The natural fear we have of being on horseback is the first thing to be overcome, and the only way to gain confidence is to ride an animal that is absolutely quiet. When that confidence has once become firmly established you are on the high-road to make a good rider. Whether it is for the boy or the man of mature years who is beginning to ride, a horse should be selected that requires kicking along, and one that will not misbehave itself in any contingency which may arise. The steed that is eager to go and wants controlling, absorbs all the tyro's attention, so that he has no thought to spare for his seat, and will never reach the happy state of mind which is born of perfect confidence.
A riding-school is undoubtedly the best place for first lessons, and the beginner should learn there to sit a horse without reins. It is of the utmost importance that a boy or man should get into the habit of balancing himself without the aid of reins. If all riders were made to go through a course of lessons on horseback without reins we should have many better horsemen, and the poor animals would not be tortured in the way they frequently are.
Some people are quick to learn, and others are equally slow, but it is in the power of every one to acquire a safe and firm seat if they will only take the trouble.
A graceful seat is always a question of taste or opinion, and it is one to which the object should never give a thought. I do not mean to infer that a graceful horseman is not pleasanter to look upon than an awkward one, but the man himself must never consider his riding from that point of view. All he has to learn is first of all to acquire a firm seat, and then with increasing confidence the position may become easy, but he must leave the outward appearance of his riding capabilities to be judged by others, and nothing he can do in that direction is likely to affect their decision.
A really easy and graceful style is seldom acquired by any one who has not begun to ride in early life, but that need never bother you, as you will get on the back of the horse for your own pleasure and not for that of onlookers.
Those who have not ridden much would hardly believe the faculty a horse has of understanding the exact feelings of his rider, but whether this is conveyed by a touch on the reins or by the pressure of the leg I have never yet been able to decide. You may, however, be quite certain that the animal is fully aware of any fear or nervousness you entertain before you know it yourself. This is why horses which are irreproachable in their behaviour with some men will, when mounted by a nervous individual, perform all kinds of disconcerting antics, and make themselves generally unpleasant.
This sympathetic magnetism, or whatever it is, becomes a very powerful medium in the hands of a good rider, and he is able to convey his wishes to the animal he bestrides as quickly as his brain evolves them, whereas the bad or nervous rider imparts unconsciously only the fears he is imbued with.
This is one good reason why a horseman should never be vacillating or undecided, but always quick to make up his mind. If you do not know yourself what you want to do, the horse will become confused by the chaos in your mind, and will either get frightened or, if strong-willed, will assert his superiority and ever afterwards refuse to obey you. Man must supply the nerve and brain power; then, if he has a certain amount of experience, he will find the horse a willing servant. A horse with a nervous man on his back is like a ship without a rudder.
The horse is naturally a very nervous animal, and therefore the person who attempts to control him ought to be particularly strong in that respect. I believe the majority of horses like to be controlled, and to feel that the human being guiding their actions is one they have confidence in as well as their respect. You must let them understand that you are the master and must be obeyed, but at the same time a master who will always be just, and never administer punishment that is undeserved.
It is a mistaken kindness not to correct a horse or punish him when he does wrong, as it is only an encouragement to him to continue in the error of his ways, and stronger measures will be required later on.
A man ought, however, to be a fairly accomplished rider before he attempts to coerce an unwilling horse by punishment, or any other means. There is one excellent rule I would have you ever bear in mind, and that is, never strike a blow in anger under the excuse of correction. This rule applies equally to those who have the management of either children, horses, or dogs.
When the occasion does arise, and your horse has to be punished, strike quick and strike hard. Half measures are useless, and serve to irritate rather than to correct.
Learn to use your left hand as well as the right. Pull the horse up and hit him whilst he is standing, as he only looks upon blows administered when he is moving as hints to go faster. Some horses have naturally much thicker skins than others, and a blow that would drive another mad falls unheeded on their callous hides. You will see, therefore, that it is impossible to make any rule, and that the man who has the control of horses must exercise considerable discretion. Thoroughbred horses require more persuasion and less whip, whilst their phlegmatic brethren with the tinge of the hairy heel will take a hiding without resentment.
In ordinary riding on well-broken animals there are not many probabilities of getting falls, but if you ride to hounds across country you must expect to get down occasionally. The most unpleasant kind of tumble is, however, to be kicked off, and though we may all be subject to this indignity at some period of our lives, we never expect it to happen after we have passed the first rudiments of riding. Some people can see no difference between the humiliating " voluntary" and the honourable fall when the rider comes to the ground with his horse. Some one in the hunting-field may have been taking on an extra large-sized bit of timber, over which he comes to grief, and the next day we read in the paper, Mr. So-and-so was " thrown " from his horse.