10 Simple Ways to Improve as a Rider
It is central to my riding and training philosophy that everything we do has the potential to make us better riders. This list contains 10 little things that I have found improve my riding. Each takes only a five minutes or less, and not only benefits you, but your horse as well.
1. Drink Plenty of Water
You have to remember that you are an athlete. Athletes need water to repair and maintain muscle tissue, maintain blood flow, and help transport oxygen through the body, among other things. Keep a 1 liter bottle with you at all times, and strive to refill it at least once throughout the day.
2. Stretch Your Body
Riders tend to develop bad knees, hips, and backs. If you treat your body well, it will last longer, so take two minutes to stretch out some of the muscles that will be targeted while riding. These include your calves, hamstrings, and quads. This will also help prevent joint pain as tight muscles tend to pull.
Many great horsemen believe that the breath controls the horse, so go ahead and take a few minutes to close your eyes and just focus on your breath each morning. When you begin to feel stressed, confused, nervous, or frustrated during your ride, take a few deep breaths, slowly pulling air all the way down to the bottom of your lungs and then slowly letting every drop of air leave your lungs. This slows down your heart rate and calms anxiety while helping you focus. Your horse will pick up on this too.
4. Practice Mindfulness
Use your warm up as a mindfulness practice. See if you can notice where you are holding tension in your body, where your mind wanders off to, what your riding position is like. Then take a few minutes to see if you can notice the way your horse is moving, if he’s carrying tension, or how he is feeling today. Finally, see if you can figure out how your weight and movements impact your horse’s balance and freedom of movement. It only takes as long as it takes to warm your horse up, and you’ll be set up for a much better ride because you did it!
5. Practice Balance in the Saddle
On horseback, do a lap of walk, sitting trot and canter each way without stirrups (just make sure not to bounce so much you make your horse sore). Try doing a lap in two-point, or a lap of up-up-downs (post-post-sits). Your coach and your horse will thank you!
6. Study Pictures of Professional Riders
Whenever I see a rider in a magazine, on TV, or other media, I spend a minute studying their position, the horse’s movement, and the harmony between the horse and rider. If the rider is really good I try to study what they are doing well so that I can strive for that in my own riding. If the rider is a beginner or amateur, I pretend that I am their coach, and find something they are doing well as well as something they could improve on. This will make you more aware in the saddle, and give you an image to go with the feeling of a movement.
7. Video Your Rides
This one kind of pings off the last suggestion, only instead of learning from another rider, you are learning from yourself. If you can have someone video your ride, it might help give you a new perspective on why you have been stuck on that one transition for so long, or why you always lose your balance over that obstacle.
I started doing this before shows when I was in High School, but now I use it any time something is challenging me. I close my eyes and imagine I’m riding my dressage test. I go through every step and try to really feel it. When my horse pops his shoulder in that bottom corner I envision the aids I will use to correct it. You’ll be surprised at how effective this one is!
Train yourself to always have good riding posture, whether you are sitting at your desk, walking your dog, or driving your car. Belly engaged, pelvis tucked, shoulders back and down, looking where you want to go. You can even go one step further and train your legs to turn in from the hip if you’re like me and have a hard time keeping your toes in.
10. Drink Lemon Water
After a hard ride your muscles build up lactic acid. This is what makes you sore the next day. Drinking hot lemon water before bed can help break down that lactic acid and keep the sore muscles at bay.
Have you tried any of these? Have suggestions for other simple things to improve your riding? Leave your experience in the comments section!