Horseback Riding Instruction at Montana Dude Ranch

Horsemanship Tips

At the Triple J, we want to make your horseback riding experience a treasured memory.  The following guidelines will help you in your horsemanship skills and assist our horses to keep good manners.

Riding is a sport, just like tennis or skiing.  You are a participant, not a passenger, so when you ride, be riding all the time.  Be aware of your horse and what you are doing.  He has a mind, and will use it.  Learn to guide him safely at all times.  Horses are highly social animals.  A horse separated from his friends can become anxious and want to return to the herd.  Just falling behind the group may cause a horse to express his anxiety by whinnying, tossing his head, prancing, kicking and running to catch up.

Horses also demonstrate a strong pecking order.  Horses at the bottom of the pecking order may be nipped or kicked if they get too close to a more dominant horse.

The horse’s instinctive response to danger is to flee.  As wild animals, they depended upon keen senses and the ability to escape predators primarily by running away.  Thus, if a horse walks down a familiar trail or stands sleeping in the corral and something it has not seen before moves suddenly or makes an unfamiliar noise, the horse may jump or shy away.  When unable to flee danger, a horse will defend himself by kicking or biting.  When the ears flatten back and the tail switches, watch out!

Horses are creatures of habit.  Once they have learned to do something in a particular way, they do not like to have to do it another way.  As riders, we depend upon that trait.  We train horses to respond to leg and hand signals, and it confuses them when someone tries signals they do not know.

As you ride, you are affected by these basic horse instincts.  Think of these instincts in the following situations:  (These are situations we want to avoid)

  1. As you ride down the trail, you deliberately hold your horse back until the rest of the group is getting farther and farther ahead of you, maybe even out of sight around a corner.  (Your hope is to be able to canter.)
  2. Your horse keeps crowding closer to the horse in front of him.
  3. A gust of wind comes up and suddenly blows your hat off.  (why stampede strings work)  The hat flies by the horse behind you and lands in the trail in the front of the second horse behind.
  4. You are getting cold.  You decide to reach around and untie your coat from the saddle as you ride.  As you do,  a) your horse suddenly  jumps, b) your horse walks under an overhanging branch, c) you drop the reins, d) you drop the coat, e) a wind suddenly flaps your coat, f) in turning, you kick the horse in the side, g) your horse tailgates the horse in front, or h) ALL of the above!.  Bet you’re no longer cold!! 
  5. You see a good view for a picture, pull out your camera and look through it, leaning to the side as your horse walks through the trees.
  6. You are last in line.  You don’t want to inconvenience the other riders to put your coat on, so you stop your horse, get off and untie your coat.  The rest of the ride continues on down the trail.  (Hope you don’t have to walk home!)

With a basic understanding of horse behavior, you will now understand why we ask that you adhere to the following rules.  They are for your safety.

  • Before you ride, wait for the wranglers to call your name, and assist you with your horse.  Please wait by the haystack or by the arena, not in amongst the horses.  Do not walk up to your horse while it is tied.  Please do not walk behind any horse.  There is a danger of being kicked.  Always approach your horse from the front, and always let him know of your presence. (talk to him in a normal tone of voice)  Please don’t enter the corral unless requested by the wrangler.
  • Please ask any question before leaving if you have any doubt about reining and controlling your horse.  We’re here to help you!
  • Don’t throw things (hats, camera, etc) to or from a horse.  Please ask the wrangler to stop to put a jacket or slicker on; dismount for this process.  (don’t dismount during a ride without the wrangler’s knowledge)  If you should drop something, ask let the wrangler get it for you.
  • Ask the wrangler to stop at any time that you want to take pictures.  He or she can also take pictures of you on your horse.  We want you to remember this vacation!
  • When riding, always maintain at least one horse length between your horse and the horse in front of you.  A horse finds tailgating about as annoying as you do – and he may kick!  At faster gaits, the length will increase.  However, you need to keep your horse up with the other horses so as not to fall too far behind.  Never hold back your horse in order to run to catch up.  When stopped, do not stand with your horse too close to other horses.
  • Never pass your wrangler on the trail.  The wrangler is there to insure your safety and cannot look in two directions at once.
  • Don’t pass another horse on the trail, the other horse may kick or bite.  His aim may not be too accurate and he could get you.
  • If your horse fails to keep up with the others, has tricks you don’t like, or is lazy, before you blame him, figure out if it is something you are doing.  Ask the wranglers for tips.  Riding is a lifelong study, and a good rider always looks to himself first.  If you are really not happy with your horse or saddle, tell the wrangler, and he/she will be glad to help you.
  • It is unsafe to continue down the trail when a member of your party is dismounted.  Wait for the person to get back on their horse before moving on.  If your wrangler is opening a gate, move through the gate enough to get the entire party through, and then stop and wait for the wrangler to assume his position in the front.
  • A group of horses tied up together is a potentially hazardous situation.  Please wait for the wranglers to bring your horse to you when it is time to mount up.  By the same token, when arriving at the barn after a ride, wait for the wrangler to tie the horse (we use quick release knots).  The reins are not for tying up a horse.
  • Don’t let your horse eat or graze on the trail.  This develops a bad habit which is very difficult to break.  Our horses are fed very well, so don’t fall for this trick!
  • Another rider’s leg or horse does not make a good head-scratching post for your horse, even if he thinks it does!
  • No smoking is allowed around the barn area or during a trail ride.  Help us to keep this beautiful area clean and natural.  Please do not allow any litter to fall along the trails.
  • The wrangler will stop and let everyone dismount for a short break half way through the ride.  During the break you may smoke (unless fire conditions warrant) take pictures, remove jackets, sweaters, etc.
  • Make sure your reins are not tangled, your cinch is tight, the saddle pad has not slipped and that your stirrups are properly adjusted.  You are welcome to ask your wrangler to check your equipment if something doesn’t feel right to you.  We’ll be happy to make necessary stirrup adjustments as needed. 
  • Please, please do not handle your horse roughly – don’t jerk the reins, etc. 
  • Constantly practice good horsemanship:
  • Hold your reins properly and securely.
  • Keep your weight on the ball of your feet with your heels down.
  • Keep your feet in front of you, particularly when making a sudden stop.
  • Lean forward when climbing up, and back when descending, otherwise sit straight up.
  • Be alert.

The pace of every ride will be determined by the terrain and rider ability.   A nice, pleasant walk is the most common used on the mountain trails.  Many trails are not suitable for running.  This is for your safety as well as your horse’s safety.  Control is the key factor, not just “staying on”.  Faster rides may not trot or canter if slippery, too steep, etc.  Controlled cantering rides can be set up with the wrangler.  You are also welcome to spend more time with a wrangler in the arena for extra instruction.