Reset Your Riding is a new series on NoelleFloyd.com that aims to provide riders who may be returning to the barn after a break (or stay-at-home orders) with safe, productive exercises to perform with their horses. These are designed to require minimal equipment and be adaptable to a variety of levels. If your horse is green or out of shape, or you're a bit nervous, try these exercises at a walk or trot - and it's perfectly fine to stay there! Some of these can even be done in hand if you're not back in the saddle just yet. Have fun, and stay safe!
For those of you who are lucky enough to keep riding through these uncertain times, there are still many questions out there. Should we jump? If so, how much? Or should we just stick to flat work and a few rails, or maybe the odd grid?
Well, I don’t think there is just one answer for this. Each facility is geared to different levels and there may be many levels within that facility. It may be that certain barns have nixed jumping outright whereas others are permitted within reason. On top of that, each horse should be treated differently as well. Some may need to be kept engaged mentally and some, quite frankly, could use a break from the action. Just as humans need to adapt differently to this pandemic, the horses do as well. Of course both on and off the horse, ‘safety first’ should be our ultimate goal!
With all that in mind, I have a couple of ideas that might be helpful in shaking or changing things up. Most of this will be what you already know but perhaps it will jog a memory or two, especially for those that I have worked with in clinics or otherwise.
Yoga/Stretch With Your Horse
This is a nice way to keep their bodies stretched and limber. Mentally, it’s great relaxation. We know how we feel after a good stretch!
Try this: After a normal, easy flat warm up where they feel loose and somewhat between your hand and leg, bend them around an inside leg on a large circle and drop your inside hand way down towards your knee, opening up your arm. Really feel them stretch their necks and bodies from the dock of their tail to their nose.
Then change direction. As you change direction focus on bringing them off the new inside leg. It's now impossible to rely on an indirect inside rein, because your new inside rein has dropped down to the direction of the new bend. Try this at the walk first, then the trot. If all goes well, then the canter!
If your horse has one direction that they lean in on the inside leg, then try moving your inside leg back a bit until you find an effective point on their side that they listen to. As you add your new inside leg, lighten up the outside leg so they have room to move into it. One leg at a time! Only add the outside leg when the horse has reached a point in the track where they should be turning Try to be very precise in your tracks
If the horse is tilting their nose to the inside, they are not through in their bodies. Their heads should not be tilting away from their poll. If this is the case, decrease the bend that you’re asking for - they may just not be limber enough yet.
If the horse is resisting the leg, try going to an active leg (tapping on and off motion) versus squeezing harder.
Zone Work: Rails and Transitions
One of my favourite go-to exercises is transition work before rails on the ground. I call this zone work. It’s a great way to take your transitions to a different level and to test them out. We know that transitions done properly will get a horse better balanced - isn’t that what we need on the approach to a jump? Yes! We need a well-balanced, active, focused horse that is listening to our hands and legs.
Start by doing trot-walk zones. The transition for all should be executed with just enough room in front of the rail where you feel a balanced walk within a rhythm. If done properly, the hand can then gently follow the horse’s mouth over the rail.
Hint: Follow with your hand when the front foot leaves to reach over the rail. Try to stay in the center of the rails with a straight horse.
Once you and your horse are comfortable with these transitions, it’s time to move on to canter-walk zones then canter-trot zones. I like to mix this up a little by staying to the gait I am in from time to time, so that the horse doesn’t anticipate that there will always be a transition before the rails.
Try a rising trot to sitting trot before the rail. You can even try a comfortable hand gallop to a collected canter - nothing too extreme, maybe an open 12 to 14 ft stride in your two-point position, to a full seat collected canter at a 9 to 10 ft stride. Think more to less. Remember to stay tall in the transition downward by realigning your ear, shoulder, hip and heel.
Of course, you can always do the same transition work on the away zones as well (in other words, in the area after the pole after you’ve gone over it).
I like to call this exercise ‘setting up a let go’. Your horse will soon start trusting that you will follow their motion
with your arm over the rail, making this a great trust-building exercise
The Set Up
Mix this up in a course of rails around your arena. If your horse is completely in tune with you, then your transition work has been successful and you won’t need as many transitions at each rail. Only add in the transitions as necessary in the zones that are needing work.
Like everyone in this global pandemic, we are taking this hour by hour and day by day. Now, you can take your riding transition by transition and de-stress with a little yoga, too.
Stay safe everyone and I hope to see you all very soon!