I am not, however, going to discuss race riding here, and if you wish to become an expert I should advise you to get some one who trains chasers to let you ride gallops over a course. If you will take my advice you will leave it alone, as you are nearly certain to get hurt sooner or later, and you will find quite enough risks in the hunting-field, with a great deal more satisfaction.
I ought before this to have given you a few hints on mounting, as the would-be horseman must get into the saddle ere he begins to ride. It is usual to mount on the near (left) side, but I advise a boy to practise getting up on both sides, as, if he hurts his leg, he may find it convenient. We will, however, consider now mounting only on the near side.
Stand in front of the saddle, grasp mane and reins with the left hand, then place your left foot in the stirrup, and swing yourself up. In this way, if the horse should happen to move on, the movement helps you to rise ; whereas, if you stand behind the saddle, a very nasty accident may be the result. Another way of mounting a young horse, or one that will not stand, is to grasp the cheek of bridle in the left hand, and swing yourself up with the pommel, but before doing this you should ascertain that the girths are sufficiently tight, or the saddle may slip.
Mounting and dismounting ought to be the first step in boys' riding lessons, though of course when they begin to ride as children this is not possible. I am thinking, however, of a boy between eight and ten, who with a little instruction would soon be able to get into the saddle without any help and without any one holding his pony's head. When he has accomplished this, he may be trusted to go out by himself, and nothing tends to give a boy greater confidence than to go for a ride without being accompanied by parent or groom. I always think that it is a good plan for the first mounting lesson to be given in the stable, and it is also an excellent place to show a boy how to sit in the saddle. If he starts riding at once, his sole idea is sticking to the saddle, and any hints that may be given then will be entirely unheeded.
There is of course a wide difference between a horse standing still and one in motion, but a boy will gain a familiarity with the saddle, and, not being afraid of falling off, will be able to give his whole attention to his instructor. It is very important to get into the habit of sitting in the right position, and once acquired it will come naturally afterwards.
Boys should never use spurs, but if they want to wear them, thinking to improve the appearance of a boot, the rowels should always be removed. Nine out of ten grown-up people do not know how to use them, or use them at the wrong time. More accidents occur and more horses run away from the use of spurs than from any other cause. I have often seen a man, who has been shaken from the centre of the saddle in going over a jump, sawing at his horse's mouth, and vainly endeavouring to stop it, whilst all the time the spurs were scoring the poor brute's sides, and driving it to madness.
There is a wide divergence of opinion as to the merits of the best safety-stirrup, but for a boy who is learning to ride I think there is nothing better than the old-fashioned boot-stirrup. With this it is impossible to get hung up, and, as the foot cannot enter more than a certain distance, the boy gets into the habit of riding on the ball of the foot.
A great many men, who are otherwise good riders, cannot get out of the habit of clutching at the reins when a horse is jumping a fence. This, let me tell you, is a fatal thing to do, and is the cause of more falls than anything else. I think I have already stated that bending a horse's neck contracts the action of his hind legs. Watch a bad rider, and you will see what happens for yourself. The horse rises at a fence, and for the moment all is well; but then the rider finds himself launched into mid-air, and involuntarily takes a firm grip on the reins. At that second the horse is wanting to stretch out his neck and get the full benefit of the spring with which he left the ground, but the tightening rein draws in the head and contracts the muscles of the hind quarters. This has the effect of shortening the stride and curtailing the distance which would have been otherwise cleared. The consequence is the horse's hind legs usually catch on the fence, and, if there is a ditch beyond, his fore feet are nearly certain to drop into it. This, of course, means a fall, and when the rider rises to his feet he generally pours out curses, and sometimes blows, on the offending quadruped, for a mistake committed by the man and not the animal.
The offenders themselves are very seldom aware they are guilty of this grave fault, and, it being a delicate subject for advice by friends, they do nothing to mend their ways. The habit, however, once acquired, is very difficult to get out of, and a boy should be especially careful not to fall into it. You should be able to sit a horse over a fence without reins, and it is a good plan to have a few rides in a school on a trained jumper, so that you will get into the habit of balancing yourself without assistance from the bridle.
The bad rider looses the reins as the horse is going at the fence, and tightens them when in the air.
The beginner should not—and in fact no man until he has had considerable experience should— think of giving any assistance to a horse in the act of jumping. A really good rider with decent hands can undoubtedly help a horse, but the average man generally does more harm than good by his interference. The boy to whom I am now talking need not therefore worry himself about this question, and all he has to think about is to sit still and give the horse his head.
Do not, however, let everything go before you get to the fence, or the horse will not understand your intentions, and may possibly refuse ; but just keep a gentle feel on the reins until you are in the air, and then leave the animal to do the rest.