Catch-riding is often considered the ultimate test of good horsemanship. To ride your own horse well is one thing, but to be able to hop on any horse and ride it well … well, for many equestrians, that’s the dream. Catch-riders are given the opportunity to make that dream a reality, but the experience can sometimes be confusing and even stressful. Understanding the catch-riding process fully can help ease that stress, so riders can concentrate on the most important part – the excitement.
Everyone loves the idea of catch-riding, but what does the term mean exactly? Some people assume that they can only call something a “catch-ride” if they are literally hopping on a horse they’ve never ridden and heading straight for the in-gate. While this certainly qualifies, the broader definition includes any time someone is asked to show someone else’s horse, even if they have been able to get in a couple practice rides.
However, Milestone Stables trainer Todd Miles, who has utilized countless catch-riders through the years, has found that good catch-riders rarely need more than one practice to get the feel of a horse.
“Most of them don’t have to do it more than one time,” he said.
Choosing a catch-rider
When hiring a catch-rider, the first thing Todd considers is experience and riding style.
“First of all you’re trying to get a catch-rider that matches the horse,” he said. “Some ride a lot of gaited and some don’t, and vice versa.”
While there are some riders that can truly ride anything, he has found that most riders tend to ride certain types of horses better than others.
“Some of them ride a horse and push it better, and some of them need a horse that kind of goes on its own,” he said.
He considers a few other qualities as well – a pretty rider that will present a pleasing picture and help show the horse to its best advantage, and even a rider’s name recognition.
“I don’t know if this is proper to say or not, but you also want somebody most of the time that has some kind of name out there that the judge will probably stand up and take a little notice,” he said.
When it comes to catch-riding, Todd sees little difference between junior exhibitors and adult amateurs.
“For me, with any rider, it’s all about how much energy you leave in the horse,” he said. “You’ve got to do it by feel.”
Seventeen-year-old Haley Berget is one junior exhibitor who has made a name for herself as a catch-rider. She grew up riding and showing many different horses under the direction of Knollwood Farm, but began catch-riding three years ago at the 2015 Midwest Charity, when she showed Leatherwood’s Zenergy for Carriage Lane Farms.