I've been riding for years and learned to never attempt any new skill without a trusted, certified instructor and a reliable, sound horse.
Horseback riding is a rewarding but dangerous sport. Never attempt any new skill (especially galloping) without a trusted, certified instructor and a reliable, sound horse. If you can, learn to gallop in an enclosed arena and not in an open field.
Definition of a Gallop
- The horse has four main gaits: walk, trot, canter, and gallop.
- The gallop is the fastest gait, but it has four distinct beats, just like the walk.
- At one point in the gallop stride, all four hooves are suspended in the air.
A Balanced Gallop Position
When first learning to gallop, the rider's job is to stay up off the horse's back and get balanced. Why do you need to balance? Just imagine how hard it would be for you to run with someone flopping around on your back! As you become more experienced, you'll be able to influence the horse's stride and balance in a positive manner, but for now, just try to stay up off the horse's back with your weight centered.
The best galloping position is a two-point seat, also known as the half seat or jumping seat. If you are not already very comfortable and steady in the two-point position, you are not ready to gallop.
The Basics of a Proper Two-Point Position
- Fold forward at the hips at about a 45-degree angle.
- Let all of your weight sink into your heels and let your feet press into the stirrup irons.
- Keep your feet directly below your hips so that your weight is centered and balanced.
- Raise your seat slightly out of the saddle, and hold onto the horse's mane for balance, if necessary.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed and down and your chest lifted and open.
- As always, keep your chin lifted and ears in line with your shoulders and hips.
Shorten your reins so that you still have a steady connection to the bit, but never use the reins for balance.
How to Adjust the Stirrups
You may need to adjust your stirrups to the proper length for a two-point or half-seat position. Ideally, your thigh should be parallel to the horse's shoulder. Stirrups that are too short will be uncomfortable and leave you too far from the saddle, but if they are two long, you will have difficulty staying up off the seat.
However, once you have developed some strength and balance in the two-point, you should practice without your stirrups—as torturous as that may sound. What happens if you lose a stirrup while you are galloping? You should be able to maintain your position as the horse continues to gallop, and it's also a good idea to practice regaining your stirrup without stopping and leaning over.
Maintaining Your Balance
Your position is constantly adjusting to the horse's stride. Keep reminding yourself to
- send your heels down, and
- lift through the chest.
This is especially important if your horse begins to spook, buck, or make any other unexpected moves. The natural reaction is to hunch over the horse's neck, but sitting up tall and sending all of your weight down into your heels could keep you on your horse!