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……..