Horseback-Riding Exercises for Strength and Balance, Part 2

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Andy Moorman explains two additional strength- and balance-building exercises.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Counting strides while switching from sitting trot to posting trot and then to two-point position helps you and your horse relax. Photo via: Bar H Photography

Part 1 of this series covered three exercises designed to help you increase your strength and balance in the saddle. Now that you’ve mastered those exercises, try these two that are designed to help you further develop your feel for, and rhythm with, your horse.

Count to Five

The right side of your brain controls feel - the part of riding that feels the horse’s rhythm. Some people use primarily the left side of their brains to ride, which can be OK, but they spend a lot of time over-thinking and analyzing instead of just feeling what their horses are doing.

I recommend that my riders count as they ride, because counting keeps the left side of the brain busy and allows you to ride out of the right side of your brain, by your natural instincts. A lot of times, when we get a little tense or a little unsure, we hold our breath, which makes us stiff. You’ll find that this exercise makes you take in a lot of air, and you’ll start to relax. The amazing part is that you’re so busy counting - you’ll stop over-thinking about your horse!

As you ride, whether it’s at the walk, jog, trot, lope or canter, count everything: your breaths, your horse’s steps. I arbitrarily recommend counting in sets of five, because it gives riders enough time to think, but not so much time that they get bored. Counting aloud also forces you to breathe. If you’re having trouble breathing, speak louder.

These exercises are helpful for riders of all disciplines, especially those competing in hunt seat equitation. For more great tips on succeeding in hunt seat equitation, purchase a copy of AQHA's Hunt Seat Equitation DVD.

For instance, at the sitting trot, count when the front outside leg of the horse hits the ground. Count: one, two, three, four, five, with each beat, and deepen your seat when that outside leg hits the ground. Count until you can count out loud in that rhythm.

Next, add another part: sit, sit, sit, post, and when you post up, do five posting, five sitting, five posting. Then move into the two-point position. Count to five while holding the two-point position, then move into five beats of posting, and then back to sitting for five. Next, repeat everything. By the time you’ve done this a few thousand million times, you’re not going to have any trouble with much of anything.

The horses become very relaxed. Their legs become just like a metronome, and they drop their heads and necks. I’ve never seen it fail.

Perfect Those Transitions, Maintain Rhythm

When you ask the horse for downward transitions from the canter to the trot, you should always come up on the correct diagonal, while keeping your horse going forward. Other downward transitions should be performed with no loss of rhythm.

Canter to trot: Understand that downward transitions are not made from your hands; they are made from your body. As you make that transition down, if you deepen your leg and keep your horse going forward, that’s when you’ll get a lovely trot.

If you want to know more about what it takes to win in hunt seat equitation, get your copy of AQHA's Hunt Seat Equitation DVD today. You'll get an AQHA judge's advice on what the judges are looking for.

At the canter, your rhythm feels like a bumpity, bumpity, bumpity. To go from the canter to the trot, you will feel a bumpity, bumpity, sit (first beat of the trot), post (second beat of the trot) - and you will always come up on the correct diagonal.

All you do with your hands is balance the horse. You don’t take back, you don’t throw away, you just change body position. And let the horse drop and go forward.

If you have a horse that’s tense, practice going from the canter to the posting trot, then sitting trot, walk and repeat the process. Pretty soon, that horse’s back will get really soft, and so will the rider’s. It’s a great warm-up for a pattern. The whole thing is that you have to keep your rhythm, keep your feel.

Whatever transition we make, we make it in the same rhythm. We never let the rhythm change. Even if you’re going to a stop, you still maintain the rhythm so that you ride through from the back end so the horse’s hind legs stay under.

Trot to Walk: I make my riders come from the canter or the trot to the walk with no loss of rhythm. Make the horses walk through because this teaches them to keep their hind legs coming through. You can’t go: trot, trot, trot, waaalk, waaaalk. It’s got to be: trot, trot, trot, walk, walk, walk. (Andy snaps her fingers with a measured, steady beat.) You keep that rhythm. It makes riders use their legs to keep the horses coming through - just like follow-through in tennis, baseball or golf. Force yourself to maintain the rhythm and balance.