Possessing basic horse-riding skills means you can travel where vehicles can’t while holding your own in high society. It’s also a killer man-skill and exhilarating as hell.
Rowan Tweddle, senior equestrian coach at The Equestrian School at Gleneagles, describes it as “the ultimate experience of mindfulness … On the back of a horse, you are in communication with a half-ton of power that can carry you at speeds of up to 25 mph and jump over a meter off the ground, yet will rest its head in your arms on the ground.”
Below, Tweddle breaks down the basics of horseback riding for gentlemen. The Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland where Tweddle teaches is a five-star luxury hotel with three championship golf courses, an award-winning spa, and the only restaurant in Scotland to hold two Michelin stars. So yeah, you’re learning from the best.
English Riding vs. Western Riding
Yes, there is a difference between Western riding and English riding, aka doing it like a gent. English Riding is actually harder (sorry, Eastwood).
“Western trail riding is a more passive experience with a chair-like saddle and horn arrangement that hold the rider firmly in place,” says Tweddle. “Typically, Western trail ride horses follow each other in a line with little input from their rider. English-style riding requires more balance and skill as the saddle is very much flatter and there is no horn to hold. The rider needs to guide the horse with the legs, body, and hands.”
“English-style riding requires more balance and skill … The rider needs to guide the horse with the legs, body, and hands.”
How to Pick the Right Horse
For first-time riders, Tweddle suggests picking a horse that, for all purposes, is chill. “Temperament is of paramount importance; the horse should be calm and non-reactive to unintentional signals that the first-time rider may give. The horse should also be an appropriate size and build for the rider’s weight, as a rough guide a rider should be no more than 10 percent to 15 percent of the horse’s body weight.”
How to Saddle Up
- Have someone help position the horse with its left-hand side at a mounting block or a step that is at least two feet high.
- Take up the reins in the left hand and place the left foot in the stirrup iron, with the right hand holding the front of the saddle.
- Stand up on the left stirrup, swing the right leg up over the back of the saddle, and lower gently onto the saddle.
- Both feet should be put into the stirrup irons. The helper may adjust the stirrup leathers so your leg has an angle at the back of the knee of slightly more than 90 degrees and check the girth is secure.
- Sit straight up with your seat in the deepest part of the saddle. The stirrup irons should be on the ball of your feet, in line with the knee, and with the heel slightly lower than the toe. The reins are held one in each hand with the thumbs on top pointing forwards and the smallest finger behind the reins. There should be gentle contact on the reins through to the bit which is in the horse’s mouth.
How to Steer
- To go forward: Squeeze the horse with the calves.
- To slow down: Tighten the muscles of the seat and thighs while gently applying a little pressure down the reins.
- To steer: Turn your head and body in the direction you wish to go so the horse can feel the weight change on the saddle. Then, press the horse’s side with the leg you wish the horse to move away from, and at the same time open the reins away from the horse’s neck in the direction of travel. For example: left leg presses and right rein opens to turn right.
How to Communicate
Riding is “two-way communication between a predator and a prey animal,” Tweddle explains. “Learn to listen to your horse and ask; don’t bully. Remember, the horse will find it easiest to carry you and so can respond better to your signals if you sit up, engage your core, and be careful not to make contradictory signals.”
Riding is “two-way communication between a predator and a prey animal,” Tweddle explains. “Learn to listen to your horse and ask.”
What to Wear
Tweedle suggests, “Sturdy shoes or boots with a smooth sole (cleated soles can become caught in stirrup irons) and a protective helmet that conforms to current standards. Long trousers are preferable over shorts, and the rest of the outfit can be selected merely to suit weather conditions.”
Protecting Your Nether Regions
You may be thinking, “How long should I ride before needing to protect my guys?”According to Tweddle, gentlemen do not need any special protection apart from “a snug pair of elasticated underpants, a smooth-striding horse, and a sympathetic instructor.” This combination “will ensure there is no threat to unborn generations.”
However, he also says general muscle aches will occur after horse riding as it would with any new sport. “These will dissipate as the rider attains fitness,” Tweddle assures.