Eight Ways to Improve Your Horsemanship Position
Practice these eight exercises from an AQHA international horsemanship camp to develop into a more functional rider.
By Lauren Wells, AQHA international intern, Summer 2014 | July 13, 2014
During the AQHA international horsemanship camps in Europe, participants have the option to select a particular discipline or event they’d like to focus on for improvement with their horse. However, prior to making this decision, the students from the University of Findlay required participants to work through a preliminary horsemanship pattern to analyze their skill levels in order to place them into proper groups. Then, for most of the first day of camp, the riders worked through the following eight riding exercises.
Try these horsemanship exercises at home for yourself to see improvements in your balance and position, just as we’ve seen with the camp riders. You’ll be amazed at the amount of progress you can make in a short time if these exercises are practiced regularly.
Be sure that you perform these exercises on a well-broke, reliable horse, especially when riding without stirrups, and always seek help from an AQHA Professional Horseman when trying new maneuvers.
- Standing Up in the Stirrups: When looking at the rider from the side, you should be able to draw a straight line behind the ear, down the back of the shoulder, through the center of the hip, and along the back of the calf down to the heel. Standing up in your stirrups automatically sets your leg in the proper position because now all of your weight is in your heels. It also allows you to stretch up out of your calf and elongates your leg.
- Riding Without Stirrups: Although this exercise is dreaded by many, it is extremely helpful in developing your balance and lower leg strength. Riding without stirrups also causes you to sit deeper in the saddle, encouraging you to stay centered on the horse’s back. It can also be an easy fix for riders who have a tendency to lean a certain direction in the saddle.
- Posting Trot With or Without Stirrups: Posting is an excellent way to improve a rider’s feel for the horse’s rhythm. The act of lifting yourself up out of the saddle while the horse is in motion requires core and lower body strength, so this exercise can also strengthen and stabilize these muscle groups. Try posting without stirrups to allow your body and your horse’s stride to lift you up and out of the saddle rather than pushing off of your stirrups.
- Five-Five-Five: This exercise entails sitting for five strides, posting for five strides, and standing for five strides. This is one of the best ways to develop proper rhythm with your horse because it teaches the rider to count strides and to be attentive to where her horse’s feet are. It is also great practice to help the rider learn to pick up the correct diagonal through feel rather than needing to look down at the horse’s shoulder.
- One Leg Back: While one leg is set straight underneath you, stretch your other leg up behind you either while the horse is standing or in motion. The one leg back exercise stretches the thigh and hip flexors while improving overall balance. If you lean more toward a certain direction, practice this exercise more on the opposite side to encourage a more even weight distribution.
- Lean Back: While the horse is at a standstill, bring both of your legs back behind you just like the previous exercise, but lean all the way back in the saddle. You should try to touch the back of your head to the top of your horse’s tail. If you have some lower back pain, you can modify this exercise and shorten your range of motion by not leaning back as far. You might need help from a friend to hold the horse on the ground for you.
- Arm Circles: This move is excellent for improving your upper body position. At the walk, trot or canter, straighten your arm out to your side and rotate your arm forward, up, back and down to form a circle. You can perform this exercise both forward and backward. It stretches and opens up the rider’s shoulders while reducing tension in this area, thus allowing the rider to square her shoulders back without tensing up.
Hopefully these exercises will prove to be beneficial for you, just as they have helped countless AQHA members across Europe. Special thanks to the University of Findlay for providing these exercises. Additionally, I would like to thank AQHA member Zoe Shillabeer from the United Kingdom and her American Quarter Horse Seren Firefly for serving as models.
Thanks for following along! See you next week!