Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

Making mistakes isn't always a bad thing. It's quite natural to make mistakes while we learn new skills, and often, they send us onto more appropriate paths. However, in horseback riding, there are mistakes and then - there are Mistakes.

The kind of Mistakes that end up causing more pain than gain.

The reinventing-the-wheel ones that you don't actually have to go through personally to learn from.

The Mistakes that you'd rather not go through - but unfortunately, many people do.

Here are the top 8 mistakes to avoid while learning to ride.

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8. Taking your ego into the ring.

One of the first things you'll learn from horses is how to be humble. Whether you ride in a lesson, on the trails or at a show, do yourself and your horse a favor, and park your ego at the gate. Go to the ride with a positive, willing attitude. Appreciate your horse, your instructor and the other people around you. Appreciate yourself, what you can do that day, and how you are developing your skills over time.

And remember that each day is but a snapshot of progression in your overall riding career. Even if you feel like you might be going through a set-back, do what you can during that ride, give your horse a well-earned rest, and come at it again another day. You might be surprised at how you and your horse progress if you can let things go at the most critical times.

7. Not setting goals.

You can't just do the same thing day after day and expect progress. When you set goals, make sure they are broken down enough that they are realistic and achievable for both you and your horse.

You and your horse are a team, and as such, your goals should reflect both your needs. Plan to develop your biggest "need of the moment" - whether that need is yours or your horse's. Follow a systematic approach to skill development and work on small steps each day.

6. Trying too hard.

There is such a thing in horseback riding. If you get wound up enough, you can fall into a do-it-until-you-get-it trap. Horses often get caught up in this problem too, because their riders just don't know when to quit.

It's one thing to try, try again. But it's another to mindlessly repeat the same thing when nothing seems to be going the way you want it to. If, after you give it your best shot, you are not seeing the results you want - take it easy and come back to it another time.

5. Being closed minded.

Although there are three official Olympic equestrian disciplines (jumping, eventing and dressage), you can trot over to your local agricultural society to see how many different riding styles there are in just your community! Add to that the plethora of horse-related activities around the world, and you'd be hard-pressed to list them all on one page.

Each of those disciplines have their own way of teaching, learning, training and performing. While it's true that the horse is the common denominator in all of them, you'll find many cross-discipline take-aways that might address your needs in your particular riding style.

Stay open minded and be willing to "listen" to others, and appreciate other riding styles.

4. Listening to everyone.

The other extreme though, is to listen to everyone. If you've already done something like this, you know how easy it is to get lost in the shuffle of opinions, especially when you are first finding your way in the equine industry. You might find completely opposite methods and recommendations for the same problem! What to do?

Once you have found your riding niche, seek out a reputable instructor or mentor and stay with that person for some time. Learn one system well. Move on only when that system doesn't meet your goals. Otherwise, give it a good effort and stay the course.

3. Riding horses that are beyond your skill level.

This invariably happens to many of us at one time or another. Horses have different personalities, and some can be more challenging to ride than others. Honestly assess your skill level when deciding on a horse to lease or buy. Get a horse that is more trained than you are if you are a beginner rider. Only consider less trained or younger horses if you have an accessible professional available to you, or if you have already apprenticed under a more advanced rider or instructor.

It won't do you or the horse any good if you feel intimidated by the horse. Many terrible accidents happen when there is a mis-match of the horse and rider's ability levels.

2. Not taking lessons.

I've spoken about this many times. There is no replacement for lessons. Even the best of riders need "eyes on the ground" to give them straightforward feedback. What you feel and what is really going on don't always match, and getting professional guidance in the quickest way to improve - for your horse's sake!

1. Being afraid to make mistakes.

Has this ever happened to you? Everything seemed to be just great until your instructor asked you to do something new. In one short lesson, you went from being on top of it all to feeling like you've lost everything you've worked so hard for.

The trouble is that while we strive for perfection, we might avoid trying new and different things that can help us find new skills. Sometimes, trying something new feels more like a set-back than progress. Maybe you lose some aspect of your position or your aids. Maybe your horse feels stiffer or more braced through the back.

If you feel like everything you've worked for just fell apart, don't despair! Struggling through a learning curve is only bad if you let it bring you down (see #8) regularly and riding poorly becomes a habit. If you are going through a learning phase, though, it might be just what you need to do before you can put it all back together - better!

What other mistakes should riders try to avoid? Let us know in the comments below.

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If you liked the above article, you might enjoy these:

What Responsible Horse Ownership Really Means: We need to keep in mind that horses are prey animals and long-time domesticated livestock. If we listen well enough, we discover that what we think of as giving might not be what the horses truly need.

10 Tips for the Average Rider: Are you an average rider? Then join the club!

Cultivating Your Multiple Riding Personalities: In daily life, assuming different personalities might be frowned upon. However, if you can can channel several different personas while riding, you might actually be doing your horse a favour!

Breaking the Cycle: It Might Not Be What You DID Do…: … but rather what you DIDN’T do!

Finding Your Comfortable Un-Comfort in Riding: Being uncomfortable is often a good place to be in riding.


  1. #4 is hard! I like to get as much information as I can… but sometimes it’s just overload.