angle-left Horseback Riding Up and Down Hills

Horseback Riding Up and Down Hills

Hills can be one of the biggest challenges to your horse when trail riding. Here’s how to do it safely.

palomino walks down a hill into a river (Credit: AQHA)

text size

Not only must a horse balance himself on hill ascents and descents, he must also balance you on his back. That’s why riding up and down hills requires the perfect seat, as well as the right path up and down hill.

Read on for trail ride safety tips to use when riding a horse up and down hills.

Riding Up Hills:

  1. Always make sure your saddle is cinched securely and properly to prevent slippage. Be sure the cinch does not pinch or injure your horse. In really steep country, you will want to use a breast collar.
  2. Teach your horse to walk up a hill. Running requires a horse to hold his head higher, thereby limiting his view of the trail. Swift-moving feet increase the chances for your horse to stumble and fall.
  3. Lean forward in the saddle to shift your center of gravity to a point just behind your horse’s withers. When climbing a really steep hill, grab the saddlehorn to keep your weight forward.
  4. Do not squirm in the saddle, as your horse will need to adjust his balance each time to counter your weight shifts.
  5. Give your horse his head by keeping your hands low and reins loose but not dangling, as a horse can easily put a foot through a low loop, which can lead to an injury or a broken rein.
  6. In most instances, let your horse pick and choose his own way, particularly when the footing is loose or uneven. He will choose the easiest path for himself. But pay close attention, because he could go too far off the trail into a dangerous situation.
  7. When riding in groups, always allow the rider ahead of you to ascend one-third to one-half the distance of the hill before asking your horse to climb to prevent bunching if any of the horses ahead balk or refuse to climb or try to turn around. It is difficult for a horse to regain momentum after stopping on a steep hill.
  8. Once you make it to the top, move your horse away from the top to allow others to safely reach the crest.
  9. If the climb is hard and tough, and your horse is breathing hard and sweating, let him rest before riding on.

Riding Down Hills:

  1. Make sure your saddle is secure so it won’t slide forward.
  2. Let the rider in front of you cover at least one-third to one-half of the distance before beginning your descent. This will prevent your horse from crowding the horse in front, and also give your horse a better view of the trail.
  3. Shift your center of gravity slightly forward, but not as far forward as when climbing. This will assist your horse with the free movement and pivoting he may have to do with his hindquarters. Many riders will automatically shift their weight back in the saddle, believing they must lighten the horse’s front end; however, it is the hindquarters that work hardest when descending a hill.
  4. Stay perpendicular to the ground. A good guide is to line your body up with the trees, which grow straight up.
  5. Ride with your hands low and the reins loose, but not so loose your horse can entangle a foot.
  6. Teach your horse to walk slowly and carefully. Never hurry down a hill.
  7. As with climbing, allow your horse to choose his way over difficult footing; however, make sure he chooses a safe route for both you and him.
  8. If you encounter a group climbing up the hill, yield to them by safely moving your horse off of the trail, positioning his hindquarters away from the trail to allow the riders to pass safely.

Always keep in mind that as a rider you are not just a passenger, you are a partner with your horse, working as a team to ensure a safe and enjoyable ride for both of you.