When polite suggestions, cajoling, and outright demands aren’t doing the trick, sometimes an instructor has no choice but to get creative. Some trainers will pull out all the stops to get their point across because let’s face it, those grasshopper arms have got. to. go.
I recently tried to recall the various “innovative” training techniques I’ve faced over the years, with mixed results. I’ve had a stick put between my elbows and behind my back to help improve position. I’ve ridden through a gymnastic line sans reins to work on balance. I’ve put dollar bills in between the saddle and my students’ thigh to teach proper leg contact.
But do any of these tricks actually work? I asked three well-known riders and clinicians for their tried-and-true creative training techniques.
Eventer Laine Ashker Swears By the Driving Rein
"Many people have a bit of a backwards approach to rein contact, and often it manifests into pulling. To eliminate this, I have my riders turn the rein upside-down to create a driving rein. It’s a simple concept, but it works so well.
Thumbs on top!
With a driving rein, you can’t pull back as easily. This encourages riders to have soft elbows and to really ride from their seat and leg — once you take away the ability to pull, it’s very telling!
I once rode in a lesson with William Fox-Pitt, and he had us put our reins in one hand to teach proper contact. He said that because the reins were just in one hand, the bit was not moving back and forth in the mouth.
The other way I approach this is to encourage riders to ride with their fingers touching. So I’ll put the riders hands together and tell them to really push the horse forward into the contact without letting their hands drift apart, up, or back."
Dressage Rider Lauren Sprieser Breaks Out the Ace Bandage
"I find that a lot of riders tend to stick their elbows out. Riders with loose elbows tend to have loose cores, so bringing the elbows in helps tighten and strengthen the core.
In order to accomplish this feeling, I will take an Ace bandage and wrap it around the rider’s torso, near the elbows, to help bring the elbow closer to the body. Of course, we wrap it loosely so that if there was trouble the rider could still maneuver safely.
Please note: the ace bandage should be loose enough that you can use your arms to catch yourself should the unexpected happen. Try on a safe, reliable horse (although trouble can happen on any horse!).
Once the bandage is on, I tell my riders to think of rowing a very small boat, out and in with their arms. I also tell them that they can have tension in their forearms, but not in the tricep or bicep. Your upper arms should not be sore from riding. To visualize this, take your arm and flex your bicep. It’s much more difficult to move your elbow this way, right? Now, make a fist and flex your forearm. It’s much easier to have a soft, moving elbow this way than with too much tension in the bicep or upper arm."
Hunter/Jumper Trainer Caitlyn Shiels Wants to Fix Your Posture
"I like to use the crop/whip behind the elbows to improve the rider’s posture. The crop having some give prevents the rider from getting too stiff and it still allows the elbows to be soft. But sticking the crop back there helps create the movement of rolling the shoulders back and lengthening the spine.
The whip behind the elbows - an oldie but goodie.
Proper posture is hard to achieve in the saddle because we’re always wanting to compensate for something. So the crop just serves as a helpful reminder to keep your back flat (but not overly arched or hyperextended) and your shoulders back."
Have you tried any of these unique techniques?Read this next: Yes, You Can: Anne Kursinski Believes In The Power Of Visualization
Written by Sally Spickard
Sally Spickard caught the horse bug at a young age and can still remember her first trip to the Kentucky Three-Day Event, which subsequently afflicted her with the eventing bug. Sally spends her days in San Diego, California and thoroughly enjoys her career telling the stories of our sport and assisting clients with their digital marketing needs.