Today is my birthday, and instead of making a big todo about it, I chose to spend time with my handsome gelding. The weather was perfect for a ride, sunny with a slight breeze to keep things cool.
I also had the chance to meet a new boarder at our barn. She’s been there a few months, but this was the first time I’ve run into her. We immediately hit it off and had a great conversation.
After watching me ride a short time, she asked me several questions about how she could improve with her own horse.
I’m usually hesitant to jump in, it’s not my full-time job anymore to train or teach. And I certainly don’t want to step on any toes for instructors already working at our boarding barn. However, I also know how much I would have given to have someone help me progress in my riding skills early on, rather than just watch me flounder about.
I thought I would post some of the things we discussed, and share that information with you too! Maybe you’ll find these helpful, I know they made a world of difference for me.
Take Seat Training Lessons
Above and beyond anything else, if you can learn to have a sound, independent seat in the saddle, you can find yourself decades ahead of your fellow riders. Aside from leading your peers in a skill, your horse will thank you each and every day and likely become a more stable, calm and happy partner.
Now, you may be asking “What are seat training lessons?”
Seat training lessons are when you’re put on the lunge line, with no stirrups, no reins, and you’re put through a constant series of exercises in the saddle that challenge and improve your balance in the saddle.
Not the best quality, but this video is a good example of exercises that should be performed during these lessons, at all gaits over time, to improve the quality of your seat.
Lunge With A Purpose
Most people (and horses!) look bored out of their mind when lunging! And honestly, I can’t blame them, because it is boring to just send your horse around on an endless circle.
When lunging, you should always have a purpose.
I focus heavily on making sure my horse is properly tracking at the walk and trot when lunging. This builds their strength, balance, flexibility, and develops a calm, responsive and mentally engaged horse.
And, if you need the added benefit, it directly translates to the work you do under saddle.
What is Tracking?
Tracking refers to the where the hind hooves land, relative to the front hooves, at each gait. For example, a horse is “tracking up” if their hind hoof lands in the same hoofprint as the front, when traveling at the trot.
Developing the tracking at each gait affects the purity of the horse’s gaits, but it is also a really useful task to help focus the horse’s mind during work on the lunge.
Step Into Dressage’s article on tracking is also a good read.
It’s Never Too Late to Get a Better Saddle
As I’ve gotten older, my anatomy has become more and more at odds with traditional treed saddles. It got so bad that I was ready to give up riding altogether because every saddle literally rubbed me the wrong way and left me injured and unable to ride for a full week after.
I finally broke down and gave treeless saddles a try as a last resort. I thought, “well if these don’t work, I’ll just resell them and be done with it.”
I’m glad I took the chance because as luck would have it, both treeless saddles I bought are overwhelmingly comfortable and no more pain after riding!
As a bonus, my horse is even more delighted as well.
If you are jiving with your saddle(s), consider looking outside the traditional box and try something new.
If the new price is too steep, you can do like I did, and buy used from eBay. I have zero regrets and saved a lot of money.
It’s Never Too Late to Try Bitless
I once wrote an article against riding bitless, and have since changed my mind. I now ride bitless exclusively and haven’t looked back.
It’s okay to have an opinion, just be sure you’re open-minded enough to consider changing that opinion if the alternative suits you (and your horse) better.
My horse has never gone under saddle with less tension as he does riding bitless. He literally lets out a sigh of relief every time I bridle him. He is even more responsive going bitless than he ever was in a bit, something I never imagined possible.
Dare to imagine the impossible!
Take Care of Yourself Physically
Workout regularly, and stretch even more often than that! Sure, I could ride 7 days a week if I didn’t go to the gym, but it would be doing myself and my horse an injustice in the long run.
Staying active and working on all my muscles, not just those dominant in riding, helps me move better in the saddle. And stretching every day prevents injuries common to riders, like low back pain.
Don’t Sweat Life
I’m guilty of this, which is the self-shaming that comes when life gets in the way of riding as often as I would like.
Unfortunately, as an adult, there is a myriad of responsibilities that can unexpectedly affect your goals and plans. It happens, and something I am reminded of is that it serves no good to shame myself for it.
Instead, do what you can as often as you can. Move on, there’s always tomorrow, next week, next month, next season. If you let the guilt build, it’s more likely you’ll never get back on track at all.
A good example of this happened just this year. A chiropractic adjustment gave me severe whiplash, putting most things in my life on hold for half of the year. Between pain and constant migraines, there wasn’t a whole lot I felt capable of doing.
As soon as the spasms stopped, and the pain subsided enough that I felt capable of getting in the saddle, I was back to it.
Hope you’ve all had a great weekend, here’s to more great rides!