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I've loved horses ever since I was 4 years old (I'm 16 now). I took lessons periodically when I was younger, but hadn't ridden in about 5 years until last week...

I was riding a friend's (Jeff) horse and I felt I had control. I wanted to trot, but he kept trying to canter. I had never gone faster than a trot before, so I knew I shouldn't try to canter, but I felt as though stopping him was letting him down (since Jeff races him and lets him basically go as fast as he wants to go) and I also wanted to impress Jeff and his friends... so I let him go faster. I still felt totally safe and in control while cantering, except for the bouncy ride! I felt as though I was going to bounce off the horse! Jeff told me to stand up to reduce the bounciness, but I was too scared since I'd never tried it before... was he right? Is there a trick to make the ride a little smoother?

Anyway, we had circled the pasture just fine about four times when he started to go a little faster. Again I wanted to show off, but most of all I felt so free running with the horse... it was such a wonderful feeling. So we went a tiny bit faster, and my right foot fell out of the stirrup. It was tweaked and I couldn't slide my foot back in, so I reached down to put it on (I didn't know if that was the right thing to do or not -- I'm not that experienced, so I wasn't sure what to do.) I guess the horse took that as an open door to doing whatever he wanted, and before I got my foot in the stirrup, we took off at a full gallop across the field. I was so scared and didn't know what to do. I pulled the reins as hard as I could, but he wouldn't slow. I was bouncing so much that I was almost half way off the horse. I had no clue what to do! If I continued to pull the reins with one stirrup going full speed, I was surely going to fall off, and we were in a patch of very hard dirt... Or I could let go of the reins, slip my other foot out of the stirrup, hold the horn as tightly as I could until we got onto grass, and then let myself slide off. In a moment of panic, I thought my best bet would be to forget the reins, which didn't seem to be working, and hold on to the horn for dear life.

So there I was: no reins, no stirrups, flailing around... Then I threw myself off into a patch of grass and ended up hitting my head really hard on a steel fence. Talk about showing off! Boy...I sure showed everyone up, didn't I?! But I have never been in a position like that before.... I'm used to having to kick the crud out of horses before getting them to even trot! So I was completely clueless about how to handle all this.

I'm so sorry this is so long, I just really need your pointers. Where exactly did I go wrong, what should I have done, etc.? Thank you sooo much for being here! You have an awesome webpage.

Thanks again,

- M.


First, let's talk about your hands. When you ride, hold the reins with your "weak" hand. In other words, if you are right-handed, hold the reins with your left. Then, if you should find yourself on a runaway again, grab as much of the horse's mane as possible with your free hand and hang on. As long as you keep that grip, you'll stay on top of the critter. A horse has a pretty strong survival instinct, so you're probably safer on its back than if you fall off. It won't keep running forever, so try to ride it out until it either slows down or is obviously heading into a deadly situation (such as a busy highway).

Next, we'll look at your legs. I've seen it hundreds of times with inexperienced riders, and I'm just about certain that you were actually telling the horse to run. When a horse starts to go fast and the rider is afraid, the natural instinct is to lean forward into a protective curl. Unfortunately, when you lean forward your legs naturally move back -- and both of these are clear signals to the horse that you want to go faster!

The way to signal a horse to slow down or stop is to sit back in the saddle, leaning slightly back, and move both of your legs forward.

Here are a couple of photos to illustrate what I'm saying:

Legs in the stop position Go faster position
In this picture, I have my feet on the brake pedals -- both legs pushed forward -- and I've settled back in the saddle.
Here, on the other hand, the rider is cueing the horse to run. The cowboy's body is leaning forward, and his legs are back.

So, next time you're on a runaway, try asking the horse to slow down before you pitch yourself onto the ground.

You also asked about easing the bounce of the canter. I've searched for a way to describe how to ride the canter, and here's the best I've come up with so far: Imagine that the stirrups are made of rubber and you are pumping them up and down as you ride. (I know, it doesn't make much sense, but if you think about it as you practice, I think you'll see what I mean.) Also remember to keep your heels lower than your toes. That will give you more shock-absorbing flex action at the ankles.

And a final comment: Now you know why cowboys wear those pointy-toe boots. You should never need to grab the stirrup with your hand in order to put your foot in the stirrup. Pointed toes make it a lot easier to catch the stirrup, even if it has turned at a right angle to your foot. I'll guess that you were wearing boots or shoes with fairly blunt toes. You may have even had difficulty getting your right foot in the stirrup when the horse was standing still. If you plan on doing more riding (and I certainly hope you will) take five or ten bucks to your local Salvation Army or Goodwill store and buy yourself a nice pair of used cowboy boots with pointed toes.

Happy Riding!

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