john wayne, horseback riding, cowboy, learn to ride western

John Wayne’s Introduction to Horseback Riding

Introductory Horseback Riding Lesson

John Wayne made horseback riding look easy. In the movie City Slickers, Billy Crystal goes on a horseback riding vacation and makes horseback riding look ridiculous. Whether this is your first horseback riding vacation or you simply need a refresher course on horseback riding basics, this YouTube video will make horseback riding easy with some helpful tips and tricks.

What’s wrong with this picture?

To keep this article interesting for the advanced equestrians amongst us, can you point out the equitation errors in the John Wayne photo above?

  • Cowboy John Wayne’s stirrups are too short for his long legs.
  • Western Cowboy John Wayne doesn’t have his heel down in the stirrup. In fact, his toes are pointed down in the stirrups. This won’t help his balance in the saddle.
  • Mr. Wayne would have trouble controlling his horse with the loose reins. His reins are also uneven, not a good way to begin a horseback riding vacation.


Suggested Horseback Riding Rules


Ice Cream Cone Rule

How to hold your reins. “Imagine you have an ice cream cone in your hand, says Katy. “If you tip your ice cream cone, you’re going to lose your ice cream.”

Neck reining and how to steer your horse. Think of the reins as a joy stick. To move the horse left, guide the reins left. To move the horse right, guide the reins to the right. To stop your horse, gently pull back on the reins and say “whoa.” Keep in mind that the reins are attached to the bit, which connects directly with the horse’s mouth. Please don’t yank on the reins. Finally, remember to loosen the reins when the horse responds to your commands.

Where to place your weight in the saddle. Lean forward in the saddle when you are going up a steep hill. This gets the weight off the horses back and helps him climb the hill more easily. When traveling down hill, keep even weight in the stirrups. Try not to be a sack of potatoes on the horses back. Sit up straight and have as little movement in your upper body as possible. If at any time you feel your saddle slipping to one side or the other, alert your horseback riding guide and they will check the horse’s cinch. The cinch is like a belt that keeps the saddle secured to the horse.

How to position your feet in the stirrups. It is best to wear cowboy boots on your horseback riding vacation to prevent your feet from slipping through the stirrups. Cowboy boots are also a good idea for solid foot protection around horses. Once you have placed your left foot in the stirrup and gently swung your right leg over the horses back, settle into the saddle and slide the ball of your foot into the stirrup. Stretch your heels down and point your feet forward in the stirrups.

What to do when a horse trys to eat on the trail. Think of a trail ride as a walking salad bar for the horse. The horse knows he is not supposed to be eating during your horseback riding vacation. However, he is going to try and see what he can get away with. If the horse drops his head to the grass, give a quick pull up on the reins and keep him moving forward along the trail.

Keeping space between you and the other horses. Like people, horses enjoy their personal space. Imagine a giant bubble around you and your horse. Try to keep a horse’s length between you and the horse in front of you and behind you. If you notice any ears go flat back – either your horse or your neighbor’s horse, you are more than likely invading their personal space. Keep a horse length apart and everyone will be happy.

Suggested Rules for your Horseback Riding Vacation

Suggested Rules for your Horseback Riding Vacation

Thank you to Red Horse Mountain Ranch in Harrison, Idaho for hosting my visit to the dude ranch.Top photo credit to Lorraine Paulhus via Flickr


Related Posts:

Red Horse Mountain Ranch

How to Select the Best Horseback Riding Vacation

What to Pack for a Horseback Riding Vacation