If show season is over, and you have a bit of a lull before you start getting in shape for next spring. The cold weather means you might have to slow down a bit, because a hot horse is hard to cool down and dry out, or it’s just too cold to concentrate hard. You may want to keep warm by riding bareback. So you don’t want a ride that is too strenuous, but will still be interesting for both you and your horse. These are little exercises that will help you learn some skills while having fun. So they are good for those times when a full out schooling session isn’t possible, or you just don’t feel like it. As you try these things, it’s best to go slow, have a friend handy to help and of course wear your helmet and other safety equipment.
Walk a straight line
Can you make your horse travel in a completely straight line? Do you know how to check if it already does? Some horses ‘dog track’ and their hind hooves travel to one side or other of the front. Rider inattention allows some horses to wander a bit even if you are riding down the rail. Learn to ride in a straight line at a walk, and once you’re successful, try a trot or whatever gait is your horse’s next gear.
Count your steps
Can you control your horse well enough to make it walk exactly a specific number of steps? You can make this a bit easier if you choose a number divisible by four at first. Cue your horse to walk, count out the step and halt exactly on the number you’ve chosen.
Ride with your eyes closed
Have a friend walk beside your horse for safety. Try to ride a pattern or through pylons or other safe markers with your eyes closed. Have your friend lead you, making turns and stops and see how it affects your balance.
Ride Without Stirrups
There are a lot of November challenges out there like No-Namo-Write or Movember. But you might want to try a No Stirrup November challenge. You can try it by yourself, have a friend or coach put your horse on the lunge line, or just ride bareback. However you try it, you’ll learn more about keeping a secure seat, and build some muscle memory.
You probably don’t want to jump backwards right away as Polo did awhile back. But, with a friend leading your horse, experiment with riding backwards. Go slow and keep to a walk. Bareback is probably easiest and most comfortable. You’ll find you’ll need to adjust your balance and seat to stay safely on the horse. A spotter walking alongside can give you extra security.
Stretches in the Saddle
Try some stretches in the saddle. With your horse standing quietly, reach forward and touch its ears, turn and touch its tail, Touch both of your feet. Make sure your seat and legs stay where they should with each stretch.
Steer With Your Eyes and Body
Loosen the contact you have on the reins and try relying on your balance to steer your horse. At a walk, try turning your head and looking at the opposite side of the arena. Notice where your horse drifts. Shift your balance in the saddle. Does your horse deviate from a straight line? Turn your torso and notice how this changes what your horse does.
Use Your Peripheral Vision
Staying safe in an arena, in the show ring, and out on trail means you need to be aware of the other horses near you. You also have to look where you are going, so while you do that, you need to use your peripheral vision. Sally Swift also taught about what happens when we “soften our eyes.” And part of that is the use of peripheral vision.
A quiet ride is a good time try going bitless. You could try a bitless bridle, a neck rope, or going without anything. Go slowly as your horse gets used to being controlled like this. Going bitless isn’t for every rider or horse, so proceed with caution.
Ride to the Rhythm
Ride to music. Pick different songs with a variety of rhythms. Or, make or buy a set of rhythm beads. Be sure your horse is used to the sounds before mounting up.
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