How to ride horses

“Only the rider who is free from any contraction will have a horse equally free from contraction. A team such as this is the ideal” ~ Nuno Oliveira

Modern life can be a challenge. We all deal with stress on a daily basis. Years of bad posture in school and work hunched over computers and desks has led to many bad posture habits like slouching, carrying tension and shallow breathing, that we are often unaware of. Modern life can easily turn into an emergency. Many people routinely juggle multiple tasks at once in order to get it all done. Life can be a constant rush, and it can seem like its passing us by much too quickly.

As horse riders we often bring our habits with us when we ride. Often we are un-aware that these issues can directly affect our horses. Habits like holding tension in our bodies, slouching at our desks, not breathing properly, work stress, a lack of fitness, unhappiness, worry and constant rushing are issues that are highlighted when we ride our horses.

Over the last few weeks, Honest Horse Riding surveyed over 100 riders from a range of disciplines. We asked each person what their #1 bad riding habit is. Here are the results. Interestingly, every rider surveyed had bad habits they wanted to fix.


Breakdown of the top 12 most common bad riding habits

• Looking down while riding – 19.6%
• Tipping & leaning forwards – 18.7%
• Body tension & forgetting to breathe – 10.3%
• Riding with straight arms – 8.4%
• Rounding and hunching shoulders – 8.4%
• Heels lifting up – 7.6%
• Toes pointed out – 7.5%
• Lower leg position too far forwards – 6.5%
• Sitting crooked in the saddle – 3.7%
• Not focused on the horse (talking and day dreaming) – 3.7%
• Hands too high or too low – 3.7%
• Slouching – 1.9%

Horseback Riding Lessons – Top 3 Bad Habits


19.6% of riders surveyed said that their #1 bad riding habit was looking down while they ride.

“To not look down when I’m riding and to ride without tension”

Leaning and tipping forwards was the 2nd most common bad riding habit that people wanted to fix.

“Weight down the outside on a circle with my waist collapsed and twisted so my shoulders are again tilted forward on the inside. Tipping forward to regain the balance and tipping my toes down using the heel instead of the leg for leg aids”

10.3% of riders surveyed said that their worst riding habit was holding tension in their bodies and forgetting to breathe.

“I’ve loads of bad habits that I am probably not aware of, but the main thing is tensing up, so my heels go up and I am subsequently less stable in the saddle than I would be if I just bloody sat there like a sack of spuds. Oh, and over thinking. It’s all part of the old confidence problem, body reacting no matter what the brain is saying.”

You’re not working on the horse, you’re working on yourself

Ray Hunt, an American horseman said “You’re not working on the horse, you’re working on yourself”.

As riders we put a lot of time and energy into our horses. Perhaps you get regular lessons, go to clinics & events, compete, train at home and learn through lots of books & DVDs. That’s in addition to the daily tasks to make sure our horses are happy and healthy.

Horse riding is a 50-50 partnership. We invest time into our horses to improve our performance together. But equally we should not forget how much our minds & bodies influence our horses way of going.

Investing some time and energy into ourselves can lead to huge positive improvements in our riding. Our bad habits in our daily lives are amplified when we ride our horses, becomming issues we want to fix.

4 ways you can improve your riding by adapting your daily routine:


Become more aware of your posture each day. Do you slouch at your computer? Do you hold tension in your arms and shoulders? Do you look down at your feet when you walk? It’s been proven that 1 hour in the gym in the evening will not counterbalance the damage done by 8 hours of bad posture at a computer during the day.

“I became more aware of my own posture/self-carriage out of the saddle”

“Engaging my core, putting my shoulders back and correcting my posture whilst driving and working encouraged muscle memory for correct posture when I ride”


Experiment and see if you can change how you react to events. If we can change how we think, we can often change our world. Evaluate your routine to see if you can swap times or batch events to allow you to spend more quality time with your horse.

“Having more patience (I probably still need more patience but it’s a start !) and the ability to embrace change, and go with the flow to accept things rather than try to change something I can’t … and learning to breather properly (still working on that one)”

“Rearranging my schedule so that I can ride during the week and work when it is dark”.

“I’d like to improve my decisiveness and boundaries”


Create a plan to get fit, supple and healthy. Start walking in the evenings or join a local fitness class. Yoga & pialtes can also be wonderful to help you with suppleness, awareness, breathing and balance.

“I lost weight, and this helped my balance and confidence”

“Start walking long distances and think about your body while you walk i.e shoulders back, breathing in deep rhythm etc it really helps with posture when riding”

“Keep fit. You can’t just train the horse athletically – you need to be strong and healthy too. Yoga, regular exercise, and build your core and overall strength.”


Slow down, realise that life is not an emergency and work on living more in the moment. Focus less on worries about the past and the future. Instead enjoy and put love & passion into what you are doing right now, whether it’s enjoying time with friends or spending time with your horse.

“Learn to switch off and be in the moment – it sounds corny but it’s too easy to focus on all of life’s stresses at once and become tense and overwhelmed. If you can focus on one thing at a time and be in the moment you can learn to relax and deal with what’s happening in the here and now. Therefore when you get on your horse you’re not bringing your tension and baggage with you.”

“Always working to reduce physical and mental tension and I’m not sure I’ll ever be perfect but if I can’t be soft and relaxed then I cant expect my horse to!”

Top changes riders would like to make:

Honest Horse Riding also asked the riders what part of their life would like to change/improve, with the goal of improving their riding & relationship with their horse?


21.05% of all riders surveyed said the most important change they wanted to make in their lives was to ride their horse more often.

~ Many thanks to all of the horse riders who shared their experiences & also to hot blooded highland.

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Top 12 Most Common Bad Riding Habits
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3 thoughts on “Top 12 Most Common Bad Riding Habits

  • October 16, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    If there is a flaw in the questionaire, it is that you asked the rider about their own faults. As a teacher, I would have to say that the basic “fault” that I see in new pupils is simply imbalance. A rider will not recognise this in herself. Almost everyone sits a little – or a lot – to one side, often to the point of adjusting stirrups to suit the imbalance. Inability to maintain balance in a relaxed standing position at all paces would account for many other difficulties. A driving seat was not mentioned, and this is common. And of course, looking down!

  • November 4, 2014 at 12:26 am

    I enjoyed reading the article. I think building a relationship with our horses is key to building confidence, focus and relaxation of riding. Horses read our body language better than we can read theirs (and they are not that hard to read :-D). I feel like it is my responsibility to keep my horse out of harms way when riding, so I must also be his/her confidence at times. Feeling the horse is a subtle skill. It bugs me to see riding look mechanical.

  • November 8, 2014 at 12:25 am

    Hey, thanks for the blog article.Really looking forward to read more. Fantastic.

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