More Americans of all ages are riding for pleasure today than at any time since the automobile replaced the horse. For readers who may be contemplating the mysteries and rewards of this year-round sport, either for themselves or their children, Sports Illustrated herewith presents a two-part series on the principles of riding. It has been prepared by Gordon Wright, America's leading teacher of the art, whose most recent book 'Horsemanship' appeared this year. The illustrations are by Sam Savitt, a former pupil of Wright
Whether you are 6 or 60, you can earn to ride a horse. If you learn to ride slowly and correctly, you will ride well and your pleasure in the sport will be greatly enhanced. You will need a well-behaved horse and some supervision. Both are obtainable in most cities from livery stables and in the country at camps or from friends. You also will find that an advance understanding of what you and the horse do, separately and together, will make learning easier for both of you. That is the purpose of this series. While there are several styles of riding and almost as many types of saddles, the authors feel that the basic principles illustrated in this series are fundamental to all of them. Remember that even the longest journey still begins with the first step. In this case it is a step up. Turn the page to see just how this is accomplished.
What you...and the horse...should wear
It is not necessary to buy a $500 riding habit to learn to ride, but clothes suited to the sport will help you, while the wrong ones can be a real handicap. Consequently, the right kind of clothing should be bought or borrowed before a foot is put into the stirrup. Starting from the ground up, that foot should be in a boot or at least a stout, laced oxford (jodhpur boots cost $6 up). Limber shoes, such as loafers or sneakers, develop bad habits (trying to keep the heel of this type of shoe from "dropping off" causes tensions) and may be hazardous. Jodhpurs do not have to be tailor-made (a wash pair can be obtained for as little as $10), but they should fit well. If it is necessary to use blue jeans, be sure to wear long underwear. Unless you have this protection you are likely to wind up with raw knees which cannot be kept in proper riding position. A riding jacket is not essential to start with—any jacket of roughly hip length that is roomy and not constricting will do. In these drawings we have eliminated gloves in order to illustrate the hands more clearly, but they should be worn regardless of the temperature. A string or pigskin glove will help you avoid blisters.
The basic equipment for your horse is a saddle and a snaffle bridle. (Later, if you wish to buy your own horse and tack, a new and suitable saddle costs from $60, a bridle from $13.) The elements of the bridle and saddle you will need to know to follow this series are (below): the pommel, the cantle and the stirrups, which hang on straps that are adjustable in length to fit the rider. The bridle has reins attached to a bit in the horse's mouth, which enables you to stop or steer the horse.
On the ground
Attendants at livery stables and riding schools are likely to lead your horse up to a mounting block and summarily hoist you aboard. Don't let them. There is more to horsemanship than riding, and correct ground procedure should be learned first. A horse is traditionally approached and led from the left side, which is also known as the near side. Get acquainted with your horse by stepping up alongside the horse's left shoulder and taking the reins about six inches under the bit. Then, with your body facing the same direction as the horse, walk slowly forward. Look straight ahead—not at the horse. He will walk beside you or behind you and not on you. In this position you are safe from kicks and bites and still have control of the animal. The closer you stand to the horse the safer you are—the quietest will sometimes kick at a fly and hit you if you are in the way. There is no reason to fear your horse, but that does not mean you should take him for granted. Any horse is capable of inflicting injury, but most accidents are the result of the rider's carelessness or ignorance.
Arranging the reins
Control of the horse at all times is highly important, and this means keeping a firm hand on the reins. Now that you have walked your horse, you are ready to mount. The first thing to do is get the reins in order. They are of equal length, and there is a seam or buckle that marks the center spot. Find that seam and with the right hand (left) pull the rein so that the slack is taken up on the off side. Then bring the left hand up until it meets the right rein on the horse's neck just in front of the withers, and take both reins in the left hand (above). Be sure that the leftover reins, known as the bight, are neatly arranged alongside the shoulder of the horse so as not to get caught in the stirrup.
Now—get on that horse!
In arranging the reins in your left hand, you have shifted the position of your body so that you are facing slightly to the rear. Your rein hand should be resting easily on the horse's neck, a few inches ahead of the pommel (placing your hand too close to the pommel can result in pinched fingers). Now, without letting go of the reins, open the fingers of your left hand far enough to get a handful of the horse's mane. This will give you more stability and will keep you from jerking the horse's mouth if you at first find yourself using the reins as a strap in pulling yourself aboard. Take the top of the stirrup in your right hand and turn it toward you (below left); then thrust your left foot all the way into it—"home" as horsemen say—so that the metal is against the heel of your boot. You are now ready for two forceful movements—a hop followed by a spring. The hop off the right foot will swing you around to face the horse and enable you to grasp the cantle of the saddle with your right hand. The spring, also off the right leg, follows immediately. With a good spring an adult can stand up straight in the left stirrup, but if you are shorter, like the girl pictured here, you will have to pull with your arms as well. While performing this maneuver, keep the toe of the left foot—the one in the stirrup—pointed downward and the leg in close to the horse. Otherwise you may nudge the horse in his side with the toe of the boot. So now you are halfway there. Your weight is distributed between your arms and your left leg. Now lean on your left arm and move your right hand from the cantle to the off, or right-hand side, of the pommel. At the same time swing your right leg over the horse's back and let yourself down into the saddle. Presto! You're aboard. Then place your right foot in the stirrup, take the reins in both hands and you are ready to ride. The process we have described here actually takes only about 10 seconds, but you will need to practice it a good many times to make all the motions smoothly. Don't be discouraged if it seems awkward at first. Even a small girl, as these illustrations show, can learn to get on an average-size horse easily—and without any assistance.
This series of drawings shows the actual steps involved in mounting a horse correctly. You will notice that the rider holds some mane along with the reins. In the second drawing you can see that the left hand drops a bit as the rider pulls to help herself up—but there is no change in the tension of the reins. If a sizable swatch of mane is held it does not hurt the horse, but jerking on his mouth will.
One of the critical moments in mounting a horse correctly comes after you have straightened up in the left stirrup and are preparing to swing your right leg over the animal's back. The knee should be straightened midway through the swing, and the toe pointed forward and up. This will save the horse from a kick in the rump, and the rider from possible loss of balance which in turn could result in a fall.
View from above of mounting shows the position of the right hand after it has been moved from the cantle. The rider has not yet let herself down into the saddle. Note that right ankle is cocked to help leg clear horse.
Getting a leg up
Once you have learned to mount a horse unassisted, it is permissible to allow an instructor or friend to "give you a leg up." For this procedure, you again take the reins in the left hand and grasp the mane just in front of the withers. Place your right hand on the cantle, and stand close to and facing the side of the horse. Bend your left leg at the knee so your helper can grip it, as shown in the drawing at right. Then comes a combined and coinciding effort—you spring off your right foot and your aide boosts you upward, keeping your left leg and knee pressed close to the saddle. The lift must be high enough to allow your right leg to swing clear of the croup. Your right hand moves on saddle as when mounting unassisted.
Getting yourself down
Now that you're in the saddle, your next move—before the horse ever takes a step—is to get out of it. Dismounting is very much like mounting, only in reverse. Gather the reins in the left hand and place it on the horse's neck. Next, place your right hand below the pommel, remove the right foot from the stirrup and pass the right leg over the horse's back without touching it.
Shift your right hand to the cantle and keep the weight of body on hands. Remove left foot from stirrup and descend lightly to ground.
Even when descending, you should be in a position to maintain control of the horse. Don't push yourself away from the animal, but slide down his side. Note the position of the right hand and arm (far right). If horse moves you can shift weight to that arm and have your left hand free to prevent movement.
Preparing to ride
Having learned to mount and dismount, you are ready to start riding. But first you need to understand the proper arrangement and balance of the various parts of your body—in a word, position. You can achieve the proper position to be used in motion while the horse is standing still—it is basically the same for the walk, the trot, the canter. Here is what you must do: keep your head up and eyes ahead; keep your back straight but not stiff and your hands and arms flexible; your elbows should be bent, with the reins held in front of the horse's withers, hands about two inches apart, and high enough to make a straight line from the horse's mouth to your elbows. Your seat and thighs should be in close contact with the horse. The ball of each foot is in the stirrup, with heels down.
Holding the reins
Ordinarily you should keep both hands on the reins. However, occasions may arise when it is necessary to hold them in one—the left. The two drawings below show how to hold the single rein, or snaffle, in both hands or in one. The drawings at the right show how to handle double reins. The top rein is still the snaffle, and the second is called the curb.
Draw the snaffle through the palm of the hand. Hold firmly between the thumb and the middle joint of the forefinger.
To transfer rein from the right hand to the left, pass the right hand behind and under the left and slip it into the palm of hand.
Loop the snaffle around little finger. Loop the curb rein around the second and third, holding both between first and second.
To shift double reins, place the right hand behind the left and slip the left forefinger between the snaffle and the curb reins.
Using a crop
In general, you will not need to use a crop until you are ready to trot or canter, so for the sake of clarity we have not shown one in the rider's hand. The crop (also called bat, whip or stick) is an aid, as are your voice and legs, to urge the horse onward. Not all horses need to feel a crop; for some, simply seeing one in the rider's hand is enough inspiration. You will note that the crop is carried in the right hand, along with the rein. If you need to use it, take the rein in your left hand, making sure that you have and can maintain control. Then use your bat briskly behind the girth.
Adjusting the equipment
If you feel your saddle slipping, stop. Put your left leg in front of the saddle on the horse's shoulder, with your weight in right stirrup and the reins in the right hand. Fold skirt of saddle forward under your calf, as shown below, or over your thigh. The straps on the saddle to which girth is buckled are called billets. Take hold of a billet and pull upward, past the desired hole, then let it slip back into position. Do the same thing with the other billet, making sure that billets are flat when you have finished.
To shorten or lengthen the stirrup before mounting, loop the reins around your left arm (right); then reach up under the flap and pull the buckle downward—it works like any belt buckle. After adjusting to the proper length, check to see that the buckle is fastened; then pull downward on the understrap and the buckle will slide in place.
Gordon Wright explains and Sam Savitt illustrates what horse and rider do at a walk, trot and canter