Tips & Quips: for Basic Riding Skills

Last year I took some lessons at Cross Winds Farms, a hunter/jumper barn, and learned some great tips & quips from some of their teachers that I want to share. Keep them in your back pocket for when you need them! One teacher would quiz me on the first few basics while walking around the arena for warm every time until they were drilled in to my head, which I plan to incorporate into my lessons with more competent/recreational riders. Enjoy! And much thanks to Cross Winds for the wonderful lessons!

(Note these riding cues are for english equitation/hunter horses, so cues may vary for your horses.)


  • 3 points align: heels, chest, eyes – “when people fall off, it almost always goes in that order: the eyes look down, then the chest leans forward, and the heels come up”
  • legs hold on from mid thigh to mid calf, not your knees
  • “legs hang down like you’re hugging your horse”
  • “your legs are like tree roots, they keeps the trunk and branches (your upper body) tall and stable”


  • 4 aids: leg, seat, eyes, reins
  • 3 rein aids:
    • 1) direct –pull back in a straight line through your elbow, may have to pull up, hand height varies per horse
    • 2) open – open hand out a little but always bring your hand back to the box above your horse’s withers
    • 3) indirect – bring hand in a little but not over the crest or it twists the horse’s neck
  • 3 leg aids:
    • 1) at girth – your gas pedal! also, just the inside leg at the girth bends your horse.
    • 2) in front of girth – controls the shoulders
    • 3) behind the girth – controls the haunches, also, just the outside leg behind the girth signals the canter

What To Do In An Emergency or If A Horse Runs Away With You

  • 1) turn the horse toward the wall, use the pulley rein
  • 2) spiral your horse in smaller and smaller circles
  • 3) ride it out! Safety Seat: “Sit back, heels down and in front of your seat, eyes up! Pretend you’re riding a reining horse, site on your back pockets with your pelvis tipped back.”

Walk to Woah transition

  • first sit back like a reiner on your pockets to use your body and give your horse a chance to respond to your body, then ask with the reins

The Trot

  • “keep his pace even like there’s a metronome in your head, keep it even”

The Canter

  • “The canter transition is like a slingshot – build up the energy at the walk/trot. However much you build up when pulling the slingshot back by building energy at the walk or trot, is how much you’ll get when you release the slingshot into the canter.”
  • 1) build energy, 2) use outside leg with hand forward (don’t pull back) and your body energy going forward (so you don’t get left behind and catch him in the mouth) 3) bump outside rein and kiss if needed

Canter to Trot Transition

  • first half halt, second ride the posting trot (even though you’re still cantering this gives the horse a chance to respond to your body), lastly use the reins

Two Point

  • heels under hips – At the halt have the student get up in two point. Pull their heel back so they fall forward and ask “what happened?”. Pull their heel forward so they fall back and ask “what happened?”. Explain, “That’s how you know where your balance is. If you’re tipping forward or back your leg isn’t under you.”
  • “You need your heels down because when you go fast, or on a jump course, you need to be able to go back and forth between two point and sitting very easily, and the heels are your base of balance for doing that.”
  • instead of just saying “heels down”, say “sink into your heels” or “reach into your heels” or “really step into your heels”
  • chest open, shoulders out
  • leg stabilization exercise: posting 2 beats up, 1 beat down – this was an amazingly effective drill

Half Halt

  • first give and take with outside rein, then with inside rein if need backup
  • leg and hands must back each other up – leg says “go forward, lengthen not faster” while hands say “stay in the same gait”


  • leg and hands must back each other up – leg says “keep going” while hands say “collect, engage, and shorten stride”


  • don’t cut corners or let his shoulder fall in on corners
  • inside leg to outside rein
  • inside leg is the gas, inside rein bends, outside rein supports and keeps horse from falling in
  • your shoulder angle (how far back you bring your shoulder in the direction of the turn) is the same as the turn’s angle
  • keep your wrist straight and bring your hand back and up (not down) to lift his shoulder up
  • put some weight in the outside stirrup/heel to keep the horse from leaning in


  • inside leg bends him around the pivot point, outside leg and hip push him around it
  • “like you’re throwing a ball: outside (throwing) hand forward, inside leg forward, outside leg back”
  • bump inside rein to turn
  • outside leg to tell “go” if needed

Keep Rhythm

  • don’t let slow down on corners
  • if too fast do half halt

Taking Breaks

  • “If you need a break, let me know!”
  • “Take a lap walking, then do ________ (exercise). This give you a whole lap thinking about how you’re going to do this.”

That’s it for now 🙂


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!

2 thoughts on “Tips & Quips: for Basic Riding Skills

  1. I have never ridden a horse, so thanks for the tips. The thing I always worried about was if the horse ran off or panicked with me on him. I will definitely try to spiral the horse in circles or ride it out if that happens!

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