Riding in British Columbia generally means western riding. English-style is widely available too but requires an expensive, long-term commitment in the form of lessons and practice.

Western-style trail riding, on the other hand, can be enjoyed as a simple day outing. Most trail rides are conducted on either quiet country roads or tranquil forest horse trails. After a quick briefing on the basics, jump on and ride off into the sunset: Trail rides are led by expert guides the first few times. Once you prove your horse-handling skills, however, many stables will allow customers to take the horses without supervision. If you bring a sweaty horse back after your ride, or otherwise abuse your horse you will never be allowed to ride at that stable again.


A horse is not a car, it's a big, dumb animal that looks to the rider on its back for clear, precise instructions. More than anything it wants to know who is the boss and it will be constantly testing the rider to see what it can get away with. The horse will not respect you if you try to be nice and gentle with it. Your horse will appreciate firm, unambiguous signals.

By and large, riding stable horses are docile creatures content to follow the guide horse's lead. Nonetheless, for safety and other reasons, keeping your horse under control at all times is essential.

Getting On

Always mount from the horse's left side. Grip the reins and the saddle horn in your left hand. Reins should be tight enough to prevent the horse from moving forward but not so tight that it begins to move backwards. Next place your left foot in the left stirrup and grasp the back of the saddle with your right hand. Putting most of your weight on your right leg, bounce once, twice, building momentum, then push off the ground the third time. Transfer your weight to your left leg and push up while pulling yourself up with both arms. As your left leg straightens swing your right leg over the horse and seat yourself in the saddle. Slip your right foot into the right stirrup.

Staying On

Always sit upright, not slouched, with a straight back. Your knees should be bent somewhat in the stirrups enabling you to transfer your body weight to your legs. You will want to stand slightly when galloping or trotting so you don't smash your crotch against the saddle. Hold the reins in your left fist as you would an ice cream cone or computer joystick. The reins should be grasped firmly passing first through the bottom of the fist with the end sticking out of the top of the fist.

Keep the reins in the resting position with your fist almost touching the back of the horse's neck. There should be enough slack for the horse to hold its head normally but not enough for the horse to lower its head and graze. Whenever the horse tries to eat grass or leaves during the ride pull back HARD on the reins or your problems will never end. Remember, the horse isn't starving, it's testing you. You won't make a friend if you allow it to eat, you'll make an enemy.

Moving Forward

Say "Hyaaaa!" forcefully and kick the horse hard in the flanks with your heels at the same time. The harder you kick the faster you will move and the more respect the horse will have for you. Don't worry about hurting the horse, you aren't strong enough. Horses routinely kick each other and rarely suffer permanant damage. Don't give wimpy little pokes with your heel unless you want to convince your horse that it is the one in command.

Stopping or Slowing

If you have been keeping the proper amount of slack in the resting position stopping should be as simple as pulling back firmly, but not jerking, on the reins. At the same time say "Woa!" in a loud, deep voice with falling intonation. By the time your hand reaches the saddle horn the horse should begin stopping. Once the horse has reached the desired speed or completely stopped you may relax and return the reins to the resting position. Keep in mind that, if all of the horses in your group begin running yours will want to follow the herd and run too. Instead of yanking back on the reins in terror just relax, transfer your weight to the stirrups and enjoy the ride.

Backing Up

Reversing your horse is the same as stopping except that you'll pull back a few centimetres further and hold that position until you've backed up far enough.


From the resting position pull hard left to go left or hard right to go right, much the same as you would on a computer joystick in the middle of a Wing Commander dog-fight. You'll be pulling much harder in the saddle however.

Getting Off

Dismounting your steed is not just a reversal of the mounting procedure. As with Getting On the reins should be tight enough to prevent the horse from moving forward but not so tight that the horse begins to move backwards. Stand up in the stirrups and, still holding the reins, grasp the saddle horn and shift your body weight to your left leg. Twist your body clockwise as you swing your right leg up and over the back of the horse, grasping the back of the saddle with your right hand in the same motion. Now lean into the horse and shift your entire body weight to your straightened arms. Kick your left leg free of the stirrup and allow your body to slide down the horse's flank so that both feet touch the ground at the same time. Be sure your legs are free of the stirrups so that, in the event that the horse suddenly bolts, you won't be dragged by the leg.

Hold your horses until the guide can come over and tie it securely.

The End



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Illustration by Manami Kimura