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7 Terms to Know Before You Ride a Horse for the First Time

If you are just starting to take riding lessons, you will soon realize that there is a lot to learn, and a lot of new words!

The horse world is filled with its own special lingo, and learning it can almost feel like learning a second language. Knowing the terms on this list will help make your initial experience in the saddle a little bit easier.

first time on a horse.

1. Mounting Block

You have probably seen movies and TV shows where people easily hop onto a horse with no struggle and ride off. The reality is that mounting a horse is not that simple for everyone. Some horses are very tall, which can make it difficult to get your foot up to the stirrup. And it takes quite a bit of leg strength to then gracefully propel yourself into the saddle. Mounting from the ground like this can also be very hard on a horse’s back. For these reasons, it is often recommended for riding students to use a mounting block to help them get on. These are usually blocks of two or three steps, or a stepping stool, to get the rider closer to the same level as the stirrup for mounting. This puts much less of a strain on the horse’s back, and is easier for the rider as well. Keep in mind that just because someone can mount a horse from the ground, doesn’t always mean that they should.

You have probably seen movies and TV shows where people easily hop onto a horse with no struggle and ride off. The reality is that mounting a horse is not that simple for everyone. Some horses are very tall, which can make it difficult to get your foot up to the stirrup. And it takes quite a bit of leg strength to then gracefully propel yourself into the saddle. Mounting from the ground like this can also be very hard on a horse’s back. For these reasons, it is often recommended for riding students to use a mounting block to help them get on. These are usually blocks of two or three steps, or a stepping stool, to get the rider closer to the same level as the stirrup for mounting. This puts much less of a strain on the horse’s back, and is easier for the rider as well. Keep in mind that just because someone can mount a horse from the ground, doesn’t always mean that they should.

a horse, rider, and riding instructor in an airy indoor riding arena.
In your first riding lesson, your instructor should teach you the basic vocabulary of a stable.

3. Halt and Whoa

One of the most important aids for a new rider to learn is how to stop their horse. When riding, stopping the horse will usually be referred to as a “halt.” The verbal cue for a halt is to say “whoa.” This should be one of the first things taught to you when you get on the horse. It is very important to know both the word to signal to you that your horse needs to stop, as well as the cue for your horse.

4. Inside/Outside

The words “inside” and “outside” are used often when riding, but not in the way you are probably used to. When riding, the word “inside” refers to the side of the horse nearest the middle of the arena or circle. If you are making left-hand turns around the arena, then the left side of the horse would be referred to as “inside.” In this scenario, the right side of the horse would then be the “outside,” since it is the side nearest the wall. These words are used frequently to give riders instructions, such as to use their inside leg or outside rein to aid the horse.

5. Shortening/Lengthening Reins

New riders will hear the terms “shortening” and “lengthening” often while they are learning to ride. When riding, you want to have your reins short enough to communicate with the horse, but loose enough that you are not hanging on their mouth. Beginners tend to end up with their reins either too short or too long when they are first starting out. Having your reins too long can make it difficult to steer and direct your horse. Reins that are too short will send mixed signals to the horse, and could cause them to refuse to move forward, start backing up, or tossing their head and trying to escape the pressure. It can take some time to get a feel for how short/long your reins should be, and each horse is different. Your instructor will help you out by letting you know when your reins need to be shortened or lengthened. To shorten your reins, you will need to move your hands down the reins a little at a time to take the excess slack out of the reins. Lengthening them means to move your hands back up the reins to create slack between your hands and the horse’s mouth.

6. Posting/Rising Trot

These are terms you will hear a lot if you are riding English. Western riders will use them too, but not necessarily as much. If you have watched others ride and noticed them rising up slightly in their stirrups and sitting back down with the strides of their horse while trotting, that is what is known as “posting.” The terms “posting” and “rising” at the trot both mean the same thing. Some horses trot very slowly and smoothly, and make it easy to remain sitting while at the trot. Other horses are much faster and can be very bouncy, which makes it difficult for the rider to sit the trot, especially if they are a beginner or not very balanced in the saddle. Posting can be a bit tricky to get the hang of at first, but will make trotting on a bouncy horse much easier once you get it figured out.

7. Diagonals

The term “diagonals” can actually mean two different things when riding. The first is used directionally. In this case, the diagonals are the invisible lines across the arena from one corner to its diagonal opposite. If you imagine a giant “x” drawn in the dirt of the arena, the lines would be the diagonals.

The other meaning of the term “diagonals” is connected to the previous paragraph on posting. In this meaning, the diagonals refer to which one of your horse’s front legs is off the ground when you rise up in the saddle. To be on the correct diagonal, you would rise up when the horse’s leg by the wall is also raised. So if the wall of the arena is on your right, you would rise and sit in unison with your horse’s right front leg. This can be a very confusing concept for new riders. It takes a lot of practice to be able to tell which leg is forward, especially while also trying to focus on posting and steering, so don’t worry if you don’t get it figured out right away. Just keep practicing! 

Conclusion

These seven terms barely scratch the surface of what you will learn about riding, but it is a great place to start. Keep in mind that you are never truly done learning when it comes to horses, so try not to feel overwhelmed by it. There are so many words/phrases/terms in the horse world, and they can vary depending on where you are. Never be afraid to ask if you don’t understand something or can’t remember. Every rider started out in the same place, just stay open to learning and you will reap the benefits!

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