Freddie Vasquez Jr

Although horseback riding is one of the oldest sports dating back thousands of years, today, it is rarely perceived as a sport. Television and movies have influenced many Americans’ perceptions of horseback riding and what riding entails. However, what these movies and television shows rarely capture is the hundreds of hours of physical and mental effort it takes to become an experienced equestrian, as well as the real dangers the sport can sometimes pose.

When it comes to starting any new sport, beginners are bound to make mistakes. However, when these mistakes involve working with 700 lbs horses and jumping from great heights, amateur equestrians are encouraged to first learn from the mistakes of others. During his twenty years as a professional equestrian, Freddie Vazquez Jr., co-owner of Messenger Hill Farm, a full-service equestrian facility located just outside of Chicago, Illinois, has helped train hundreds of new riders. As an experienced horseback riding instructor, Freddie Vazquez Jr. is uniquely positioned to discuss some of the most common mistakes amateur riders make and how best to avoid these mistakes. Within this article, professional equestrian Freddie Vazquez Jr. will review some of these mistakes in an effort to promote safer riding practices for new students.

Gripping the Horse Too Tightly with Your Legs

When first climbing into the saddle, it is quite common for new riders to feel nervous and off-balance. They will often make up for these nerves by tightly gripping the horse with their knees. This is confusing for the horse and will actually likely make the horse go faster and increase the likelihood of falling. Its also worth noting that gripping the horse with your legs will not help you remain in the saddle, as that can only be accomplished with balance and core strength. To stay in the saddle, experienced riders practice “sitting deep” to maintain their balance and practice good riding form. Next time you are in the saddle, Freddie Vazquez Jr. suggests taking a deep breath and letting yourself sink down into the saddle while keeping posture. Next, let your weight fall down through your heel by hanging your legs away from your hip. If you are deep sitting in the saddle, you should be able to connect an imaginary line from your ear directly down to your heel.

Hands Too High and Reins too Long 

When first learning to ride, many inexperienced riders will use the reins to balance. This is a normal reaction to feeling off-balanced; however, it can have the opposite reaction, similar to gripping the horse too tight with our legs. When gripping the reins too tightly is combined with long reins, it can become nearly impossible to keep event rein contact, leading to riders losing more control over their mount and increasing their odds of falling. Long reins take place when a horse slowly drags the reins through the rider’s hand without the rider noticing or taking the time to shorten them properly. When the reins are too long, the rider will often counter this by raising their hands to keep the reins tight in order to maintain their balance. However, raising the reins too high will cause the horse’s mouth to turn and force the horse to make an abrupt stop.

Instead, Freddie Vazquez Jr. once again encourages riders to use their core to maintain balance and keep a light, even tension on the reins. The reins should remain at hip level, with an even line from the forearm to the horse’s bit. Riders must maintain awareness of the rein length to ensure it does not slip or become too long by re-adjusting throughout their ride.

Looking Down 

When entering a horseback riding facility, you will often hear trainers telling their students that they have “heavy eyes.” Many new riders form the bad habit of looking down while riding instead of keeping their eyes in front. Although it is quite understandable that new riders want to be aware of their horse’s movements and the ground below them, keeping their eyes down is bad for riding balance and posture and can lead to more jumping refusals from your horse. Keeping your eyes down can communicate to your horse that you are nervous or unsure of your riding, which can make your horse anxious and uneasy about what is happening.

Instead, keep your head high and your eyes in front to ensure you sit up straight and maintain good core strength. This shows your horse you are confident and in control. Additionally, practicing good form will always help prevent falls or other avoidable injuries.

Incorrect Jumping Release 

When first learning to ride, many beginner riders are eager to learn to jump with their horse. However, as with any new riding skill, it is important to always ride in a way that is safe for both you and your horse. One of the most common mistakes Freddie Vazquez Jr. sees amateur riders make while jumping is crest releases. A crest release is when a rider will move their hands up a horse’s neck as they leave the ground, pressing their knuckles lightly into the horse’s neck so that when the horse was fully off the ground, the horse would have more freedom of movement. Unfortunately, what often happens with this technique is that a rider will place all of their weight on the horse’s neck at the exact moment the horse is jumping forward. This puts unnecessary strain on the horse’s neck and teaches students to rely too heavily on their hands while jumping and to not rely on a two-point seat balance. Instead, Freddie Vazquez Jr. suggests students learn what is now commonly called the automatic release technique, which places the hands alongside the horse’s neck while jumping instead of pressing into the crest.