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Initial Training Of Horse And Rider

( Originally Published 1940 )

THE HORSE should be most carefully selected. It should be a very quiet, gentle, well-broken one, preferably about fifteen hands high (a "hand" is four inches)—that is, from ground to top of withers (top of shoulders).

The animal should weigh about one thousand pounds. For the beginner, the preferred age of the horse should be about ten years, as such a horse, being long accustomed to being mounted and rid-den, is most apt to be steady and unexcitable. And, of course, the horse should be physically sound and in good condition.

Certain types of horses should never be selected for the beginner. Among these are buckers, stumblers, runaways, jibbers (horses that want to go their way and not where the rider wishes), rearers, "green" horses (those still unbroken or mainly so), nervous or excitable horses, kickers, "star gazers" (those that poke their noses up while being ridden and see nothing ahead and are apt to run into any-thing). Especially eliminate "pullers" (hard-mouthed horses).


The whole point can be summed up by saying the entire purpose should be to start the beginner off with such a gentle, steady horse that the initial timidity (a natural one in every human being in learning to ride) shall not be turned into positive dread or fear of horses. Needless to say, no jokes should ever be played on a person first learning to ride. It takes a very long time for initial fright to wear away—sometimes months, sometimes even years. And accidents are to be most carefully avoided.


A suitable horse, therefore, should stand quietly while being bridled and saddled, should stand equally quiet while being mounted, should stand still while the rider is sitting in the saddle without giving the horse any indication, by reins or legs or spurs, to move.

The animal should go forward at a calm walk, trot, canter, gallop and lope, without the rider's having to grip both reins in two hands and lug; and, by the way, whenever referring to the reins of a saddle horse say "reins" and never call them "lines." Lines are only used in driving teams.

The horse should be one that will stop with very light pressure (pull) on the reins. A lugger is clumsy, apt to stumble and fall, or, what is infinitely worse, bolt away at full speed ahead, into anything before it; and the horse should be what we call "rein wise," or, as some term this, "bridle wise"—meaning the same thing. This means that the animal should be so well broken as to turn to right or left or wholly around to the rear by the rider's pressing the opposite rein against the horse's neck (both reins being held in one hand, of course). No well-broken horse worthy of the name of saddler should ever need to have the rider pull on only one rein to turn him to right or left or rear. And no rider should ever use such a method when riding a good, trained saddler. That is, suppose we wish to turn the horse to the left. Both (in one hand, of course) reins are carried to the left. The left rein becomes loose (dangling, almost) while the right-hand rein presses against the horse's neck on the right side thereof, and (believe it or not) the properly trained saddle horse will turn instantly to the left. That is being "rein wise.


The initial training of the new rider should proceed along the following lines. First, let the beginner stand off to one side and watch a good rider ride the horse at a walk, trot, canter (lope—slow gallop) and gallop; even at a run.

Observe how the horse stands when being mounted, especially how easily he stops from fast gaits (the horse should stop by sliding on its hind feet and never by clumsily stopping with lowered head and all its weight on its front feet. Such a horse is very apt to be headstrong, a puller or, what is worse, a dangerous stumbler).

Watch how much "pull" the rider has to exert on his reins to stop the horse; and whether or not the animal is rein wise (as described above). Then watch how still the horse stands when the rider stops and dismounts.

From what has been said before, the new rider will now know for himself or herself, a lot about that particular horse. If all is satisfactory, then the beginner should quietly mount the animal and sit still, getting "oriented" (that is, settled in the saddle with feet in the stirrups and reins properly held).

DON'T TRY TO MOVE FORWARD AT ONCE. Get really settled and accustomed first to saddle and horse and how to hold the reins.


The stirrups should be so adjusted (as to length) so that the rider's leg from thigh to knee is about at the same angle as the slope of the horse's shoulder. The rider's leg from knee to foot should hang vertically. The ball of the rider's foot should rest on the tread of the stirrup, and THE HEEL OF THE RIDER SHOULD BE ABOUT TWO INCHES LOWER THAN THE BALL OF HIS FOOT. The cowboy, riding the cattle range, uses a rather longer length of stirrup, while the cross-country rider who is jumping fences uses a somewhat shorter one. Do NOT turn your heels inward toward the horse. Keep your feet as nearly parallel to the horse's sides as you can, AND MAKE THIS A HABIT. There is a reason, which will be stated later on.

Sit in the center of the saddle and NOT against its cantle (rear end of saddle). Sit erect without stiffness, the small of your back flexible BUT NOT BOWED. Do not sink in your chest or sit with your stomach poked loosely forward. 'Sit on your buttocks and NOT on your crotch. Allow your ankles to work freely and do not hold them rigid at any time.

What we call "hands." By this term we mean how you handle your reins. A rider has either "light" or "heavy" hands, "good" or "bad" hands. Adjust your reins so they are of equal length and so that you have a light feel of the horse's mouth through the reins. Do not hold a tight rein or, a very loose one—about medium. And always remember that the reins are not there to hold you in the saddle, but wholly to control and guide the horse.

It is often good to use a rein in each hand when first learning (for a few of the preliminary days until you get feeling a little firmer in the saddle) , but, after that, learn to hold the reins in one hand for all ordinary riding; and allow your wrists and arms to be flexible, never stiffened. The horse's head has to move forward and back, upward and downward, and your hands must follow and not retard these natural movements.


Practice mounting and dismounting repeatedly, with the horse standing at a halt. Mount from what we call the "near" (left) side of your horse. Gather your reins in your left hand, grasp a lock of the mane with your left hand, shove your left foot. into the "near" (left) stirrup, put your right hand on the pommel of the saddle.

Rise with a light spring from your right foot by leaping therefrom straight upward, facing the horse's side. Make such a spring that you end by standing up in your left stirrup on your left foot, left leg now straight (never bend it at the knee while standing in this position). Now swing your right leg over the horse's croup (the part of the horse behind the saddle) and sit down QUIETLY and easily in the saddle. Now shove your right foot into your right stirrup, gather your reins in your left hand (leaving your right hand free to be used as necessary), and toss the "bight" (ends) of your reins to the "off" (right) side of your horse's neck.

You are now properly mounted. The right hand drops by your side, loosely.


Riding is done by means of three things, all of which combine at one and the same time. BALANCE, FRICTION, and STIRRUPS. Balance, learning to allow your body to sway with the horse's movements. Friction, the clinching with the INNER (never the backs) of the thighs. Stirrups, as a final support in balance. DON'T CLINCH WITH THE CALVES OF YOUR LEGS, with your spurs turned in against the horse's flanks. This would make a horse run, even bolt, and you destroy your friction (thigh grip), as the great adductor muscles of your thigh are on the INNER sides of your thighs and NOT on their rear sides. It is with these strong adductor muscles that a rider's legs can clinch, and he cannot clinch without using them. USE THEM PROPERLY.

This first set of instructions should be read over and thought out slowly and carefully, and it is a very great advantage to have a very quiet horse at hand to practice with. Reckless daring has its place in riding, but that place is never during the beginner's first stages of learning.

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