Learn it right the first time

I see it so often, in fact I’ve experienced it myself. You are trying to do something new with your horse for example Counter Canter and you know the aids but you can’t seem to do them. What you can do is push & shove a bit and apply extra force and most of the time you get what you want-but it’s hard work.


Do you really want it to be hard work forever? I’m guessing the answer is no,but if you don’t ever address why you can’t already just lightly apply the aids now then it’s always going to be the pushing and shoving method isn’t it.


It will also come back to haunt you at some point when you again try to progress a movement. Using the Canter and Counter Canter as an example, if you have never learnt to ask for and control the Canter with your seat and instead have relied on your legs, hands and a bit of push and shove then to ask for Counter Canter is a very difficult task indeed. Whereas if you have nailed the Canter with your seat aids and it is almost rather effortless (or at least appear it!) the Counter Canter is then just a different arrangement of these aids and although may still take some time and practice to achieve you will already have the required skill set to be able to begin to transition into these aids.


So what I am imploring you to think about is whether you first have mastered the basics of riding from your seat, able to give invisible aids with your seat bones and maintain Shoulder Hip Heel alignment with stable shoulders for a balanced and giving rein contact and legs that can come on or off with only a slight shift of the seat.


If you can control the tempo of your walk, trot and Canter and perform turns and circles using these skills alone then any more advanced movements will be just a different arrangement of what you already do. The sky will then indeed be the limit!

Round Shouldered Rider

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the hollow backed rider so this week I want to look at the round shouldered rider.


What problems does this cause?


Most likely the head and shoulders will be stooped forward which puts extra weight on the front of the horse-in short of you are on your forehand your horse is on his forehand.


It is also likely that as the back is lengthened it will not be activating effectively. This impacts on the core as the back is as important as the front, and secondly the rein contact. A truly soft and giving but supportive rein contact can only come from the use of the shoulders. Relying on the chest and arms will cause tension and stiffness in the rein.


So if this is you, what can you do to fix it?


Well firstly you need to open up the front of your body.


I use this great stretch to open up the front of the body. In yoga it is called Camel. It can be done with the aid of a chair or ball if you wish-I really like the ball version.


Kneeling (put cushions under your knees if you wish) lift your hips and push them forward and with your hands either behind you on the floor or on a chair open your chest and push your shoulders back. Hold this for up to a minute.














Then you need to switch on those back muscles to help keep you upright.


I like a back extension with a pull down as this works both lower and upper back.


Lying on your front, arms above your head on the floor. Lift your upper body off the floor a couple of inches, then squeeze your shoulders blades together, and draw your elbows down as if pulling down something from over your head to your shoulders. Then return to start position.

Do 2 x 10 sets.

Which is your “bad rein”?

We know as riders that being able to ride with equal strength left to right makes a huge impact. Now in reality it would be impossible to be 100% symmetrical but hey 99% will do!

I know you will have a rein you may be stiffer on, of your horse falls in or out on and often we say this is the horses’ weaker side. But is it the horses’ weaker side or is it your weaker side?

I’ve had this conversation with riders before and often there is no definite answer as over time the horse may respond to a rider’s weak side and vice versa so it’s basically chicken and the egg as to whether the horse caused your “bad rein” or you caused your horses!

Either way, it is you job as the rider to fix it. If it just your bad rein (for example if someone else riders your horse and they don’t find the same problem) then you of course need to even yourself up. If it’s both you and your horses’ bad rein then it’s still your job to even yourself up and then become strong enough to correct your horse to become equal again.

Let’s look at a couple of simple tests to find out which side is your strongest!

First up.

1 Leg Squat.

Starting sat on a bench with 1 leg raised, push up to standing and then slowly sit back down again. Now try with the other leg. Which side was easier? The standing leg that found it easiest is your most stable hip.


Side Plank Dip.

Lying on your side, get your whole body in a straight line, either stack your feet on top of one another or one in front on the other. With your elbow down and forearm flat on the floor, lift your whole body onto your elbows and feet, keeping your hips stacked on top of one another and trying not to tip forward or back. Now dip the bottom hip down to almost touch the floor and lift back up again. Do about 10 of these and then change sides. Which side was easier? The side on the bottom that found it easier is more likely to be the side you are most stable through your torso and shoulders. The weaker side may be the one that you tip or struggle to turn.


Does the stable hip match the stable shoulder? It doesn’t always as injuries, daily posture and habits can have an effect on these things.
How do you go about correcting these imbalances?

Do the test exercises! On both sides for say 2 sets of 10 and then do an extra set on your weaker side for a few weeks and notice how it improves both on the ground and most importantly on your horse.

It would be interesting to know how that has affected your horses’ “bad rein” now?

I’m not in control of my right elbow!

I think most of us know as riders that how effectively we ride comes down to how effectively we can use our bodies, but often we get stuck when we just can’t seem to get our bodies to do what we want.

I definitely drive my Carriage Driving instructor mad (pardon the pun) with his constant requests to sort my right arm out! I have to explain to him that it’s not that I don’t understand what he’s asking it’s that there is a blockage between what I’m asking my arm to do and it actually doing as it’s told!

The thing often when we are trying to learn something new our bodies will try and do it any way it can, even if that means using different muscles to do so. I have seen this a lot with riding in that many riders get away with using different muscles than is correct and it all works fine for a while, but then one day they try and learn something new –(particularly true in Dressage as the movements get more technical as you go up the levels) and they can’t do it because they really needed to be using those foundationally correct muscles and they have previously gotten by using different ones.

This is why I am stickler for learning things correctly first time around now! If I am trying to perform a lateral movement say and I can’t achieve using the exact aids I should be, I keep practicing until I can rather than previously when I’d just apply more force here and there to get it now, as I know at some point further down the line I will come unstuck and only have to re-train those muscles again anyway, only this time when they’ve been doing a the wrong thing for hundreds of rides!

Of course this is all well and good but how do you learn to use those correct muscles in the first place?

Well this comes down to body awareness and what the fitness industry would call “mind muscle connection.” Basically can you send a message to a muscle in your body and make it contract without using lots of other muscles around it?

Here’s a simple fun way of playing with mind muscle connection.

Standing up, can you contract just your right glute? Can you contract just the left one? Think Magic Mike style pec dancing!

You might find one side is easier than the other?

Try it again with right and left quad, and then right and left hamstring.

A great one for riders is right and left oblique’s as these can be switched on and off to control turns, circles and some lateral work.

So, have a little play with these this week, and you can try out whichever part of your body you like. Just pick a muscle and try to activate it individually-this is harnessing your mind muscle connection!