Riding downhill: should the rider lean back or forward?

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At our horseback riding vacation centre in Tuscany many riders pose us this question: 'When riding downhill, should the horse have his head on a longer rein and the rider lean back ? Or should the rider lean forward with more of a contact? Minette Rice Edwards on Horse&Rider answers: Riding downhill successfully is a question of good balance. Some horses are naturally better at travelling down a steep slope than others and this is usually due to their conformation, suppleness, flexibility of joints, strenghts in their hindquarters and fitness. It is possible, however, to improve a horse's performance with training and practice. If possible, turn your horse out in a field with a steep hill where the water is at the top and the feed at the bottom! He can then learn to negotiate the slope working out the mechanics for himself, becoming well balanced and sure footed.

Safety of downhill riding

The safety of downhill riding is dependent on the position, stability and confidence of the rider. When riding slowly down a steep hill, give the horse his head so he can balance himself, but mantain a light contact to catch him if he trips. Sit still - your back engaged for support and your hips loose- allowing your seat bones to follow the movement of the horse.

When travelling faster down a lesser slope, take a firmer contact, holding the horse with your back so that he doesn't gather more speed than is safe for the situation. Always keep your calves close to his sides to help keep his hindlegs under his body, maintain your own poise and confidence, and most important... breathe!


When teaching your horse to cope with travelling downhill with the weight of a rider, start with gentle slopes in walk and when you are both confident, try a slow, balanced trot, progresing to canter. When on your training rides, keep a regular speed and rhytm over undulating ground to develop that essential balance and agility.

Gradually increase the severity of the gradient and remember that correct flatwork - to promote suppleness - and riding up long hills - to build muscles and stamina - are also essential to the preparation.
Staff Il Paretaio 2016-02-11