing at horse shows.

If you’re taking horseback riding instructions because you want to compete, you’re probably wondering when you can enter your first horse show.

The answer is: sooner than you think.

Available Levels of Show

You may imagine that competitions are only for professional riders: but this is simply not true. There are many more riding shows for lower level riders than top performers, because there are so many more ‘grass roots’ rather than advanced riders.

Which is good news for you: it means you’ll easily find a local show catering to your level of experience.

Where to Begin

If your eventual goal is to take part in jumping competitions, it makes sense to start with dressage shows. Horse riding for beginners teaches the basics of dressage which you need before you can jump, so use that expertise in the show ring.

As soon as you’ve mastered the basics of walk and trot, prepare for your first show. There are two dressage tests designed for the beginning competitor: USDF Introductory Level Test A and Test B. These tests require only walk and trot including twenty meter circles, and halt: your instructor or a more advanced friend who competes can help you learn to ride the sequence of movements correctly.

Watch Some Shows

Before you enter a show, go to a few as a spectator to get a feel for what goes on. Watch riders competing at the Introductory Level and look out for what they do well and where they need improvement. This will help you judge your own performance at home and how ready you and your horse are to compete.

Discuss Your Plans

Tell your instructor that you want to show at the Introductory Level and ask her to help you plan for a successful outing. In subsequent posts I’ll be giving you tips on how to prepare for a show.

If your long-term riding goal is to show, then the sooner you get out in public the better. You’ll learn to deal with stage fright early on in the game and quickly become a seasoned campaigner.

What is ‘Warm-Up’?

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You will often hear the term ‘warm-up’ when you learn horse riding. It applies to both dressage and jumping riders, and it’s useful to know what it means and how it affects you.

Purpose of Warm-Up

The equine athlete needs to warm up his muscles before strenuous exercise in the same way as a human athlete.

Horses are big animals and we don’t think of them as being prone to muscle ache or tendon pulls. But they get hurt as easily as humans and it takes many months (and expensive vet bills) to bring a horse back into work when it’s pulled a tendon, ligament or suspensory.

How the Beginner Rider Can Warm Up a Horse

As you become a more advanced rider, your warm-up techniques will become more sophisticated. But there are many things you can do to warm-up your horse even when you first learn horse riding.

1. In an earlier blog I explained how to stretch your horse easily before riding. No matter what your current level of riding is, you can do this.

Before putting the bridle on your horse (or if he’s tacked up already, make sure he can open his mouth easily) ask him to follow your hand, holding a treat, as you move it towards his girth area. Give him the treat when he’s bent his head as far as is comfortable for him. Make sure he bends his head and neck and doesn’t swivel his body round! Repeat this on the other side.

Then see how far he can bend his head and neck between his legs to get another treat.

Older, more arthritic horses will not be able to bend very far, so be considerate of your horse’s comfort zone.

2.   When you have mounted and adjusted your girth and stirrups, ask your horse to walk forwards on a light contact. Move him round the arena, then ask for large circles in both directions. The horse should walk energetically for about ten minutes to get rid of any stiffness and accustom him to your weight, before you ask him for trot.

Two Extra Riding Tips

1.   Always give your horse ‘breathers’ in walk between vigorous work sessions.

2.   When you’ve finished working your horse, allow him to cool down with ten minutes of walk on a long rein.

If you follow these guidelines as you learn horse riding, you’ll help your horse avoid injury while creating a fair and comfortable environment for him to work in.

Setting Yourself Goals Each Time You Ride

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There are so many things to concentrate on when learning how to ride a horse,  that you can easily feel overwhelmed by them.

Breaking It Down

The first stage with any huge task is to divide it into manageable parts and this works well when learning how to ride a horse, too.

Your goal is to ride the horse competently in walk, trot and canter. To do that, you must first learn how to sit in the saddle correctly and ask the horse to move forwards.

Getting Started

Here is a useful breakdown of the beginning elements of how to ride a horse. Slowly work on performing each task correctly and you’ll not only build up your skills, but also become more confident around your horse. 

  • Lead the horse into the arena
  • Mount
  • Adjust the stirrup length
  • Adopt correct seat position
  • Retighten the girth once in the saddle
  • Hold the reins correctly
  • Ask the horse to walk on
  • Turn and halt the walking horse

If you take your time learning these basics during your riding lessons they’ll become second nature to you.

Setting Goals for Each Lesson

Be very patient with yourself and set only a few goals per lesson. To start, pick something you find easy, and work on that until you’re satisfied. It may simply be the act of mounting the horse correctly without hitting his rump with your leg, landing heavily on his back, or jabbing his mouth with the reins when you swing into the saddle.

Be pleased with yourself when you manage to mount smoothly, then make your next goal relaxing in the saddle and adopting the correct position.

Take everything in easy stages and don’t be hard on yourself if something takes longer to master than you feel it should. Everyone is different, so don’t measure your success by comparing your progress with other beginner riders.

 A useful book for you to download which will show you how to split the riding process into six easy stages, is Horse Riding Lessons: Teaching Yourself to Ride.  It comes with photo illustrations and a video which shows you how to perform the riding exercises outlined in the six progressive riding lessons.

And don’t forget to enjoy the journey to becoming more proficient in the saddle!

Which is the Best Horse Breed for Beginner Riders?

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Integrating Horse Riding Online Information into Your Riding Schedule

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For virtually every situation you encounter in the saddle there will be others who’ve been through the same issues. And luckily for you, a lot of those people will have posted their experiences of horse riding online for you to find.

Of course, your first resource will always be the person from whom you are taking horseback lessons. This trainer knows you and your horse better than a faceless online writer, and should be your initial point of contact when you encounter a problem or have a riding question.

But sometimes you’ll want to know how others have dealt with the issue, and compare notes or take advice from someone who’s been there, done that, and succeeded in overcoming it.


These are a good place to find answers to your questions. Simply put ‘horse forums’ into your browser and you’ll find a host of places where you can look up existing answers to your questions or post a question of your own.

You will be surprised at the number of responses you receive.

However, you need to be discerning about which to believe and which to take with a pinch of salt. Don’t be afraid to tell your trainer what you’ve found out. He or she will be pleased that you take your riding seriously and will be happy to help sort out the good from the bad advice.

If this doesn’t seem like a good route for you – perhaps you don’t see eye to eye with your trainer on something – then post the same question on several forums to see how many replies agree with the ones you got from the original forum.

You can always ask me a question, too!