If you are starting to ride your horse more now the days are getting longer it can be difficult to know what to focus on in your schooling sessions. Of course it is a great idea to have regular lessons with an experienced instructor. These can really help to improve your riding and your horse’s way of going. However we fully appreciate this may not always be possible. We have busy lives to balance and the expense of winter with horses may not leave many pennies in the bank for lessons at the moment. With summer on it’s way hopefully your horse can start to live out (which is always a bit cheaper!) and you can look forward to some lessons together. In the meantime here are a few points you may want to focus on when schooling your horse at home.
Ride lots of transitions both upwards and downwards between the paces. You can build these up over time so your horse starts to do halt to trot/ walk to canter and vice versa. Make sure your horse is nice and responsive in both the upwards and downwards transitions. This will help keep their attention on you and not get distracted by what is going on around them. Plus you will have to ensure as a rider you become more accurate with your aids so your horse is always clear of what you are asking for. Don’t worry if the first few aren’t the best your horse may still be learning – just be clear and concise in your aids. As soon as he does a good transition be sure to praise him. We’re sure you’ll see an improvement after a few attempts.
- Pole Work
If you’re confined to the arena due to daylight hours pole work sessions can really help keep your horse engaged in their training. There are various pole exercise that can be completed in walk, trot and canter. Just have a quick search on google to see if you can find something suitable for your horse. Keep in mind his level of training – you don’t want to blow his mind! For simple ideas try a single pole on each side of your 20 metre circle and walk, trot and canter your circle as normal. You can also use these poles to do inward 10 m circles. For another exercise place a pole for your horse to step over each time you cross the centre line on a four loop serpentine. Try this in walk and trot and you are asking your horse to change the bend as well as work actively. You can even build in some transitions as well.
In an arena it can be so easy stick to the outside track. However both you and your horse soon become reliant on the fence for straightness. Why not try working on the inside track and see how straight your horse moves without the fence for guidance. Remember you need to be straight too to guide him. If you feel you are wonky or tipping a lunge lesson may help or some work without stirrups (our favourite!!).
Yes the opposite of the previous point but equally as important! No one wants a horse that moves around like a Double Decker bus. Encouraging your horse to go from bending one way then the other can help them become more supple through their body. Try lots of serpentine exercises or figure of eights rather than just keeping your horse on a 20 metre circle on one rein. Look out for habits such as falling out at the shoulder or only bending through the neck. You really want your horse to be supple through his whole body.
- Lateral Work
Lateral work can be a great way to encourage your horse to work properly through his whole body. It may sound scary but it really isn’t! Leg yield is a great place to start. Some horses find it easier on a straight line where as others are more comfortable on a circle. Try asking your horse to move over from the three quarter line to the outside track, and vice versa. Alternatively ask him to spiral out from a 15 to a 20 metre circle asking for some leg yield as you go. Be sure to complete these exercises on both reins and you’ll most likely find your horse is more supple one way!
- Practice a Dressage Test
Get a friend at the yard to call out a dressage test for you and see how you find it! Give it a couple of goes and then focus on the elements you found hard and spend a bit of time practising these. Of course be sure to encourage your horse and praise him for any improvements. If you feel like your horse is getting uptight or stressed don’t over do the same exercise, take him away from it and do something he finds easy. Then return to the movement later in the schooling session or another time. Remember to always end on a positive note.
- Work without Stirrups
Okay so this one may not be your favourite but even five minutes without stirrups will help make a difference if you keep it up! Short, regular bursts of no stirrup work will help your balance and straightness in the saddle. We also find it gives us a great connection with our horse and makes a big difference to sitting trot! You may even find you need to take your stirrups down a hole or two after. Look out for the next No Stirrups November and join in the fun (sort of!!)
Happy Schooling Horse Divas – tag us in your pics!