Any kind of riding routine, requires discipline, training, and a certain level of preparation. Getting ready to ride your horse can also be akin to preparing your car or motorbike for a drive. Similar pre-ride routines can also be applied to your horses and you as riders, or to horse riding in general. Meeting these “pre-flight” checks will mean good synergy between you and your steed, and will make sure both of you are in the best physical condition.
It is also worth keeping in mind that horse riding training as well as exercises for horse riders, can be done in the comfort of your home. Regardless of your skill level, this step-by-step guide will not only serve as a pre-ride checklist, but will also help you maximize your equestrian workout and yield the best results.
In this article, we will talk about:
- Rider Prep
- Horse Conditioning
- Warm-Up Exercises
- Training & Practice
- Bonding With Your Animal
- Cool Down & Rest
- Performance Review
Prepping for a ride
Before anything else, it’s best to start with the pilot. A fully-prepared horse that’s primed and ready to go will be for naught if you as the rider isn’t properly prepared. The saying “the chain is as strong as the weakest link” also applies to horse riding. You don’t want either of you to be the weakest link, but remember that the rider comes first in the “chain.”
As the pilot, one of the first things you need to check is to see if you are physically fit to ride a horse. There are a lot of equestrian workouts and warm-ups you can do, but core exercises are one of the most important and most essential ones as these ensure proper posture, position stability, and allows you to move better.
These core exercises include, but are not limited to:
- Side Planks
- Dead bugs
- Leg Raises
- Reverse crunches
These activities can help you achieve a good core than in turn will give you that much-needed flexibility and endurance. Proper warm-up also lessens the risk of injury, abdominal cramps, and premature fatigue that you might experience from repetitive torso movement.
Next is making sure you have the necessary equipment and the safety checks required to ride your steed. This not only ensures your safety and riding comfort, but that of your horse as well. For example, it cannot be stressed enough that a good-fitting helmet can save your life should an accident occur. Having a pair of solid, leather riding boots will also ensure riding comfort for your toes, and can provide additional stability.
Another important equipment that you also need to check as a rider is the saddle. The importance of proper saddle fitting can make all the difference, especially when it comes to comfort and safety as it serves as the link between horse and rider. Aside from the saddle, the breast collar should also fit well with the horse. If the breast collar somehow fits poorly, it will make your riding partner uncomfortable, thus making riding more difficult as it affects the way a horse strides.
When it comes to ensuring comfort, you can look into investing in quality gel pads that help make riding a more fruitful experience for you and your horse. Among the many benefits of a good gel pad are absorbing the impact of any activity, allowing for stress-free mounting given its anti-slip grip, and bridging the contours for a good saddle fit so you and your partner will be comfortable.
Conditioning your horse
One aspect of horse preparation is planning for the type of ride you will be taking. Are you going out for a leisure trek? Or maybe just a practice run? Are you the adventurous type and planning to participate in a race? Whatever the case may be, here are some useful tips to get you and your companion primed and ready for these commonly preferred riding disciplines:
Trail Riding. Going for a ride outside the confines of arenas or even your home can be enjoyable and thrilling. Whether it’s a stroll along wooded trails or in open fields, trail riding also has its challenges and dangers that you and your horse need to be prepared for. Aside from being able to trail ride safely, it is also important for beginners not to underestimate the dangers of being out in the open in the back of a horse. Even a highly trained, disciplined horse will spook, bolt, or buck if the circumstances are right. Trail riding can be both safe and enjoyable if you can develop the required skills to control your horse, even in the most challenging situations.
To prepare for a trail ride, you want to be confident that your horse will respond to the basic use of walk forward, trot, canter, halt. Having lateral control over your horse’s body is also important.
Another thing you want to be comfortable with is being able to move your steed past an unfamiliar object that has the potential to bother or spook him. Once you start heading out on the trail, you need to be prepared for unexpected situations especially if the trail is unfamiliar to your riding partner. Being able to bend and keep your horse straight are also important.
Keep in mind that it’s okay if your trail riding isn’t going perfectly. It’s important to just take it in strides and do what you do in the moment.
Jump Riding. This riding discipline requires a certain level of finesse, precision, and preparation so you need to make sure that your horse is fully rideable before you undertake this activity. You can pick up the canter just quickly for a few minutes before you start jumping. When your steed starts getting warmed up and has his or her full attention, encourage a little more energy to your maned friend than you typically do to a dressage. Before proceeding to a jumping canter, make certain you are in the right frame of mind, and get your legs to your horse.
The most important rule of jump riding is to get a nice canter and keep a good rhythm. Get yourself balanced and keep things simple by knowing where you’re going, making good turns, keeping straight, and maintaining a good canter rhythm.
Racing. Arguably the most physically intensive riding discipline and definitely not for the faint of heart, horse racing requires both horse and rider to be at their peak condition. Every trainer (or rider) has a set of daily routines, but there are a couple of preparations that remain constant or vary slightly regardless. There are many factors to consider to see if your horse is fit to race. These include the horse’s fitness, the distance of the race, the race course itself, the surface, and the type of race.
Racing horses are considered athletes and should also be treated as such. Prior to a race, a horse’s health should be checked by a veterinarian for any little oddities that can affect a horse’s performance. A massage before the race is also a great way to relax and put the horse at ease.
Moreover, some horses will require a long rest to preserve their energy. This will also significantly lessen the chances of injury. Some horses, on the other hand, might need some light exercise prior to a race.
Warming up, training, and practicing
Just like you, the horses themselves will need to undergo preparation and other important pre-ride routines before getting into any serious action. It’s your responsibility as the pilot to make sure your horse is both physically and mentally fit prior to an activity. The last thing you want to do is ride a moody or an out of shape horse which can put you both at risk. Here’s a simple warm up routine that you can do every time you ride:
- Walk your horse for a few minutes on a completely long reign, and then pick up the reins to a fairly low and loose contact so your horse is in a longer softer outline.
- See if you can include some leg yield to check if your horse is moving softly off each leg and to warm your horse up a little bit more laterally.
- Proceed with a few rounds of travers on a circle. Depending on the horse, you can follow the travers up with a canter as some horses find this pace a little easier. It’s also a quicker way of allowing your horse to get a better feel of you making it softer in the reign with a more elastic contact.
- Introduce half halts that can influence your horse’s balance.
- After a couple of circles doing basic checks to keep your horse soft and in rhythm, you can then proceed doing leg yields within the canter to help your horse work on its general athleticism.
- Try doing a counter canter using the corners of the riding hall or equestrian facility to help keep your horse supple while being able to place your horse a little more on its hind legs.
- Proceed to doing some canter-trot-canter transitions. This helps reintroduce the trot while at the same making sure your four-legged companion is listening and focused on your aids. This transition is also a way of making your steed’s back is a bit more comfortable while warming up the back muscles.
Cooling down and resting
After a period of constant physical activity, resting your horse is as important as its warm ups and exercises. This not only ensures your horse recuperates for the following day, but also helps in maintaining consistent good health and vitals.
Before you move your horse to a stall to begin its rest, carefully inspect the area for any sharp edges, loose, or splintered boards that can injure your horse. Make sure the floor is smooth so your horse can properly lie down and rest.
Check if the gate latch is secure and in good condition and see if the water bucket and feed bin are filled and easily within your horse’s reach.
Aside from the consumables, you may also want to line the stall floor with either rubber mats and then cover it with 10-12 inches of shavings. Keeping your horse’s stall deeply bedded is essential and your horse will rest much more easily if it’s properly cushioned. Soft bedding will also allow your horse to get up or down without slipping.
Once your horse is settled, don’t forget to cool down and rest as well. Horse riding practice and equestrian sports in general can take a toll on your body, too. There are cool down exercises you can do after every ride to help you recover and prevent injury as well. Some of the exercises you can do include:
- Pelvic tilt
- Dynamic hamstring stretch
- Scapular wall slides
- Bi-lateral internal and external rotation
- Reverse backwards lunge
Doing these over time can help you prevent injury while training your body to transition from exercise to a state of rest.
Like any activity or sport, horse riding requires proper preparation, warm up, practicing techniques, and proper cool down. Don’t rush the process and learn as you go. Give yourself and your steed time to adjust. Before you know it, you’ll be doing more complex riding exercises together.