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horses and horsemanship
4-H HORSE PROGRAM
4-H HORSE PROGRAM
HORSES AND HORSEMANSHIP
This educational material has been prepared for 4-H use by the Cooperative Extension Services of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture and State Land-Grant Universities in cooperation with the National 4-H
Council and the American Quarter Horse Association.
Trade or brand names used in the publications are used only for the purpose of educational information.
The information given herein is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no
endorsement of products or breeds of horses by the Federal Extension Service or State Cooperative
Extension Services is implied, nor does it imply approval of products or breeds of horses to the exclusion
of others which may also be suitable.
This material was originally published by the National 4-H Council, 7100 Connecticut Avenue, Chevy
Chase, Maryland 20815.
Programs and educational materials supported by National 4-H Council; Extension Service, United
States Department of Agriculture; and all Cooperative Extension Services of the State Land-Grant
Universities are available to all persons regardless of race, color, sex, age, religion, national origin or
handicap. All are equal opportunity employers.
True horsemanship is the art and science of riding. There
are horsemen and there are riders. Every horseman is a
rider but not every rider is a horseman.
Horsemanship is the art of riding that helps the horse
move freely with its natural grace and balance while
carrying the weight of the rider and saddle. The horse
must move at the will of the rider.
The horseman's body is in rhythm and balance with the
action of the horse, helping the horse move easily, but
never interfering by being behind the action.
Proper training of the horse is necessary. The horseman
must know and use basic principles to ride as a
horseman. A horseman will change his style of seat, as
seen in racing and cutting horse seats but the basic
principles remain the same. The rider has shifted his seat
to place his body in balance with the action of the horse.
Horsemanship should become a habit that is used every
time you handle a horse.
Proper riding begins with proper mounting. First get
your horse under control by adjusting the reins evenly
with enough tension to feel the bit and hold the horse
steady. Do not get the reins too tight. Hold the reins in
your left hand and place this hand on the neck in front of
the withers. Grasp the ridge of the neck or a lock of
Twist the near stirrup with your right hand and place
your left foot in the stirrup with the ball of your foot
resting securely on the tread. Brace your left knee
against the horse and move your right hand to grasp the
saddle horn. You are now braced against the horse with
your two hands and left leg forming a triangle of
Two body positions for mounting are acceptable in good
horsemanship. Figure 1 shows a safe position for
mounting strange or green horses. You stand by the
horse's left shoulder facing a quarter turn to the rear.
Your head is turned so you can watch both ends of the
horse. You are ahead of the saddle so any move made by
the horse will help you swing into the saddle. If the
horse moves while you are mounting, stop him before
moving out. This teaches the horse to wait until you are
ready to move out and may prevent a runaway. The
position shown in Figure 2 should be used only on a
gentle horse. Stand by the stirrup fender and face
squarely across the seat of the saddle. Do not get the
habit of standing by the back cinch you may be kicked.
From either of these two positions you push with your
right leg and spring up and over the seat of the saddle.
Spring up do not pull yourself up. Shift your weight to
your left leg to maintain balance, steady yourself with
your hands, and settle easily into the saddle. Your right
foot should slip into the off stirrup.
THE BASIC SEAT
You are in the saddle but are you sitting properly?
Study Figure 3. This is the basic seat position. Sit erect,
seat deep in the saddle, with your body balanced and
relaxed. Sit "tall in the saddle", do not slump. Note the
lines from the point of the shoulder to the heel and from
the point of the knee to the toe. The leg maintains light
contact with the horse's body through the inside thigh
and upper half of the calf. The foot is turned out slightly
in a natural position with weight on the ball of the foot
and the heel lower than the toe. Your ankle is flexible in
this position. Keep your hand and arms relaxed and
supple, elbows close to your body. The reins should be
held just above and in front of the saddle horn.
In this position you are balanced, comfortable, your
weight is where it will help the horse, and you are free to
control your horse with aids.
As your horse moves you will lean in the direction of
movement to stay in balance. Keep your seat deep in the
saddle and lean forward from the hips up. Flex at your
waist to stay in rhythm with the horse's motion. If you
stay in balance your body will remain relaxed and
supple. If you get out of balance you will stiffen your
body and lose the rhythm of motion with your horse.
The aids commonly used are your voice, hands, legs,
and weight. You use them to tell your horse what you
want it to do. Your horse will learn to obey natural aids
from habits you follow when riding. Study use of aids
and make them your good habits.
Your horse learns from repetition so always use the
same aids. Soon you will get response from the slightest
Always speak to your horse in a soft, quiet, but firm
voice. Loud talk makes a horse nervous.
Your hands are very important. They should be used to
guide and help your horse. Use them lightly or they will
become instruments of torture. Body balance is very
important to prevent the habit of bracing yourself by
pulling on the reins. Your hands control the horse's
forehand through the reins, bit and mouth. Keep your
hands and fingers relaxed and flexible for light, soft
signals through the reins. Signal your horse by using
light pulls and slacking (called "give and take") of the
reins with your fingers. Repeat these signals until you
get response. Never pull steadily with all your strength -
this ruins the mouth. Use training and patience not
True neckreining is the response of your horse to the
weight of the neckrein against the neck, not to the pull of
the neckrein. Pulling forces the horse's head in the
opposite direction you wish to turn.
Legs are used to signal speed and movements of the
horse's hindquarters. Pressure is given by squeezing with
the calves of your legs and your heels. Use spurs only to
touch not to jab.
Your weight is used as an aid by shifting your body. The
horse will shift its body to attempt to balance your
weight. The horse will feel the lightest weight shift so
train it to respond without getting the habit of "throwing
it around" with excessive weight shifts.
"Gather" your horse by settling in the saddle and "taking
in" on the reins. Release tension on the reins and
squeeze with the calf of your leg. Control your speed by
the amount of leg pressure and rein tension. Keep your
horse moving "up in the bridle" by the leg pressure.
Incline your body forward from the hips to stay in
balance and flex at the waist to stay in rhythm.
The rider first must "gather" the horse by settling in the
saddle and "taking in" on the reins. This alerts the horse
for action. Next release the rein tension and apply just
enough pressure with the leg and heel to move the horse.
The rider's body is inclined forward just slightly to
remain balanced, and flexes at the waist with the
movement. Maintain enough leg pressure to keep the
horse moving "up in the bridle." The reins are slack but
not loosely flapping.
SLOW TROT (JOG)
The trot is ridden Western style with the rider's body
deep in the saddle, but with weight enough on the ankles
to absorb the motion. The body is inclined forward
slightly more than at a walk.
More leg pressure is applied to move the horse forward,
and just enough tension is maintained on the reins to
hold the horse to the desired speed. The rider's arms are
close to the body and the fingers flex with the movement
of the horse's head as this movement is transmitted
through the reins.
The feet and legs are steady and the heel is down, with
the ankles flexing to absorb weight.
GALLOP OR LOPE
Train the horse to go into the lope from the walk in the
lead the rider wishes to assume. Take up on the reins to
collect the horse and then release rein tension enough to
allow the horse to assume the gait. Leg pressure is strong
enough to move the horse directly to the lope. The heel
is used to aid in obtaining the correct lead as explained
under the section on leads. The rider sits deep in the
saddle with the body inclined forward from the hips.
Relaxed hands are very important at this gait to allow for
rhythm with the movement of the horse's head. The legs
are kept in close contact with the saddle and horse.
Signal for a stop when the horse's rear legs are moving
forward under its body. Allow for one or two extra
strides. Give a light pull on the reins, shift your weight
slightly forward and then to the rear. Keep your body
erect and your seat deep in the saddle. Grip with your
thighs and force your heel down to let your ankle absorb
weight at the stirrup. Keep your hands low and signal
with repeated "give and take" on the reins. Do not throw
your body back, shove your feet forward, and pull on the
When a horse gallops its body is turned at an angle or
diagonal to the direction of travel and it is moving one
fore-leg and one rear leg, both on the same side of the
body, ahead of the other two legs. This is called
"leading" and is very important for smooth turns. Use of
aids, to get your horse into the proper lead, requires
practice and patience. The horse must be settled.
Working in circles at a slow lope will help.
The aids used to obtain the lead you want guide the
horse's body into the correct diagonal for the lead.
To obtain the left lead apply pressure with your right leg
which signals the horse to move out and to swing the
hindquarters into the diagonal. At the same time
neckrein very slightly to the right and lean forward to
shift your weight very slightly to the left. The proper
steps are leg pressure, weight shift and neckrein, but
they are all done at almost the same instance.
For the right lead apply pressure with the left leg, lean
forward slightly to shift weight to the right, and neckrein
slightly to the left.
Study how the neckrein, weight shift, and leg pressure
move the horse's body into the correct diagonal for the
lead the horse takes.
Neckrein to move the horse's forehand in the direction of
the turn. Slight pressure with your leg on the side of the
horse opposite the direction of turning will hold the
hindquarters in position so the horse will pivot on the
hindquarters instead of swinging them wide.
This movement is important for opening gates. Hold
your horse in to prevent forward motion. Neckrein in the
direction you wish to move the forequarters. Use your
outside leg to move the hindquarters.
Set erect with your body weight forward. Grip with your
thighs. Hold the reins low and pull lightly on the reins -
"give and take". Control the direction of backing by
pressure of either leg to guide the hindquarters and light
rein tension to guide the forequarters.
Take up on your reins to hold the horse in control. Grasp
the saddle horn with your right hand, loosen your left
foot in the stirrup and shift your weight to your left leg.
Brace with your left knee and swing out of the saddle
keeping your right leg close to the horse. Don't hit the
cantle and horse's rump as you swing down. Keep your
right leg close to the horse as you come down so you
will be facing slightly forward when your foot touches
the ground. When your right foot is securely on the
ground, shift your weight to it, push down on your left
heel and let your foot slip out of the stirrup.
TO THE RIGHT
Horsemanship requires practice and patience. You must
know what to do and do the same every time as your
horse learns by habit. If you work carefully you will find
your horse responding to your signals more quickly and
easily each time. When this begins to happen you will
then be experiencing the first pleasures of riding like a
TO THE LEFT
1. This document is 4HHSG02, one of a series of the 4-H Youth Development Program, Florida Cooperative
Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Printed. Please visit the
FAIRS Website at http://hammock.ifas.ufl.edu.
2. William R. Culbertson, Colorado State University, Debbie Glauer, member of 4-H Animal Science Design
Team, Department of Family, Youth and Community Science, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of
Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611.
.>.L UNIVERSITY OF
Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES, Christine
Taylor Waddill, Director, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, publishes this information to further the purpose
of the May 8 and June 30, 1914 Acts of Congress; and is authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only
to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, age, sex, handicap or national origin. The information in this
publication is available in alternate formats. Single copies of extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available
free to Florida residents from county extension offices. Information on copies for out-of-state purchase is available from Publications
Distribution Center, University of Florida, PO Box 110011, Gainesville, FL 32611-0011. Information about alternate formats is available from
Educational Media and Services, University of Florida, PO Box 110810, Gainesville, FL 32611-0810. This information was published
December 1989, Florida Cooperative Extension Service.