Mastering the Art of Invisibility

Equestrians Master The Art Of Invisibility

One-day horse shows have a certain connotation with them; they tend to run longer, be slightly disorganized and are mostly less competitive. Barns generally use one-day shows to qualify for state and regional finals or to acquire enough points to be eligible for some of the larger national finals.

As the equestrian liaison at The Ethel Walker School, I felt compelled to watch our students show in the first competition of this academic year. We have students who have been training with barns across the nation and even in Mexico before they began riding with The Ethel Walker Equestrian Team, and today gave us a baseline to gauge against as our team embarks on the 2017-2018 training season.

As I watched trip after trip of hunter and equitation courses, from adults to juniors, I began to notice a trend. The riders who appeared to be more physically fit were able to produce more consistent jumping courses than those riders who had mastered the technical dissection of an over-fences class but lacked the fitness acumen to make the necessary adjustments while on course.

Today, I’m a jumper. However, I spent my entire junior equestrian career in the equitation ring. If I had to choose the most important thing to remember as an equitation rider, it would be: mastering the art of invisibility.

While you’re on-course, it doesn’t matter how you feel or what your horse is doing, your job is to make the ride you have, appear to be the perfect ride. Many riders mistake low hands and a quiet leg to mean soft hands and a light unbalanced. In truth, the only thing that changes between the schooling ride and the show ring is that your aids become invisible.

Part of mastering the art of invisibility is simply having the wherewithal to do it. The greater part, however, is having the physical strength needed to apply enough leg without kicking or twisting and to half-halt without changing your hand or body position.

Equestrians Need Some Time In The Gym

When you begin to think about training in the gym, you’ll want to consider these five things:

  1. Leg Strength
  2. Core Strength
  3. Back Strength
  4. Posture
  5. Flexibility

Leg strength helps you ride from your leg and support your horse to create a more connected and confident ride for both horse and rider.

Core strength increases a rider’s ability to hold their position and support their horse without relying on their hands. It also helps to cover up questionable distances by being able to hold a position no matter what your horse is doing.

Back strength comes in handy with stronger horses when a subtle, invisible half-halt is needed.

Posture goes hand-in-hand with core strength but takes it a step further as posture focuses on your position as a whole. Ballet and/or Barre classes are an excellent way to improve riding position without even thinking about it.

Finally, flexibility is important because it keeps your muscles from tightening and causing hip and back problems. Many riders become uneven and negatively affect their horse’s balance because their bodies are uneven or too stiff. My top recommendation for this is to pick up yoga at least once a week. It’ll improve both strength and flexibility, which you’ll be thankful for as your training intensity increases throughout the showing season.

Gym Exercises for Riders

Aim for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions for each exercise. For each workout, mix and match the lower body, upper body, and core exercises to create a five to seven exercise workout with three sets and 10-15 repetitions per set.

Balance Exercises – Yoga

Improve your strength and balance with yoga!

Lower-Body Strength Training:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Calf Raises
  • Leg Raises

*Use weights for an added challenge

Upper-Body Strength Training:

  • Tricep Dips
  • Bicep Curls
  • Chin-Ups/Pull-Ups
  • Push-Ups
  • Rows/Rowing
  • Wall Balls (Total Body)

Core Strength Training:

  • Abdominal Wall Sit-Twist (Use medicine ball or resistance for more of a challenge)
  • Planks (Regular, Side, Single Leg/Arm)
  • Reverse Crunches
  • Bicycle Crunches
  • Supermans (Lie on stomach with arms stretched forward and lift arms and legs up and back down)
  • Crunches/Sit-Ups

*See more from University of Kentucky equestrian coach, Sue Stanley, on 

Endurance Training with Cardio:

  • Running
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Rowing

I am not a fan of cardio, but there’s no way around it if you want to improve your endurance and keep your heart healthy. Every week, I try to switch my cardio routine to keep myself interested and committed to a stronger, healthier lifestyle.

I hope you’ll join me in the gym! #equestrianworkout

EFG Equine Equestrian Gym Workout A

Gamify Learning to Ride

As anyone who owns lesson horses knows, it’s a constant struggle, and balancing act, to keeping your horses conditioned and keeping your lesson kids happy. This is an exercise that I used to do with my former trainer and while it sounds simple, my students really started to get a feel for what it’s like to have an adjustable horse simply because we made a game out of it! Continue reading “Gamify Learning to Ride”

“You Can’t Make Everyone Happy” – No Longer Applies

Lesson-banner-2

After a few weeks of teaching riding lessons, I’ve come to truly realize and understand what my trainers went through every day. It’s a constant balancing act between loving your students, wanting them to truly excel, and keeping in mind how far they actually want to progress compared to how much fun they want to have. Continue reading ““You Can’t Make Everyone Happy” – No Longer Applies”

There’s A Monster Under That Jump!

We’ve all been here, right?

Abbi versus Tarp
Abbi VS. Tarp

If you notice where the top rail is as opposed to where her knees are, you’ll understand a common equine fear of: The Monster Hiding Beneath the Jump.

This horse is older but has only been jumping for about 4 months so it’s nothing out of the ordinary but so many times I’ve notices that people mark these horses as “naughty” or “dirty stoppers” without ever even giving them a fighting chance. Sure, Abbi and I don’t always see eye to eye and she does run out and stop at fences but not because she’s a bad horse. . .it’s because she doesn’t have the confidence in herself and she needs to gain that confidence from me.

So naturally you’d think. . .strong rider will fix the problem. Wrong. This horse needs a strong and confident rider when jumping but she also needs to trust her rider and that trust is earned.

Since we didn’t die our first jump over the horrible awful tarp…we began to build trust & with a strong, direct ride to the tarp jump again, we painted a prettier picture:

Abbi VS Tarp: Round 2
Abbi VS Tarp: Round 2

Now, we are still afraid of the tarp. . .but she’s also listening to me more and jumping across as well as up & over the fence.

Unfortunately, our camera-woman only took these two photos but as Abbi continued to jump, her trust in me grew and with my confidence in our abilities as a team, we were able to create some really lovely fences.

Abbi Jump

So keep in mind it’s both confidence and trust on both the rider and the horse’s part in order to make a winning team. Especially for young horses or older horses learning new tricks. . .consistency in this is key. She is jumping bravely and beautifully here but if her rider (me or someone else) were to misguide her, lose our confidence, lose our commitment to the jump, and/or work as separate parts instead of a team then Abbi’s trust will be lost and we will have to start at the beginning again.

Riding a new or young horse is like a new relationship. If you’re young then it’s building trust and learning how to work as a team. If you’re re-training a horse who’s been through it already then you not only have to build trust but you have to convince that horse to trust you even after they’ve been let down by someone else.

So the key takeaways for working with horses like Abbi:

  1. Confidence & Commitment
  2. Trust (it goes both ways)
  3. Consistency

Hope this is useful for you! If you have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to ask!