How often do you get off your horse thinking ‘That ride was perfect”? Really, it almost never happens! While we often dismount bursting with pride at what we’ve achieved, riding is a learning curve. Just like other sports, we keep going not only because we enjoy it, but because there’s always more to learn! So, the better question is, what will you achieve together in 2022? Here to help you on your journey, take a look at our top 5 tips for better riding this year.
1. Improve Your Warm Up
Be honest, do you really allow your horse enough time to warm up properly? For most of us, we don’t really think about this part of our ride, we’re more focused on getting it done and out of the way. Sadly though, this can really leave our horse at a disadvantage, with their body unprepared for work and vulnerable to injury.
In itself the phrase ‘warming up’ is a bit misleading. What we’re actually talking about is the process of preparing our horse’s body for work. Here’s what actually happens:
- Their respiration rate increases, drawing more oxygen into their body.
- Their heart rate rises, pumping blood around their body faster.
- The muscle cells begin using up fuel. This generates heat, which allows the enzymes to function better.
- The tendons and muscles become more elastic, preventing tissue damage caused by sudden stress.
All in all, warming up is pretty important! But how do you go about it?
How To Warm Up
Starting way before you mount up or even tack up, a good massage using a pad, mitt, roller or even grooming brush is a great way to increase blood flow to their muscles. Once you’re ready to get on board, start your warm up at walk, on a nice long rein. By riding your horse from leg to hand into a long contact, this will allow them to stretch and relax their muscles. You can then gradually collect your reins up ready to start introducing school movements and transitions.
If your horse can be sharp or tense, you can work in reverse. Aim towards allowing your horse to stretch into a long rein when they’re ready to actively seek their bit.
2. Use Transitions
At some point or another, we’ve all been told about the importance of transitions. In fact, the undisputed King of dressage, Carl Hester says that “you should ride about 200 transitions per session”. The question is, what exactly does this mean, and why do transitions play such a big part in improving our horse’s way of going? A transition is essentially a change, this could be in gait, speed or side length.
As new riders, we’re all taught that transitions are a great way to test that the breaks and accelerator work, but that’s not all they’re for. Transitions are a great way to keep our horse’s listing, encouraging them to be more responsive to our aids. In order to complete a transition, our horse’s must alter their centre of gravity, shifting their weight up off their forehand. This engages their hind quarters, improving their strength and developing a balanced, uphill way of going. So, whether you’re an aspiring dressage champ of simply dream of a light and responsive ride, transitions are the key!
Remember: Whether your transitioning from canter to trot or extended to collected, impulsion and activity are key. So, practice using your seat and leg to ensure you’re re-purposing their energy, not losing it!
3. Develop Bend
First off, bending does not refer to your horse’s head positioning, but the shape they create with their whole body. When we’re turning, we want our horse to be soft and supple not stiff or rigid. As new riders we turn by looking in the direction we want to go in, while using our inside rein. This may get us off to a good start as a novice, but it’s something we have to unlearn as we progress.
Sadly, there’s loads of ways to get bending wrong. It’s easiest to see this when trotting on a circle. Commonly, our horse will have a stiff and a supple side. On their supple rein, they will over bend causing them to fall out through their outside shoulder, making their circle bigger. On their stiff side, they step short with their inside hind leg. This causes them to drop in through their inside shoulder, creating a smaller circle. This can be really frustrating as a rider, but don’t give up hope. To correct this, if your horse falls out, lift and close the outside rein and use your outside leg to provide support. If your horse falls in, lift and close the inside rein and use your inside leg to ask them to step under.
As your horse’s balance improves, this will become easier. Before long you’ll be able to create flexion through your inside hand and leg, while using half halts down the outside rein to keep their neck central.
4. Mix It Up
Monotony sucks! Do you ever hear your alarm go off and think to yourself ‘here we go again’? When we’re doing the same things day in and day out, it’s really easy to get fed up, and simply switch off. Sadly, it isn’t just us that can feel a bit like this, our horse’s can too. That being said, there’s loads of ways we can keep things interesting. For example, why not try something new? You could be adventurous and have a go at fun rides, beach rides or drag hunting or stick closer to home and simply swap your usual discipline for dressage, jumping, hacking or cross country. You know what they say, variety is the spice of life!
5. Take Breaks
This one might be last on our list, but it’s certainly not the least important! Setting goals before a ride is how we progress, right? The thing is, it’s easy to become fixated on what we’re aiming to achieve. Sometimes we all need to take a step back and remember that our horse’s aren’t machines and Rome wasn’t built in a day. While repetition can be the key to nailing those perfect circles, leg yield, flying changes or related distances, don’t forget to take breaks. Learning something new can be both mentally and physically draining for us and our horses. By moving back a few steps to those stretching exercises and transitions it provides a much needed breather. This might take a little time out of your ride, but picking back up with a relaxed body and a focused mind can really help keep you and your horse moving towards those new year goals.
There you have it, we hope you’ve our top 5 tips for better rides helpful. Don’t forget to let us know your 2022 riding goals down in the comments. On behalf of everyone here at Naylors, Happy New Year!