6 weird ways to ride better

A horse is only as balanced and disciplined as its rider. Anyone who has spent a significant chunk of time in the saddle learns to be very aware of their body. Often, we know the little quirks we need to fix – sit up taller, put your heels down, look up – but turning those improvements into muscle memory can be challenging. Here are six fun and interesting tips to help you create good riding habits. Comment below with any of your own!

1. Stick loonies under your thumb

It’s good to ride with a soft hand, but your thumb needs to hold the reins securely so they don’t slip through your fingers. Stick loonies between your thumb and the rein. Concentrating on holding the coins in place will teach you to pinch the reins tightly between your thumb and the knuckle of your forefinger.

hands_driving2. Ride with a driving rein

If you brace on the reins or use them for balance, try this simple change: carry your reins like you’re driving a team of horses (see example to the right). This will immediately soften your wrists and forearm, making it impossible to brace on the reins. Eventually your muscles will make a habit of riding with a soft, elastic contact and your horse will thank you!

3. Hold newspapers under your arms

Holding arms your close to your body helps keep your elbows and wrists soft, so your hands can gently follow the movement of the horse’s head. If your horse doesn’t like to accept contact on the bit, check your elbows. If they’re sticking out like a chicken, they’re locked up and your horse can’t relax on the bit. Place rolled up newspapers under your arms and concentrate on holding them in place. It will help you form a habit of keeping your elbows close to your body.

4. Post with just one stirrup

If your saddle always slips to one side, you’re probably riding with more weight in that stirrup. Most people have one leg that’s stronger than the other. Mine is my right leg. When I post, I push off my right leg more than left. After about 15 minutes, I’ll notice my saddle sliding to the right. If you’re like me, here’s a simple fix. During your warm up, drop the stirrup on your strong leg and post the trot using only your weak leg. It’s pretty challenging at first – the stirrup under your weak leg will feel like its swinging all over the place. But after a few sessions, your leg will get stronger. Soon, you’ll be more balanced in both stirrups and your saddle with stop sliding.

5. Stick a towel under your butt cheek

If you tend to lean or collapse your body to one side, here’s a quick and easy trick to help you level out. Fold a dish cloth into a small square and stick it under your butt cheek on the side you lean into. That will teach you what a level pelvis feels like, and it will also lift your weight back into the centre of the saddle.

image6beyonce6. Pretend you’re Beyoncé

If you bounce all over the place at a sitting trot, you’re holding tension in your hips. Interestingly enough, the only way to sit still on your horse is to move! Swallow your pride and thrust those hips like you’re Beyoncé. Your hips should swing up with the up movement of the trot, and down with down beats. Concentrate on following the motion of the horse and pushing your pelvis into the the deepest part of your saddle. Trust me – you won’t look as silly as you feel.

79 thoughts on “6 weird ways to ride better

    • Between your knee wouldn’t be the best. Like Anon said, you’d be tempted to pinch your knee. Put it between your inner calf and the horse. That’s how they do it in Ride-a-Buck.

      • I was literally thinking of this as I read the article. Must’ve been the recurring “Stick something in the place you need better grip” theme. I used to ride with a loose leg, and because I pinched at the knee I lost the (what we call million dollar bareback) dollar and got disqualified almost immediately. I blame the fact that I was riding a plank (narrow) horse, but I know it’s because I had bad equitation lol

    • You want to learn this so you have control and grip, but arent aren’t squeezing with your legs whic can often confuse the horse….i may be wrong but i hope this helps!

  1. Your rider in the picture is holding the reins incorrectly and that is not addressed at all in this post. Reins should go between pinky and ring finger, behind fingers, then between index finger and thumb (likely why their reins are sliding)

    • Nope, the driving rein is intentional – keeps the rider from bracing on the reins and teaches them to ride with soft forearms.

      • Yep the driving rein is a perfect way to help riders and horses gain a soft following hand – helps the rider lift instead of pull and helps the horse to learn to seek the contact. The bit comes into the corner of the lips rather than acting on the sensitive tongue and bars of the mouth. In Ecole de Legerete School we teach this in the process of Action-Reaction – teaching the high headed horse to seek a downward feel on the contact – as the rider allows the reins to slip through when the horse stretches down. Not used for a horse that leans on the hands though. That would require a Demi Arret – (upward action on the corners of the mouth).

    • Yes, they did address that. They are saying to purposely hold the reins that way to stop hanging on the horse’s mouth. It is an “exercise” to help you have softer hands.

    • horsesandhounds, the reins are addressed in number #2
      2. Ride with a driving rein
      If you brace on the reins or use them for balance, try this simple change: carry your reins like you’re driving a team of horses (see example to the right). This will immediately soften your wrists and forearm, making it impossible to brace on the reins. Eventually your muscles will make a habit of riding with a soft, elastic contact and your horse will thank you!

      • Don’t understand this. Can’t see why having pinky in vs out would affect ability to brace with wrists and forearms…

    • did you read the article? You need to re read it. She is using a driving rein to address the riders problem.

    • Maybe what needs to be explained is that a “driving rein” is the reins going in through the top with it resting first between the knuckle of your forefinger and thumb and out through the ring finger and pinky… or holding your rein “upside down”… I use this training tip a lot for my dressage riders who want to pull on the horses lower jaw and make their wrists crooked…

    • You should read the article where the reason the reins were held this way was to STOP a rider from bracing on the horse’s mouth. Great idea! Not intended to demonstrate correct rein position

    • It is addressed when they say to hold the reins like you are driving to practice a softer hand.
      It is the second point.

    • Actually, it is addressed in this post- “carry your reins like you’re driving a team of horses..(see example to the right)” with the same picture as in the top picture to show a deonstration of the technique theyre talking about…..

    • I was thinking the same thing and did not understand why that would even be posted. That’s crucial for beginning riders.

    • Reread the blurb; holding the reins this way for a while will soften your arms if you tend to balance on your horse’s mouth with the reins!

    • I won all my equitation classes with the rein below the pinkie finger-rein behind the fingers and coming out between the index finger and the thump-The pinkie finger works like power brakes-very gentle.I rode a 1540 lb stallion and it was constantly moving.

  2. Your example picture is holding the reins incorrectly. Reins should go between pinky and ring finger, behind fingers, then between index finger and thumb (likely why they are having an issue with reins slipping).

    • Why would you want to have your reins in a position that should the horse do something and pull they can easily pull you forward or pinch your fingers between the reins? That’s what the position you’re trying to say is correct would do. The rider shown is holding the reins correctly.

      • No, the photo is NOT correct. It is simply showing an exercise to force you not to brace on the reins. The correct way is for your pinky to have the most contact with your reins, this is so you can communicate with your horse through a twitch of your finger or wrist, whereas if you hold the reins the way shown in the picture you have to use the force of your whole arm to get a response.

      • Far from it – the ‘correct’ way IS between little and ring finger with the thumb on top. This alternative method is shown to address the issue of stiffness in the wrists.

  3. Ride with your reins in opposite hands, left in right – right in left. Softens your contact, quiets noisy, overused rein aids.

      • How exactly do you postion your hands for driving reins. Do you just hold your teins/pick them up nornally and then turn your hands upside down? I’m confused and would really like to try it

      • Hi Kelsey. The rein needs to come in through the top of your hand and then exit out the bottom of your first. When I pick them up, I stick my hand out like I’m going to shake someone’s hand, scoop up the rein and then close my fist around it, while pinching the top of the rein (where it enters my fist) between my thumb and the knuckle of my index finger. Let me know if that makes sense and if it works for you.

  4. Years ago when I was showing saddle seat equitation the position of body must be balanced…imagine a string from the top of your head going down your spine… post without stirrups… during equitation classes the stirrups would be removed…really grip with thighs and knees. This same balanced position works for skiing. Enjoy it all. Life is good.

  5. Try this one for a long, quiet leg – Ride with your foot in front of the stirrup, your heel resting in the pad. A very humbling and entertaining exercise!

  6. LOL I barely mess with my reins at all liable to toss ‘em anywhere, but where my weight & keg are keys him in…tight spots get a cue with the inside rein stops a down fast a big lift,,stay out of his mouth

  7. OMG horses dont need a bit at all. Every one here needs to try bitless far better for the horse & really teaches the rider confidence if nothing else. Awesome artical by the way

    • Bitless isn’t some magical, heavenly “natural” cure-all. As with all tools used in riding, it’s only as good or bad as the person using it. Bitless works great for some horses (including my own, due to past trauma), but it is VERY possible to damage sensitive facial nerves if one rides bitless with a hard hand. That has the potential to be just as bad and cruel as a hard, calloused mouth.
      Bits can be excellent tools for refinement, and to compete bitless in the upper levels of a sport like dressage would be very difficult, if not impossible. True, the same moves can be taught and performed bitless for the most part, but a bit allows for soft, seamless communication and a new level of refinement.
      Whether to ride bitless or with a snaffle, curb, etc depends on the individual horse and rider. There is no universal “best” tool.

  8. I liked the tips for balanced seat. I tend to rid to the right side, due to prior injuries. Had my butt, horse and saddle imaged at the state fair this year. All components showed stronger on the right. I will definitely try the dropped stirrup and dish towel under the right cheek tip. Thanks so much for posting this.

  9. Im loving the idea of the newspaper under each arm as I’m always locking my arms. I need tips on how to not rise too high in trot

      • A childhood trainer gave me this tip: think about thrusting your bellybutton over the horse’s poll, while making a straight-and-slightly-up “forward/up, backward/down” line with your crotch. She put a thin red line of violin fingering tape on the pommel so I could trace that path. I still use this tip today; it really helps me engage and strengthen my lower abdominal muscles.

    • don’t think about standing yourself..let the horse bounce you up. don’t “thrust” your hips forward (sometimes this is nessasary….but not if your posting too high). let the horse bounce you up then sit right back down 🙂

  10. Why not leave your hands alone, get someone you trust to lunge you while you ride with your eyes closed, or better yet, trust your horse and ride “blind” its scary as hell at first, but will make u connect with your body & your horses like nothing else.

  11. Pingback: Soft hands

  12. What about when your left hand keeps coming over the wither to the right? Any exercises for this fault? Thanks

    • Hi Wendy, try holding a short riding crop in both hands (like its the handlebars of a bicycle) when you ride. Position your hands about 12 inches apart, and hold the crop under your thumbs. You can still move your hands to steer, but they’ll stay a consistent distance apart. Let me know if that helps!

  13. Not entirely sure what your credentials are, but this advice is atrocious. If you have ailments as a rider, and really who doesn’t, you need to work on them OFF YOUR HORSE. Putting a tea towel under your favoured hip while you ride will ultimately make the horses back muscle on that side sore. Proof? I was dumb enough to try it once. You are bracing on the reigns, stop holding onto them like your life depends on it for a start, and do some sit ups cause this action is a result of poor core strength. Any smart rider will know that there is more to riding than what happens on a horse, and that your own personal fitness is paramount to effective riding. Your hips twisted? Walk up a hill for half an hour a day, might help with your poor core strength also. Try a few Pilates classes, it changed everything about the way a ride and how aware I am of my position and now I can isolate muscle groups quite easily and change what needs changing:) Happy ridding❤️

    • Hi Nay, thanks for taking the time to read the post. I’m sorry you don’t agree with the contents. These are all tips I’ve received over the course of my 16-year riding career. I also have sciatica and lumbosacral subluxation, so my body doesn’t move the same way as yours. I offered these tips in a spirit of fun and lightheartedness. I hope you can accept them in the same spirit. Thanks again for reading 🙂

  14. Therapeutic horseback riding (Hippotherapy) has been used for many years to rehabilitate many conditions. Children with brain injuries, ADD, Muscular Dystrophy, and Cerebral Palsy especially benefit from horseback therapy. Expanding to adults and adult conditions; the motion created by the gait of a horse closely mimics our own natural gait. With the assistance from a horse, balance, core strength, and coordination can all improve. Who knows, you might enjoy it and what better than to have more joy in your life.

    Dr. Christina Lasich, MD

  15. Riding without stirrups has been a fantastic way to strengthen AND improve your seat! We do alot of that in the winter when we’re stuck riding indoors… In addition, I’ve had several trainers have me ride holding the reins as described in this article, and I could instantly feel the difference and realized how much I was locking up…

  16. posting without one stirrup is a good exercise for anyone especially if it is dropped and picked up one at a time without involving the calf just the ankle/foot as this has riders become aware of the ankle…too many times riders use the back of the calf or the heel as the aid for go over the actual calf muscle and this exercise addresses it
    Riding without stirrups is not the end all of all exercises…in fact it can encourage a rider to close the crotch area thus clamping the thigh and knee as the anchor while the lower leg just hangs off the barrel
    Sticking a towel under the lifted seat bone is absolutely not one exercise I would do including my handicapped riders or myself when addressing a collapse since they are generally an angle issue….the common one is the ankle (do your toes point out…this is ankle) or the hip (do you have rotated thighs or a knee that is off the saddle) or from the waist and seat bone (do you drive the knee into the saddle and have a mean lean), all lift the outside seat bone and the ankle/waist will have the inside seat bone behind the outside….to correct collapses go to the cause not the issue it creates along with it and the fix will be permanent…but that is just me and my way….if this works for others then it is all good

  17. Pingback: Good Hands and Arms | Lessons in Therapeutic Riding

  18. most of these are pretty good, however your “driving rein” is incorrect. You have obviously never driven or watched someone drive before. Most driving horses are not soft in the mouth and you would have no such luck holding your hands like that. A driving rein is like english but without the pinky being separate from the rest of the hand and hands are held closer to a 90 degree angle than a 45. I suppose it would be an alright exercise but there are better ones for fixing that issue. But again, wrong term

    • I was taught to drive by two different people, both taught me to drive with reins like that, but maybe these horses were softer in the mouth? and it could make a difference that one was a pony. but riding with reins like this really does help!!!!

  19. Thanks, Kiirsten, these all seem like great exercises for me to try, especially the tea towel under the leaning side. I don’t have sciatica or lumbosacral sublaxation, but I do have have previous injuries (and old age) that cause me to lean to one side — no amount of walking up a hill is going to help (I run 6 miles daily and do a lot of hill work and core strengthening). Everything is worth a try — you never know what will work for you if you don’t try something new — and that goes for every aspect of life, not just riding 😉

  20. If someone is bracing the reins, put the horse on a lunge line and take the bridle off. That way the rider learns to balance without them. That’s how I learned to ride.

    • Hi Erin. Try to spend 15 minutes walking, trotting and cantering your horse without stirrups at the start of every ride. It will strengthen your legs and seat. As you get stronger with your lower body, you will feel more secure and balanced with your upper body.

  21. Pretending you are Beyonce might be the funniest thing I have seen in a long time. Thanks for the laugh, but also the great advice. We often don’t think of these things when we are frustrated.

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