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!
As we all start heading back to our barns and resuming our training schedules, one of the biggest pieces of advice I have is this: no matter where your horse was when you left off, start slower than you think you need to. It’s tough because we’re all eager to pick back up and get on with it, but this is a great time to reinforce the basics - a few months from now, you’ll be glad you put in this work!
If your horse stayed in work with a trainer during your time off, still start slow - you’ll end up more confident by building on the basics in the next few weeks. If your horse has had time off, focus your first few weeks back on just getting back into the groove of riding on a regular basis..
Here are two exercises that I recommend using in those first few weeks back to work. You can make these as simple as you feel you and your horse need. Start with exercise 1, and incorporate the second exercise (a grid) a couple weeks later once you really feel back in the swing of things.
Exercise 1: Three Cavaletti with Flatwork Drills
Set up three evenly spaced cavaletti on the quarter line of your arena. The diagram above shows the exercise set up 4 strides (58 ft or 17.17 m) from pole to pole. Start slow and have the caveletti on the ground before building them into smaller jumps. Trot in a straight line each direction over the cavaletti to get your horse used to the exercise.
From there, you can build on the exercise. Canter through the cavaletti, playing with your stride numbers. Start on a collected stride to fit in 5 or 6 strides in between the poles. From there, play with stride length and numbers between the poles until you feel like your horse is adjustable. You can also raise the cavaletti off the ground and make them small jumps.
Once you feel ready, add in the following flat work on either end of the exercise.
Step 1: Canter through your exercise and halt in a straight line after your last cavaletti. After you halt, turn your horse towards the rail at the walk. For example, if you’ve come through the cavaletti on the right lead, you will turn your horse left after you halt to face the rail.
Step 2: Again, coming off of the right lead, halt after the cavaletti and then leg yield to the left into the corner of the arena. Then turn your horse left to track left. Note that it is important to have enough distance on each end of your arena for this flat work.
Step 3: For more advanced horses and riders, after you halt, incorporate a turn on the haunch towards the rail and then track left.
Once you’ve got that down pat, or if you need more of a challenge, graduate to halting and then leg yielding into the corner off of your inside leg. Think about setting up for the feeling of a counter canter. This is the feeling you should have going into any turn - your horse is off your inside leg and in your outside rein. That’s what keeps your horse balanced through the turn instead of motorcycling around. Every horse and rider should be able to prove that they can get off their inside shoulder. This exercise will really pay off in your courses down the road.
Exercise 2: A Grid for Finding Your Jumping Balance
Set up this exercise in the center of your ring so that you can come over it from both directions. Start at the trot with only one of the bounce set up, then have a friend slowly build the exercise to its full length.
Riding is about finding your own balance. It is important to study top riders’ control and balance as they jump a fence. However, what Beezie Madden or Kent Farrington look like in the saddle does not mean that’ll be right for you and your body type. This exercise is a great one for helping you find (or re-discover) your own balance over the fences. Over the bounces, stay up in your jumping position with your upper body still. Let the horse jump up to you in this position. It will feel a little bit like a leg workout - that’s good! This is where strength and balance meet.
As a rider, your goals should be as follows:
- In the turn towards the first jump, push your horse off your inside leg and into your outside rein. This will be more easily accomplished at the trot at first, before you move up to cantering through the exercise.
- The last 2 horse lengths before the first jump, feel your horse in between both legs and both reins. Straight, straight, straight.
- Over the bounces, keep your jumping position still.
- In the 3 stride, use that as a breather to get back in the tack, sit up, and re-establish your balance before doing the same thing over the next set of bounces.
After you land, do not compromise on straightness! If you want to halt in a straight line, that’s a great option. Alternate which direction you turn afterwards so that your horse does not begin to anticipate the turn.
Take these exercises slowly and methodically. While we’re all excited to be back at the barn and riding/teaching/training again, don’t get caught up in doing too much, too fast - your horse, and your confidence, will thank you!
Feature photo by Dani Maczynski for NoelleFloyd.com
Written by Sloane Coles
Sloane Coles is a professional show jumper and USET member based in The Plains, Va. Riding Chippendale’s Boy DZ, Sloane made her Nations’ Cup debut at the prestigious CSIO5* Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ tournament in Calgary, Canada, in 2019. She is currently developing Coldplay and young horses for the top levels of the sport.