Back to the Basics

I recently picked up my life, and my horse, and moved us from Charlotte, NC to a small town outside of Hartford, CT. This isn’t a new place for either of us but it represented a change in our paths and our training.

Earlier this year, I was approached by the head of my former high school about a position in their Admissions Office. At first, I didn’t give it much thought as I had just started working with a digital marketing firm. However, as timing would have it, the position soon became my opportune next step and I am now an Admissions Associate at The Ethel Walker School, which included a stall for my mare, Honey.

Honey seems to like her new stall at The Ethel Walker School Equestrian Center
I think Honey likes her new home – it’s a princess’s life for this chestnut mare!

As I settled into my office, Honey seemed to be taking in the horses around her. Instead of only lesson horses, she was now surrounded by A-Circuit show horses. After spending years as the largest horse in the barn, Honey now lives as one of many warmbloods instead of being the only one. While I can’t say this definitively, it certainly seems as though Honey’s competitive nature and desire for attention have put an extra suspension in her stride and scope to her jump. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Honey was showing off.

So, how does this culminate into a lesson about going back to the basics?

Sometimes, when in a new place or taking on an uncertain adventure, the basics are where you will gain the most. While jumping the new fancy course or trying your hand at exercises left from earlier lessons may be enticing, the real work happens by perfecting the most basic movements.

Exercise I:

Begin by trotting a 20-meter circle at each end of the ring. Once perfected, modify the exercise by trotting a 10-meter circle in each corner of the ring.

If you pay attention during this exercise, you’ll notice that your horse’s balance may differ from straightaway to circle and from one point of your circle to another. This is an issue of self-carriage and straightness. Many riders, myself included, forget the importance of focusing on the simple things, like making a perfect circle, but it’s the simple things that make all the difference later on.

Exercise II:

Part A: Down the long side of the arena, show three transitions of your choice. Modify this exercise by adding the canter. Transition to a sitting trot around the short side of the arena.

Part B: On the short side of the arena, begin to incorporate shoulder-in and haunches-in, alternating between the two.

This exercise is one that every rider from beginner to advance should have in their tool box. It tells you how well you and your horse are listening to one another and it reinforces lateral movements that help with balance and straightness.

Horseshoe_72dpi_RGB (1)An important thing to remember is to not let your horse get frustrated. If that happens, do something else; figure-eight the arena, and diffuse their frustration before any conflict can occur. Transitions will force your horse to use their hind end so it’s hard work for your horse.

Exercise II:

Just because we’re going back to basics doesn’t mean we ignore the jumps. Instead of working a full course, try incorporating trot jumps in your ride with the emphasis on rhythm and balance.

I’ve included a workout that Honey and I recently did to keep the jumps in our routine but still work on backing off, balancing, and finding our rhythm.

*Our video equipment is still in storage so the iPhone was our only option this time.

Share your #backtobasics videos and photos with me here and on social media @BettaBeYou so we can keep this conversation going.

Linda’s Position Remedies

Every equestrian knows that position is everything and as a young rider, I learned this lesson quickly through a number of training techniques that I will never forget.

#1: How to keep your legs steady and core strong

Try removing the stirrups from your saddle. If this is a new thing for you, do “No stirrup Tuesdays” and every Tuesday remove your stirrups completely (simply dropping them while on leads to cheating so remember to remove them). If you really want to master this, join me in “No stirrups November” where you remove your stirrups from your saddle for the entirety of November. You could always do this any other month but I thought it went along nicely with “No shave November”.

#2: How to keep your shoulders back

a) Using either a crop or a think wooden stick (like a broomstick but shorter) place it behind your back, holding it in place with your elbows so that the crop/stick rests in the crease of your elbows. I had complete lessons like this including W/T/C and small fences but it you choose to do that make sure there is some sort of supervision and if you feel yourself falling backwards or if anything goes wrong, drop one hand immediately to let go of the stick. That said, this is an excellent way to improve your posture and position.

b) If you’re lucky enough to find one of these, get on a horse that stops at every fence if you lean at it. Just a warning, you will fall off (I did about 3 times in one lesson at a trot fence) BUT once you learn not to lean, you’ll clean up at every show.

c) Take a ballet class. If that’s not available, try a barre class. The posture and positions in ballet force you to engage your core and strengthen your back which will aid in maintaining your position while riding.

#3: How to keep your leg in the proper position

Using bailing twin, tie the inside metal piece of your stirrup to the girth. It will be uncomfortable but you will learn where your leg should be. I had to do this for about a month before I learned and every now and then I remind myself by reattaching the twin and riding with it again.

Hope this was helpful!