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Horse Problem - Riding Horse Downhill & Uphill - What is the proper riding position to be in for riding hills?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

QUESTION: I have a question. When I'm riding my horse downhill, I really feel the need to keep his head in check, and I also have a tendency to keep myself out of the saddle. I know I am supposed to sit back to help him balance, but I feel when I sit down and let his head go, he wants to run down the hill (often to try to keep up with the other horse who is bigger--longer strides--and who is confident going down the hill at a walk). As a result, he "minces" down the hill, if you know what I mean -- taking baby steps so we get way behind the other horse. I need some advice on how to practice hill descent with him so that he is comfortable walking, at his pace, and I can keep my seat so it's more comfortable for him.

REPLY: Riding horses uphill and downhill - There are different, even varying opinions on what's the ideal, but this is what I do and it seems to work best for me and the horses I ride: Lean forward in the saddle a bit when going uphill and bring your rump off the saddle, releasing the horse's hindquarters allowing him to use the hindquarters to drive himself up the hill. If you need to for extra balance when going uphill, especially for climbing steep hills, grab the horse's mane for balance (never use the reins to balance yourself!).
 
For riding downhill, always ride the horse down slowly for safety reasons. Lean slightly back when going downhill and your feet forward a bit. These shiftings for going up & downhill helps your horse by shifting your weight off the end of the horse that is bearing most of the animal's (and your) weight. Meaning: When going downhill slowly (what we want!), you need to release the horse's front quarters so he can step downhill more easily and safely, so you want to get your weight off the horse's front quarters; when going uphill, he needs his hindquarters as the engine to drive him uphill so you want to get your weight off the hindquarters there.
 
Another way of putting it, to help remember hill riding body position is: don't lean too far forward or too far back, but look at the trees you are riding around and try to keep your spine parallel with the tree trunks.

If your horse tries to speed up when going downhill when you want him to walk instead, put your feet forward like you yourself are bracing for a stop and use your seat, sitting deeper in the saddle, lean back, to show him you want a slow down there -- or a stop (stop often if the horse wants to go too fast). And if/when needed, slow him down or stop him by picking up one rein and asking for the slow down. Work away from the hill to remind him of that one-rein slow-down or stop cue if/when needed. I also like to use a verbal cue in such situations as slowing down a downhill horse. My word I like to use: "Easy," but kind of drawn out like this: "Eeeeeeeasy." It reminds the horse that we're taking this very slowly, cautiously, carefully, and that cue word is pretty handy to have in their foundation for a lot of situations, not just downhill treks, that you might want the horse to suddenly focus in on "taking it easy" here now. Example: passing through a narrow gate opening, and other situations where you want the horse taking it slowly, carefully. Expect that behavior for every time you ride downhill and eventually the horse will learn this is what we do at all times when going down hill.

Ignore the other horses around you and just focus on directing your own horse and he'll learn to shut off the other horses and what they are doing, and follow your directives only. Tip: If you're going downhill and the rider in front of you is riding more slowly, hang back for a bit (stop your horse) and wait at the top of the hill before heading down. This gives the other rider a chance to safely navigate the hill at their own comfortable speed without anyone "breathing down their tail." Plus, if you're riding on rocky hills, you don't want to accidentally be sending down loose, rolling rocks, hitting your riding partner ahead of you.

Practice this when out alone riding on a small hill to get the cues down, then it'll become easier to follow a naturally faster (though still walking) other horse, you going the appropriate pace for yourself and your horse.

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