Pre Ride Check In

Do you do any pre ride checks? Maybe you always check your girth just before you get on, even though you literally just checked it. Perhaps you do a little stretch of your horses front legs?

Do you ever check in with how your body feels before you get on? Or how it feels when you get on?

Being aware of any tension, tightness etc before you get on or pick up your schooling means you can address them before you start. 

Before you get on just have a little check in with how your body feels. Anywhere you feel tension move it a little whether that’s arm rolls, torso rotations or some long stretchy lunges just give your body a chance to wake up and release tension.

When you get on , how do you feel? Can you feel any tension now? Do you need to adjust your position, do any stretching? Are you sat level?

I like to do a little mental check in with my body whilst I’m tacking up and putting my hat on to see which bits of me need a pre ride warm up. Ok, full disclosure I sometimes do weird long lunges and windmill arms whilst walking across the yard……….I call it a time efficient pre ride warm up.

Then when I get on whilst I’m doing the first walk around the arena seeing how the horse feels today I also check in with how I feel sat on a horse today. Do I need to drop a leg out of the stirrup to help that leg hang better? Do I need to open up my right rib cage a little more?

Once I’ve done this it means my body is much better prepared to ride as well as I can. 

Do you prepare yourself before you ride?


Finding your Feel

Sometimes I say things to my clients that may sound a little unhelpful at first.

They can be struggling with a movement, or trying to balance on a gym ball and although I can see what is happening I may not initially correct them.

It sounds harsh but what I want them to do is feel what is happening and then look to correct it themselves. So much of riding is feel; feeling what the horse is doing underneath us and then how our body is responding to that. 

The quality and effectiveness of how your body responds depends on how much control you have on your own body and how in tune with it you are. 

Whilst it’s great to have eyes on the ground to help you out that’s not always possible-and they can’t be in the Dressage arena. 

We need to learn to be more in tune with our bodies so we can feel ourselves that we are sat too left or tipping forwards etc.

It’s also about proprioception or body awareness -Equestrian translation…..Feel! 

How do we do this?

In reality any form of fitness will give you better control of your body. Stronger muscles are more controlled muscles. So, for that reason I favour strength training, but I also like Yoga and Pilates as they focus on movement patterns and symmetry. So in an ideal world you’d be doing strength training and yoga or pilates. 

I also really like balance work such as Gym Balls or Wobble Boards as you get direct feedback on how you move your body affects your balance. Sat too far forward…’ll fall off, sat to the right…’ll fall off, if you sit a little more to the right you will correct this.

 It’s about learning to recognise your own imbalance and having the control and strength to correct them.

If you want some guidance in finding your feel I’ve got space for 121 training and space in some classes.

Is Neutral a Static Position?

When we talk about riding position we say it should be in neutral but do we mean it should stay  there throughout every beat of every stride?

When we ride we move with the horse which means our pelvis and spine are constantly moving to absorb and re-stabilise.

This means stability is not stiff, it is not tense or rigid.

It is the ability to stay balanced whilst absorbing force and going with movement in a relaxed frame. The Spine and Pelvis will gently rock forward, back, up, down and even side to side but in very good riders this will be almost invisible. Yet we all know to do that on top of half a ton of animal is much easier said than done.

What does this mean for our training?

It means that we need to incorporate some of this fluid movement into our off horse training.

We need to learn how to move the Pelvis and Spine in and out of neutral whilst remaining stable throughout.

Now to achieve the strength and control to do this may start with building static strength and body control.

Once we have that we need to advance this to staying stable whilst moving so for example static may be a Wall Squat, moving may be a Squat and then more Dynamic a Squat Jump. The idea being that throughout the Squat and Squat Jump the position does not change wildly it merely adjust subtlety to absorb the landing.

Perhaps for a more visually and kinesthetic (feeling) exercise sit on a gym ball starting from neutral and start to bounce as if advancing a trot, add in your seat bones following the front legs of that trot and start to make that trot bigger. The whole time you should feel that to remain rigid prevents you from being fully in sync with the ball whereas if you allow your spine and pelvis to move you can stay with the ball whilst still remaining in balance.

This involves you learning which muscles are required and what level of tension is needed in these muscles to achieve this. It relies on your own feel and is therefore a really good learning exercise for riding in general.

Give it a go and see what you feel.

Will Cardio improve my riding?

I imagine for many people if you’re told to get fit the first thing that comes to mind is some form of cardio such as running, maybe cycling etc. 


Now I’m a great believer in having a decent baseline of cardio fitness for lung and heart health long term, and in case you get chased by a bear…….However will that necessarily improve your riding?


If you’re out of breath when riding and generally flagging before your lesson has finished then yes that is something that needs to be addressed. If you are perhaps riding X Country and are out of breath struggling to ride strong and alert right to the finish then yes you need to improve your cardio fitness.


For that aiming to run 5k, maybe cycling 10k or doing a dance class whatever gets your heart rate up and you will actually enjoy and stick to is fine. There can be arguments either way for which method is best so honestly I think you should just find something you will enjoy and therefore keep doing it.


However, if you have never felt yourself flagging during a lesson, you don’t get out of breath after some sustained rising trot then taking up running will not necessarily have a huge impact on your riding, you’d be better off looking at improving your strength and stability to make an impact.


I’m not saying don’t take up running or whatever as people run for different reasons other than fitness. If doing some cardio makes you feel good (runners high is real) then absolutely go for it.Maybe it clears your head and makes you feel better overall then that’s great. That’s why I do cardio, it helps burn some calories for weight management and makes me feel more energetic overall.


What I’m trying to say is some form of cardio is a great addition to a healthy lifestyle but unless you do get out of breath riding or struggling to up your game for lack of stamina then it won’t necessarily improve your performance on its or struggle to up your game for lack of stamina then it won’t necessarily improve your performance on its own. If you want to improve your riding off horse there’s other areas such as stability, force absorption and pro prioception you could start with.

Train your Transitions

When you ask for an upwards transition do you go with your horse and stay in your frame or do you get left behind a little and have to catch up?

Do you still ride forwards into your downwards transitions or do you collapse?

The quality of your transitions can have a huge impact on the quality of the pace you are travelling into. For example if you hollow and lose your frame going into canter you are more than likely going to transition your horse into a hollow canter.

If you are a Dressage rider your transitions can gain or lose your marks that could make all the difference on the score sheet.

For Showjumping, Endurance or just pleasure riding smooth transitions help to support your horse and make your paces smoother and more consistent.

So, how do you do this?

In simple terms you need to continue to hold your frame, keeping yourself in self carriage throughout the upward and downward transitions.

In order to do this you need to be able to withstand the forces of acceleration for upward transitions and deceleration for downwards transitions.

Now as I am firm believer in there being more than one way to get fit for riding here’s a couple of things you could consider trying.

For your riding pointers:

  • Focus on maintaining neutral so equal length front to back as you transition.
  • As you come down a transition you should aim to still feel light in the seat, instead of thinking heavy to slow down stead think still. Slow you seat bones, take a deep breath and slow your body but remain in self carriage. You should still be riding forwards into your next pace.
  • If you get left behind on an upward transition focus on keeping your front short-bottom rib to hip as you go up.
  • If you have a tendency to lean forward focus on keeping both seat bones in the saddle and pointing them down.

For your off horse training:

  • Bouncing on a gym ball helps with force absorption, and of you want to up the ante you could add in some balance work by taking your feet off the floor, or throw and catch a ball against a wall.
  • I love Kettlebell work, an exercise such as the kettlebell swing encourages you to maintain a stable core whilst accelerating to swing, then control the stop at the top so there’s your deceleration.
  • Sprint and stop training. Set out a short distance, accelerate as fast as you can then stop dead at the marker into a squat-so stop with bent knees. Then you could add in another acceleration from that position.

I’d also suggest taking up trampolining but apparently there are more accidents seen in A&E from this than horse riding so best not……..

Are you a Help or a Hindrance?

Last week I was able to start 121 training with my clients again-outside so we can social distance but most of my clients are familiar with an arena so training in there isn’t an issue. It’s just nice to have a sense of normality back and see people face to face again rather than via a screen. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can have classes in that arena too-I’m banking on the first week just being a massive pony gossip catch up week, if we do it whilst sat on a gym ball I’m sure that counts as productive training!

I imagine for some of you lessons have also been restarted which hopefully has given you your focus back.

One thing I’ve really enjoyed about lock down is the amount of online training experts have made available. I’ve been watching webinars from Dr Russell MacKechnie-Guire of Centaur Biomechanics about his research into horse and rider asymmetry.
On one of his webinars he said something that really resonated with me and what I want to achieve for both myself and that of my clients.

“ A rider needs to be strong enough to absorb the movement of the horse and correct the forces of asymmetry.”

A strong muscular system is able to absorb the movement of the horse and remain stable and therefore able to give clear aids. It is also able to hold itself in self carriage. Can you imagine the difference for your horse between the rider that wobbles about, moving side to side, forward and back trying to stay on board versus the rider who is able to hold themselves still and in control. It’s like the difference between having a well packed ruck sack on your back versus a wriggling, floppy child of the same weight on your back. Which do you think is easier to carry?

Also think about all those little asymmetry’s that occur when you’re riding? Your horse falls in a little on that circle, he’s not quite straight down that centre line. Whether the asymmetry comes from you or your horse it is still your job as the rider to address correcting them.

If you can have the control from your body to ride a perfectly straight line you have a much better chance of training your horse to do so.

I’m going to address the effect of rider asymmetry next week, but for now I want you to think about how good a load you are for your horse to carry.

Are you a help or a hindrance in your partnership?

If it’s hindrance and you want some help I’ve got an arena I can help you change that in!

Are you part of the problem?

Last week I talked about how it was your job as the rider to be strong enough to ride your horse straight and work with him to correct his asymmetries.

This week I want to talk about how your asymmetries may affect him.

According to Dr Russell Machkenie Guire’s research

  •  a horse took 6 weeks to adapt his locomotion to rider asymmetry. 


  • There is an increase in horse asymmetry when the rider is asymmetrical in trot.


  • Rider asymmetry destabilises the horses thoracolumbar region


So I’d say that makes it pretty clear that our own asymmetry affects our horses way of going. If it affects their gait then over time of course this could contribute to lameness issues. 

Now I know none of us wants to do that intentionally.

But of course we don’t always know we are asymmetrical. The horse can give us clues but it’s always really helpful to have eyes on the ground as our perception of how we are is not always what is happening.

I ask my clients to send me videos of them riding so we can assess any issues and then implement that into our training. 

Why not set up your phone at the side of the school, or ask a friend to video you and then watch it back. Look at what your body does on turns, does it differ on each rein? Are you sat in neutral? Equal front to back left to right? 

Your findings can help you decide what to focus on in your off horse training and of course long term help to keep your horse sound-not accounting for the many new and inventive ways horses can injure themselves…….

Insurance policy for injury

Riders that exercise off horse can fall into a couple of different camps.

Those that want to be fitter, stronger etc generally.

Those that want it to directly influence their riding so-core, symmetry etc.

And those that do it under duress because their instructor is constantly telling them to strengthen their core!

I’ve got all of those types in my mix of classes and 121 clients.

However what many don’t consider and yet it’s probably one of the most important reasons to train off horse is prevention and fast recovery from injury.

One of the biggest reasons for muscles strains, ligament damage etc. Is a limb being taken past it’s comfortable range of motion.

So, it stands to reason the more flexible you are the bigger range you will have before an injury occurs.

Secondly a stable joint-that is one supported by strong muscles is better able to withstand force whether that be just the absorption of force from riding a horse or from a more direct force being applied to it like a kick for example.

Of course the inevitable can still happen as horses are big powerful animals and the ground is most definitely hard!

However if a joint, tendon or ligament already has a supportive network of muscles surrounding it the healing and indeed strengthening process is much quicker. You may have noticed top athletes recover much quicker from injuries and are back to top performance much quicker than that lady in work who still can’t put full weight on the ankle she broke 5 years ago…….Of course athletes also put full effort into rehab programmes and that is something you should co wider for your own injuries. However this process is much easier if there was a base of strength to work from initially.

Another way to demonstrate this is an injury recovery in an elderly person versus a younger person. It is not merely the age that is the factor here it is because as we age our muscle mass declines UNLESS we actively continue to train it and therefore build it. So an elderly person is more likely to have very little muscle mass to support the injury versus the youngster.

So, whilst most of us still have a little extra time on our hands why not consider starting a strength programme-it doesn’t have to involve heavy weights or equipment your own body weight will do. Just think of it as your insurance policy for old age and injury.

If you would like some help with bullet proofing your body I have space for 121 clients-currently via Zoom of course!

Nicola x

Breath work to improve your Lateral work.

How are you doing? I know it’s dragging a bit now but keeping busy is definitely helping me as is spending time with my little spotted pony Douglas.

I’m trying to spend time on things that always need work but usually we are so focused on that next lesson, clinic or competition that we can skip the basics.

This week I want you to try some breathing exercises. You can do them on horse, on your gym ball or just on the sofa.

Breathing can have such a huge influence on both our bodies and our mindset yet it is so often over looked.

If we are stressed, our breathing has the power to calm our mind and release tension in our body.

If we have tension in our muscles, learning to breathe as we move those muscles can assist in releasing it.

The exercises in this video can help with asymmetry as well as assisting your horse falling in or out on circles or during lateral work.

So, why not give these a go and see if you spend some time ironing out those niggles with just a little breath work.

Unleashing your inner Dressage Diva

How did you get on with neutral spine last week?

This week I want to look at how your pelvis moves when you ride.

This has a huge impact on how you give aids and move with your horse.

Think about it, if you were asking for an aid on the left and as you shifted your seat your left hip lifted, but as you gave the same aid on the right your right hip perhaps didn’t move at all that isn’t clear communication is it?

The seat bones and pelvis are also your main communication tool. Using it effectively means you can give almost invisible aids to lengthen or shorten strides or to move left or right. Like watching a Grand Prix Dressage test, you see some tiny leg aids but very little else? That’s because they are asking with their seat.

If you have never tuned into your seat in this detail before why not spend a little time now whilst we aren’t striving for peak performance for competition etc to give it some focus. I promise you, tuning into your seat bones will make your aids way more effective and yet way more invisible-basically we are unleashing your inner dressage diva.

Again if you aren’t riding you could practice this on a gym ball, on a chair or standing up-you could probably try it sat on your sofa.