Riding a horse is a lot of fun! Whether you want to enjoy this experience on vacation or as a regular leisure activity, you’ll want to learn a bit about the process before your first time. 

Get our 13 best tips on horseback riding for beginners in this guide. 

Horseback riding in the woods.

1. Make a Plan 

Although you may daydream about riding a horse, you’ll never actually get on one in real life if you don’t make a plan. Many travel destinations offer horseback riding as an activity option. Choose a place to go and research their offerings. 

At Wild West Rafting, we accept riders of all skill levels for 1- or 2-hour guided rides near Yellowstone. You can plan for just a horseback outing or enjoy riding and rafting with one of our Saddle and Paddle trips

2. Trust Your Guide

When learning from a guide or more experienced rider, listen closely to their instructions and trust their knowledge. The personnel you ride with will be knowledgeable about your specific horses, trails, and circumstances. 

They can also give you personalized tips on how to ride a horse. Work with them to stay safe and have a good time. 

3. Dress for Riding 

The right outfit isn’t just about looking good. Horses are very forgiving when it comes to fashion sense. However, proper dress when riding a horse ensures comfort and safety. 

Always wear long pants and closed-toed shoes to protect your legs and feet. Boots with a small heel (like a cowboy boot) provide better grip when using a stirrup to mount or dismount. For skin protection, you should also wear a hat and sunscreen. 

Other outfit elements depend on the weather. A comfortable short-sleeved or long-sleeved shirt should be worn on top. Depending on the season, you may also want a warm jacket, rain gear, or bug repellent.

A young girl hugging a horse.

4. Greet Your Horse 

A horse isn’t a simple piece of equipment you might use when participating in other sports or leisure activities. They’re living beings with their own needs and personalities. For a good horse-riding experience, you need to get to know the horse and be mindful of their needs during your ride. 

Before you mount a horse, say hello with a traditional “horseman’s handshake.” Extend your arm and wait for the horse to smell the back of your hand. This exchange allows you to become familiar with one another and build mutual trust.

5. Mount Your Horse

When you’re ready to begin your ride, confidently mount your horse. This helps you build trust with the horse while helping them remain calm. On a guided tour, your guide will hold the horse’s head still for ease and comfort for both of you.  

To mount, start on the horse’s left side—this is the side most tour horses are used to—and put your left foot in the stirrup. Hold the reins in your left hand and propel yourself up with your right leg. You can put your hands on the horse for balance, but don’t strain the animal by pushing all your weight onto your hands.  

6. Maintain Good Posture and Balance

Now that you’re up on the horse, good posture and balance are key for a smooth and comfortable ride. Sit up straight and tall, with square shoulders and a relaxed back. Keep your feet in the stirrups and your hands on the reins. 

To make the ride comfortable for both you and the horse, engage your core for balance. This way, you can easily move with the horse’s movements without tilting too far or putting too much pressure on the horse.

Close-up of man sitting on horse with sunglare

7. Be Gentle with the Reins 

Reins are tools for communication with a horse. You shouldn’t ever pull or tug on them so harshly that you could cause harm. Instead, handle them gently to share information. 

To indicate a turn to the left, lead the reins to the left. To indicate a turn to the right, lead the reins to the right. You don’t need to pull them up to do this—keep them level and swing them gently like you’re opening a door. You can indicate a stop by gently pulling the reins down. 

8. Be Mindful of Your Feet 

While riding a horse, always keep your feet in your stirrups. This helps you maintain balance and enables proper communication with your steed. Your instructions with the reins should pair with instructions from your feet. 

Put gentle pressure on the stirrups in tandem with the guide from the reins. Pressure on the left indicates a turn to the left; pressure on the right indicates a turn to the right. To indicate a slow down or stop, apply pressure on both sides. 

Three young women riding horses on dirt road in forest.

9. Watch Your Path

Horses, the beautiful creatures they are, can be mesmerizing, especially during your first ride. However, you should focus on your path rather than your horse. Traditional wisdom says to look straight ahead through the horse’s ears. 

Don’t get too focused on a specific sight line that you miss important information. Keep your gaze ahead and watch for what is coming next, such as a turn or an obstacle. On a guided tour, be mindful of your guide ahead of you and other riders around you. They may see upcoming issues that you can’t. 

10. Check on Emotions

Working as a team with your horse is an important part of horseback riding. To do this, you must keep your emotions in check. Horses are intelligent, intuitive animals, and they can tell if you are letting your nerves or other emotions guide you. 

Stay calm and present to make the ride enjoyable. When making decisions, consider your horse’s needs and feelings. You want the animal to have a good experience as well.

Family riding on horseback through the hills.

11. Pace Yourself 

Take your first ride slowly. At each step, take your time to understand what to do and where to go. Don’t worry about being the best or fastest. Just focus on being safe and having a good time. 

Your guide can help if you need any extra support. Most guided riding sessions for beginners only last for an hour or two. If you want to experience more time with a horse, you can always come back again. 

12. Dismount Your Horse

At the end of your ride, finish strong with a proper dismount. Like mounting a horse, smooth movements and confidence will benefit your relationship and trust with the animal. You don’t want to be a rude guest, ruining the event with an impolite goodbye. 

Wait until you have stopped fully and are in a safe place to dismount. A guide can hold your horse steady. When ready, remove both feet from the stirrups and swing your right leg over the horse to meet your left leg on the ground. 

13. Keep Learning 

If you enjoyed horseback riding for the first time, keep at it! The more experience you have, the easier all these steps will become. Repeated experience with a specific horse or location can build your confidence over time. 

Now that you have these tips on horseback riding, we encourage you to experience your first ride at Wild West Rafting! Our beautiful location in the Montana mountains near Yellowstone is the perfect place to enjoy the view from the back of a horse. Book an experience today.