Whether you want to pursue equestrian riding as a professional sport or it’s a hobby you like to enjoy on the weekends, it’s always nice to polish your technique. Horseback riding requires a certain type of finesse that not quite everyone can pull off. If you want your ride to look and feel professional, try out some of these exercises to make your craft look impeccably smooth.
Novice riders have the natural tendency to control every aspect of their ride with their hands. However, doing the opposite will make your ride easier. You should learn to use your legs and core to improve your riding and leave your hands to the more sophisticated tricks.
Try out some of these techniques to improve your grip — or softening it rather, to make your riding more effective.
Think of your reigns as rubber bands. You don’t want them snapping or sagging against your horse’s mouth. Keep your hands a foot and a half apart to prevent your reigns from tugging on your house. Using light but steady contact, slowly open and close your elbows timed with your horse’s head and neck gesture; this refers to when your horse bobs its head twice with every walk stride.
Practice it with a walk, trot, and canter, as you’re going around the chorale. The goal is to avoid the reigns from touching your horse’s neck. The tension in your reigns should be loose enough that you don’t pull on your horse, but tight enough that you have control over them. The reason for learning to relax the tension in your reigns is because you will never win the tug-of-war game with your horse. It’s at least 10 times heavier and stronger than you.
Hold your reigns backwards in your fists to avoid “busy hands.” Bouncy hands tend to distract and confuse your horse. Holding your reigns in this manner limits the strength of your hands over them. Practice all three gaits in this position and when you’re confident enough, move on to a gallop. Holding your reigns like this can be confusing at first and can feel unstable. Overtime you will realize that this is more comfortable than gripping the reigns with all four fingers and it offers more stability.
Prevent “broken” wrist posture by holding a bat (very short whip) horizontally with one end pressed against the palm of each hand, while simultaneously holding your reigns. This will keep your hands steady and parallel to your horse’s neck. Alternatively, you can splint your wrist with a tongue depressor to keep them straight. Preventing constant contact with your horse teaches you to communicate with them more.
Keeping your hands parallel to your horse’s neck allows you to follow your horses motion fluidly.
If you’re having trouble with keeping your hands in the same place, mark where your hands should be on the reigns with a piece of tape. Sectioning your reigns prevents them from becoming too long or short.
Developing leg stability is key to a rider’s progress. By improving your leg placement and technique, you teach your horse to respond more promptly to the signals you give them.
The ideal leg position is directly underneath your body. You can’t have your leg swing backward because your body will fall forward — eventually you will fall off your horse entirely.
Swinging your legs to far forward causes you to fall backwards — which will result to you falling off the horse (again), except in a much more painful way.
Horses take leg placements as different signals or cues. Your legs behind the girth signals that the horse either pick up the canter or move their hindquarters sideways. Additionally, your upper body placement is significant to a horses movement. By leaning backwards, you may unconsciously be telling your horse to slow down. Strengthen the control in your legs and core, this should help you control your riding posture and your horse better.
Adjust your stirrup length. The ideal length varies per rider but the general rule is that when your legs hang down relaxed on the horses sides, the bars should touch your ankles.
If your legs tend to swing forward while you ride, the stirrups may be too long and if they slip backward, they’re too short.
Use posting exercises to strengthen your legs and core. First do it by sitting for two beats and rising for one, over and over. This will teach your body not to get ahead of your horse’s motion. Such as by practicing to stay out of the saddle for two beats and sitting for one. Doing this will teach your body to avoid falling behind the motion and stay upright.
If your horse isn’t responsive to leg aids, try riding with a whip as opposed to spurs — accustom your horse to the feel of a whip before you try out this exercise. The general command to make your horse move forward is by gently squeezing or kicking their sides a few times. However, if this doesn’t work, smack them with moderate pressure just behind your legs while clicking your tongue. It’s crucial that they associate the sound of your clicking with the whip, otherwise the click wouldn’t mean anything to them.
Improving your core and legs come hand in hand, which is why most exercises that engage the muscles from your chest downward involve moving the tension toward your abdomen to give your thighs more strength to hold your body in place as you ride.
How much weight you’re using on your seat can drastically improve your riding. It’s a simple matter of shifting your weight from the saddle or moving up into two-point position to encourage your horse to go forward. Or moving slightly backward signaling your horse to slow down. As your technique advances, you will learn how to use your seat in coordination with your extremities and appendages to keep balanced as your horse takes turns.
Tugging at your horses’ reigns aren’t enough to give them signals or cues. Sometimes, you need to rely on your seat to tell them what to do.
If you want your horse to slow from a trot to a walk, try keeping your legs in contact with its sides. Doing this in unison with a verbal cue such as “walk” will teach them to slow down.
Practice riding your horse stirrups. This may seem like a scary thought — because to some extent it is. But learning to engage your core muscles to stabilize your ride makes you a better rider overall. Novice riders are too reliant on the stirrups to give them stability throughout their ride, but trained professionals develop their core to give them a firm grasp of their center of gravity. Without the stirrups to balance on and press your weight against, your body will have to spend more time sitting in the saddle and shifting your weight to influence what your horse will do next.
Ride your horse bareback or with just a saddle pad. Your horse’s spine swings in a three-dimensional motion, you need to get a feel of it to predict how your horse will perform and how much you need to adjust to them. There is so much inflexible material between you and your horse! Saddles with a wooden or plastic tree are the worst. Moreover, many saddles, especially the ones with big knee blocks, force the rider into a certain position. Ride without a saddle until you have developed a good seat, provided that horse is safe and calm. If you don’t dare to ditch your saddle yet, ride without stirrups.
It’s natural to feel spooked at first when you’re trying out new exercises to improve your riding. Remember to practice these techniques with a trained professional or an instructor around. If not done correctly, you could potentially injure yourself or fall off your horse.
Also, these exercises don’t work overnight. So, don’t beat yourself up over it if you don’t see the results that you want. It takes years to become a professional rider. But with a little bit of determination and a whole lot of practice, you’re bound to reach the level you’re aiming for.