A Clinic Today Keeps the Cobwebs Aways

Working across the street from a show barn has its benefits – like regular clinics to help tuneup my riding. However, it took me two years before I actually signed myself up because I figured that others who were competing could benefit more. Thankfully, Linda was my trainer when I was a junior and insisted that I participate at least once – for old time’s sake.

Since I moved to Connecticut, my rides have averaged a total of 25-30 minutes and take place at either 6:30 am or 5:30 pm (before or after work hours). When it came to the day of the clinic, I felt somewhat out of shape and worried about my horse’s stamina (or maybe just my own!).

If you seriously competed – in any sport – I’m sure you still have your coach’s voice in your head, yelling certain “words of encouragement”. For me, that voice has always been Linda’s and those words of encouragement include:

Get it done – TODAY! Impulsion, Impulsion, Impulsion. Do it again to make sure it wasn’t a mistake. Don’t just keep going, understand what’s going on.

Those words in my head, and the words I suddenly experienced myself hearing in person again pushed me through the two hour clinic no matter how much my back was screaming at me.

Walking Through the  Clinic

We started the clinic warming up – working on transitions, circles, pace, bend, light seat, and impulsion. After a few serpentines at the trot, we stepped into the canter and completed the shallow serpentine in the new gate.

This challenged our horses to maintain their balance and their canter lead, especially at the top of the serpentine when the horses had to hold a slight counter-bend. For my horse, Honey, it’s much easier for her to do a lead change than hold a counter bend or lead. While this exercise was more difficult for her, it forced her to balance using her hind-end and she became much softer and more supple.

The next exercise was a set of two ground poles set six strides apart. Honey loves to run and pull when it comes to anything she can jump, poles included. I tend to hold her back on the approach to offset her “go” on the landing. Instead, Linda encouraged me to ride her out of pace and correct her in the middle of the line to make the six strides work. I was allowing the bad behavior to occur by covering it up instead of correcting it.

You can see my correction in the middle of the line during the video, as well as her grabbing the bit and leaning against my hand after the second pole. Below, Linda works on my canter corrections, coaching me to “elevate my hands higher than what’s comfortable” to keep Honey’s head up and shorten her stride.

After working through our canter corrections and canter poles, we began warming up over a single fence. The reason I included our warmup jump video is because you can see where the corrections we practiced on the flat clearly apply to our work over fences. As soon as I land, you can hear Linda say, “elevate your hands – higher, higher!”.

Next, we started on a combination down the other long side. It was set to be ridden in a quiet four strides to an even quieter four strides with an oxer in the middle. Again, you can see the flatwork interwoven in this combination as we jump in out of pace (a little long), make the corrections between the jumps, and then do our flatwork on the landing. Linda wouldn’t let us walk until Honey had shortened her stride and come back to me because, the training after the jumps is just as important as the training over the jumps.

What I love about Linda’s lessons and clinics is that she’s purposeful in the sequence of exercises. Each exercise builds on the other and eventually they come together to create a course of jumps that shows you how much of the lesson you have retained and mastered.

We continued to build the course and challenged ourselves to maintain our position and our integrity despite fatigue in a final course of the clinic. As you can see in the video below, Linda adds a circle before we finish our final line of the course. Honey was building in pace and beginning to get away from me; Linda always tells her students, “every time you get in the saddle you are teaching your horse something – you are always training”.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to ride the ride you get. A circle wasn’t part of the course, but my ride got away from me. Had I kept going, our last line would have been a fight to get done. The same goes for the halt at the end – typically you finish a course with a closing circle, but I had to fight to get the last four strides so allowing Honey to continue building would only teach her that it was okay. By using a halt as a correction, she will [hopefully] learn to come back to me after the jumps.

I hope my clinic videos have been able to help explain a few things:

  1. Flatwork is just as important as jumping – and should always be weighted equally.
  2. Whenever you get on, you teach your horse something – make sure it’s something good.
  3. Clinics are beneficial for all riders, even if you don’t compete!

P.S. For those of you adults who also experience back pain while riding, I highly recommend consulting a chiropractor. Since I started my adjustments I’ve been able to ride without pain for the majority of my rides.

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!