angle-left Riding Exercises for Strength and Balance, Part 1

Riding Exercises for Strength and Balance, Part 1

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Andy Moorman recommends these simple horseback-riding exercises guaranteed to make you stronger and more balanced in the saddle.
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Strength and balance work together to help you relax and communicate with your horse so you can have the best ride possible whether you’re doing an equitation pattern, competing in horsemanship or even speeding around barrels. AQHA Professional Horsewoman Andy Moorman uses several exercises like different posting rhythms and riding without stirrups to help her riders become more secure in the saddle.

Hand on Hip

This exercise makes you ride down through your leg and find your balance and center of gravity over the horse’s center of gravity. At the same time, you learn to be independent of your hands for balance.

Pick up the trot and place one hand on your hip. Your other hand holds the reins, which should be loose to keep you from balancing on the horse’s mouth. As you trot, make an elongated figure-eight. Your outside hand should hold the reins as you go around the turn, so as you change directions, you will change hands. For example, on the left circle, left hand is on hip, and right hand on reins. Vice-versa for the other direction.

This forces you to turn your body toward the direction you are going. It makes you bring your outside shoulder forward, holding your inside shoulder up. Your balance is improved, and you relax and flow with the horse.

Now that you’re more balanced and relaxed in the saddle, you can focus more on becoming a team with your horse. Try out tips from Curt Pate in AQHA’s Training Your Horse for a Better Relationship report.

No Irons Required

When you ride without stirrups, you are forced to stay more centered on the horse. So your overall balance and “feel” improve.

Make sure your horse is quiet and relaxed. To get my beginners ready for this, we drop irons, ride for a little bit, then pick them back up. I try to make this exercise fun, and we try to get into a rhythm. For example: drop stirrups, do a sitting trot circle. Come out of the circle, pick up stirrups and post five strides. Then drop stirrups again, then post five strides and sit again.

If you do little bits and little bits of riding without stirrups, you don’t wear out or get in trouble, and pretty soon you can do this more often and for longer. Soon, you can post without stirrups without hating it. It’s a great idea to ride without stirrups or reins on the longeline. This way, you learn to create transitions and tell your horse where to go with your seat and leg aids - instead of your hands.

If you don’t push yourself to ride without stirrups, you’re never going to get better. Try to ride every day, as much as possible, without stirrups. After time, riders actually like it when judges ask for work with no irons.

Do you want to build great teamwork with your horse? Curt Pate offers tips to help you in AQHA’s Training Your Horse for a Better Relationship report.

Down, Up, Up

Improve balance and feel of your horse while developing a secure leg.

When you post, you typically post down, up, down, up, down, up, right? To do this exercise at the trot, which we call “Down, Up, Up,” you post down, then stay up in the air for two beats. So it’s right diagonal, up, up, left diagonal, up, up, right diagonal, up , up, etc. This exercise, which I learned from trainer Sarah Goode, sounds very simple, but you have to have a secure leg to hold yourself in the air for that second beat before you come down again. And usually, if people are not strong - or I should say, “educated” in their legs - they’ll end up doing down, down, up. So you have to concentrate to do the down, up, up. When you do this, you don’t sit all the way down and unfold your back on the seat part; you just touch the saddle with your seat. It’s touch, up, up, touch, up, up. When you think about it that way, you keep your back arched so you’ll stay in your leg and not fall behind your leg.

I suggest that you enter a big, rectangular area like a show ring. I have my students go down, up, up, on one long side, then do a posting trot around the end of the arena, then get into a two-point position on the other long side of the arena. Then do a posting trot around the end. That way, it’s not a lengthy amount of any one exercise, but there are a lot of transitions to work on at the same time.

Once you master these exercises, check back next week for the second half of this two-part series. Andy describes two more great strength- and balance-building exercises to help you with rhythm and transitions.