"I'm riding round and round the ring, putting in the time and the days, and still not making much progress. We have the same problems and we make the same mistakes as we did last year."
Is this you?
Don't worry if your answer is yes. Most of us have been right there with you, probably more often than we like to admit. After all, once you have the basic riding skills down, further improvement consists of slow, tiny steps that might be difficult to identify and even more tricky to achieve.
Over the years, I have realized that most riders grapple with similar problems and mistakes as they develop their riding skills. As I taught others and while I rode myself, I began to realize that the same situations occur - maybe in different contexts and at different levels. The fact remains, though, that there are certain overarching skills and habits that will affect almost everything else in our rides.
As I was planning my Goal Setting for the Equestrian eBook, I put together a list of what I feel are the most common goals that all riders can work on, regardless of their level or discipline. Here are some thoughts and questions that can help you set your own goals as you move into a new year of riding.
Consistency in the saddle is an art in itself. There is so much that goes into looking steady and sure and the same that maybe all the goals below should really go into this 10th of the Top 10 list. In essence, you have to be able to stay in balance, keep impulsion, use the right seat aid at the right time, and put it all together into a confident and comfortable connection with your horse.
The fact that consistency is actually so hard to find while riding is the reason why I feel that most riders need to focus on this most of the time.
What are some ways you can improve the consistency in your rides?
The idea of using the seat isn't only about making sure you sit in the saddle without bouncing or falling off. Staying on and not sliding around on the saddle is the first part of it, but there is so much more to riding from the seat. In fact, the seat is the key factor in almost everything you do in riding - from transitions, to laterals, to determining tempo, to impulsion and collection... it all starts at the seat.
There is no such thing as being "perfect" in your seat. There are so many layers of learning to feel and guide the horse through the seat that we could be working on it for 20 years and still identify areas that we need to keep working on.
Where are you at and what do you need to keep working on to improve your seat?
8. Longer Legs
The seat very much affects your leg position and aids. You might need to lengthen your legs even if your legs are actually long in the first place! The "lengthening" happens especially at the hips and knees - which need to open - which then allows the backs of your calves to lengthen, which then frees up your ankles to drop down below the stirrups.
Long legs are hard to find for many of us, but especially worthy as a goal over the long term, because they in turn influence the quality and effectiveness of your seat.
How often do you need to check in with your legs to make sure they stay long in movement with the horse?
7. Upper Body Balance
One common fault that many riders have to overcome is the control of their upper body. We often collapse forward or fall backward in relation to the horse's movement. Transitions tend to test our core strength and balance. How often do you tilt forward in your upper body during an upward or downward transition? How often to you feel somewhat left behind when the horse gamely moves ahead of your leg?
Control of the body allows you to be much freer in all your aids, including the all-important seat.
Which exercises can you put into practice that will help you stabilize your upper body even while the horse is moving?
This is something you have to do both for yourself as well as the horse. It is very difficult to maintain a steady rhythm (the footfalls of the gait) and tempo (the speed of the footfalls). Most horses speed up and slow down at will, and it takes a lot of feel and awareness to influence a horse in such a manner that helps him find a "perfect tempo" that will enable him to maintain strength and balance in movement.
How can you make rhythm and tempo a priority in your riding activities?
If you'd like a structured, but personal tool to set goals, take a look at the new Goal Setting for the Equestrian: A Personal Workbook. The pages are designed for you to set and keep track of your progress over the course of a year.
- design your overarching goals
- long- and short-term planning,
- debrief your special events such as clinics or shows
- reflect on, plan and evaluate your goals
- sample goals and pages
The Workbook is available for instant digital download so you can print the pages right off your computer. There is also the option of a paperback version if you'd rather have a professionally bound book to hold in your hands.
Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!
Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions.
This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.
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You might also enjoy:
Top Ten Goals For A New Year: Here are my personal goals for 2014.
Listening Corner – Riding Goals Defined: These are several excerpts from dressage authors on how to identify and prioritize your riding goals.
How To Loosen Your Way To A More Effective Riding Seat: If you bounce in the saddle, fall out of sync with your horse’s movement, or otherwise feel less than balanced and effective, maybe some of the following ideas might help.
Three Ways to Use Your Seat in Horseback Riding: The balanced seat is what allows us to develop independent hands, good riding posture and loose, supple legs that can aid at a moment’s notice. The seat is also the prime factor in our ability to stay on the horse during the “bobbles” that invariably happen from time to time.
Horseback Riding the Yoga Way – Practice! Find a balance between achieving and letting go. How to include the concept of “practicing” in your riding.