Riding Down HillsWhen you are out riding on trails, there is a right way-and a wrong way-to go down hills. As with many skills in riding, the key to successfully and safely navigating hills is good balance.
A horse going down a hill has a hard enough time balancing on his own, let alone with a rider on his back. To that end, it's important that you do what you can to help him out. If your horse is having a hard time riding down hills he'll let you know. If he rushes, tosses his head, or even bucks, it means that he's is having a hard time balancing.
First of all, if you ride your horse down hills frequently, it's important that his saddle fit correctly. A shifting saddle will cause pain, and even a horse in good balance may speed up going downhill in an attempt to get away from the pain the saddle is causing. Second of all, be sure that you are knowledgeable when it comes to riding down hills. That's right! It's not just up to the horse. You have something to do with it as well!
What is the most common mistake riders make when going down hills? For some reason, novice riders often feel safer asking their horses to "zigzag" down hills. But if you are going down a hill without switchbacks or a trail, this isn't a good idea. Why? Well, if you ask a horse to angle down a hill, he won't be able to balance himself over his hindquarters. A horse's hindquarters should be aligned with his body, otherwise he can actually fall over. As you can imagine, this isn't a good thing for either horse or rider!
It's tempting to play with your position when riding down hill, but avoid the temptation. Instead, just stay in your basic position, with your body balanced over your feet and your weight in your heels. Be sure to look up and ahead, not down.
Many riders instinctively lean backward going down hills, thinking that this will help the horse. It won't. Your horse really needs his hindquarters to navigate a hill, and by leaning back you are just getting in the way. Instead, lean forward ever so slightly and keep your balance over your feet.
The less you interfere, the better things will go. While novice riders may feel more secure going down hills with an iron grip of the reins, it's best to give your horse lots of rein so that he can use his head and neck. If you restrict the reins, you'll be restricting his movement, pulling him off balance, and making things difficult for him in general.
If you are a beginning rider, it's best to practice going down some small hills before you tackle the big ones. Find a short hill with a gentle slope, and take care to stay in balance and keep your position. As you master the smaller hills, you can move up to progressively larger ones. Soon you'll be taking them all on!
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