Before the invention of the motor vehicle and steam locomotive, horses provided one of the main means of transport for people and goods and the ability to ride was a necessary skill.
Today, many people ride horses purely for pleasure rather than as a means of getting from one place to another. However, the art of riding and managing horses, called horsemanship, is the same whether the horse is ridden from necessity or for pleasure. The rider must know how to mount, start, direct, stop and dismount.
To mount the horse, the rider usually stands near the horse's left shoulder, facing slightly rearwards, and grasps the pommel (front of the saddle) and reins in the left hand and the cantle (rear of the saddle) in the right hand. The left foot is placed in the stirrup and, using the hands to provide balance and some leverage, the rider lightly springs upwards and swings the right leg over the saddle. At the same time, the right hand moves forwards to grasp the pommel.
To sit correctly, the rider must settle his or her weight firmly in the middle of the saddle, hold the back straight but not stiff and place the ball of each foot in the stirrup. The heels point slightly downwards and the thighs and knees grip the saddle. The hands are held lightly just in front of the saddle and the reins pass from the bit in the horse's mouth under the little finger of each hand and are lightly gripped with all four fingers and the thumb.
To start, direct and stop a horse, the rider uses the hands and legs.
To start the horse, the rider slightly releases the pressure on the reins and squeezes the horse's sides with his or her calves and heels; a skilled rider does not need to kick the horse violently. When the horse is moving, the rider's hands should move freely to allow gentle but firm pressure on the horse's mouth. The rider's legs should be held still and not flap about.
To direct the horse, the rider uses his or her hands and legs to signal changes to the horse. Horses are trained to move away from pressure from the legs and towards pressure from the hands. Therefore, to turn the horse from a straight line into a counter-clockwise circle, the rider keeps the left leg still near the girth and moves the right leg to apply pressure to the horse's side behind the girth. At the same time, the right hand is kept still and slight pressure is applied to the horse's mouth with the left hand, which turns the horse's head into the circle.
To stop the horse, the rider settles his or her weight firmly in the saddle and applies pressure on the horse's mouth. When the horse stops or slows, the pressure is released.
These are the simplest aids that a learner must master. Skilled horsemen and horsewomen are able to make horses perform much more complicated movements in response to subtle signals from their hands and legs. Dismounting is the reverse of mounting. The reins and pommel are held in the left hand and the right hand grasps the pommel or the horse's neck. The right leg is swung over the saddle and the right hand moves back to the cantle to steady the rider.
New riders usually find their enjoyment in riding horses along quiet tracks or in a paddock.
As they gain confidence and skill, many riders take up other aspects of horseriding.
Jumping is a popular pastime of many skilled riders. Show jumping involves riding a horse over a series of specially constructed jumps on a flat arena, whereas cross-country jumping involves completing a course of obstacles over open and sometimes quite rough country.
Hunting, polo, polo crosse and endurance riding are other popular horse-riding activities.
Some people like to compete against other horses and riders in shows, whereas others prefer to ride purely for their own enjoyment.
Many people still ride horses to perform a job; for example, stockmen, mounted police and jockeys.