Build Rhythm While Horseback Riding
Developing a better riding relationship with your horse starts with building rhythm. Try out these great rhythm-building exercises from Richard Shrake.
By Richard Shrake | January 3, 2015
The American Quarter Horse Journal
Making beautiful music with your horse doesn’t take special instruments; you just need patience to develop rhythm, timing and precision – and anyone can do it.
Riding a horse uses skills you already know. You can use these observations to convince your non-horsey friends and family to give riding a try, or you can use the tips to improve your own skills.
What is Rhythm?
Rhythm is the rider’s ability to feel the movement of the horse, and that comes from the horse’s feet.
Each gait has its own rhythm, like different types of music have their own beats. As the horse walks, his rhythm is different than at the trot, and the trot is different than the lope.
Learning to feel those different beats is a matter of learning to feel ripples of vibration from your horse’s feet through your seat bones and stirrups.
Whether we’re showing in performance divisions or riding for recreation, that rhythmic cadence is extremely important.
Importance of Rhythm
If you stand relaxed with one arm in the air and stomp your foot, you can feel the energy flow all the way from your foot to your fingertips.
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But if you stand with your jaw clenched and stomp your foot, the vibration ends at your tight jaw.
If you have that same rigidity in your body, you’ll interrupt the rhythm from your horse’s gaits.
Whether we’re showing in western pleasure, dressage, jumping or roping, that rhythmic cadence is extremely important. The rider feels the rhythm of the horse and is able to collect the animal into a frame in time with the horse, helping the rider to move with the horse and not fight him.
I have seen hundreds of riders go past me at all gaits. Some were stiff as boards, loping along with their upper bodies pumping back and forth. Others bounced along at the jog from the tightness in their knees and ankles.
A rhythmic rider is free to loosen the lower back and the knees and ankles and travel with the flow of the horse.
Rhythm While Riding
To develop a better feeling for the rhythm of your horse, here are some exercises to try.
Posting – In your riding, post the trot, even in a western saddle. The rhythm of the diagonal beat helps you feel the timing of the horse’s feet.
Try trotting around the arena for two or three minutes, posting five strides, sitting five, posting 10, sitting 10 and then repeating the exercise. It will help you develop rhythm and better leg position at the same time. Keep that two-beat gait going. It’s the easiest to feel the energy from your horse.
Some horses have bigger movement. If you have a rough horse, look at it in a positive way: That rough horse is actually helping you develop rhythm.
Were these exercises helpful? AQHA’s FREE Riding Lessons With Richard Shrake report has even more helpful horseback riding tips.
If your horse doesn’t have big gaits, try working him over cavalletti or logs to exaggerate his movement so that you can follow his rhythm.
Rope Twirl – To try this exercise, start trotting your horse. Keep that rhythmic two-beat gait going. Now take your arm and swing it over your head, as if you have a rope in it. Swing in rhythm with the horse’s feet.
Do this exercise in both directions, using both arms. The more you do it, the more rhythm you’ll develop. Later, you can try it at the lope, too.
Another exercise involves asking a friend to longe your horse while you ride. This exercise has the side benefit of being a great way to get a non-horsey spouse involved in your horse activities.
As you circle around the person longeing the horse, put your reins down or tie them in a loose knot. Hold your arms out to the side and swing them like propellers in time to the trot. As the horse’s inside front foot hits the ground, your arms should swing with the diagonal beat of the horse toward that front foot. As the outside foot hits the ground, swing your body to the outside.
Because you’re not guiding the horse, you can concentrate on feeling the rhythm instead of fighting it.
When you learn and practice these exercises, you’re developing what we call muscle memory. That means when the time comes to do something – chase a cow or collect your horse for a dressage test – you’ll be able to adjust to the horse’s rhythm without thinking. That makes you a better rider.