This article is for those riders who feel they are in a plateau.
When you feel like there's little progress being made.
When it seems that all you can do is ride the same thing over and over again.
When there is little external influence to make you change anything in your program.
When you feel you know it all! (Is that even a possibility?)
When you find yourself going round and round in circles, just doing whatever comes up. Maybe a trot here, a canter there. Then back to trot, and then walk.
*Note: You can use these ideas whether you do ring work, jumps, trail obstacles or go on the trail. Just take these ideas and make them your own in whatever way you are riding (or doing ground work).
Develop A Routine
To be sure, there is something to be said for developing a routine in your daily rides. Both you and your horse can feel assured that your ride will be within your means, comfortable and enjoyable. Riding in a routine can give you opportunity to fine tune your skills. You can work from a place of confidence and emanate that feeling to your horse.
Routine allows you to become predictable with your requests. This in turn will earn your horse's trust in you, the riding session and his overall riding experience. Developing a solid, predictable routine will help your horse (and yourself) especially if:
- you are a new rider
- you are riding a young or inexperienced horse
- your horse is new to you
- the environment is new to the horse
You can earn trust by being a predictable rider.
If you can ride with consistency, your horse will begin to know what is coming next. In many situations, there is nothing better than able to predict what is going to happen. This way, your horse will not associate scary, uncomfortable or distressing feelings to you and your ride.
Routine can promote confidence from your horse (which will, in turn, develop your confidence in your horse), allowing both of you to know that you're working together as a team. You boost each other up, you develop mutual strengths.
If you ride consistently enough, your horse may even begin to help. He may take more initiative and anticipate the next movement, or to maintain the gait until you do something else. You won't have to set up the conditions as much and enjoy the ride more. There is something positive about letting the horse take more responsibility in the movements of the ride.
But there is a time when things become too routine.
There will come a time when you want to challenge yourself into new frontiers. Let's face it. Doing the same thing, being predictable, and sticking to a routine - permanently - might also have a few drawbacks.
Here's how you keep things interesting.
Stepping out of your comfort-zone can be nerve-wrecking at times, but it can also be invigorating. Being less predictable encourages you and your horse to become more tuned into each other. It also allows you to try things you don't normally do.
Do the regular routine ride, but throw in a few pop quizzes! It's ok to create a little challenge every now and then to see where you're at. It also gives your horse a chance to come out of his routine-induced snooze!
Change It Up!
Do something completely off-topic. If you've been working on transitions, switch it up and go for a 2-minute canter around the ring! Or conversely, work on developing your turn on the haunches after a stretch of steady movement.
Essentially, do something you haven't done in a while. Get creative. Push you and your horse out of your comfort zone - even for just a few minutes. Try something from another discipline! If you rarely do pole work, get that pole out and try a sidepass in each direction! Or if your routinely do the sidepass, put that pole higher and go for a small jump!
Do something that will completely take you out of your established zone. Let you and your horse deal with a little bit of discomfort or insecurity. You can always go back to your routine work and re-establish your sense of comfort.
That pop quiz will help in more ways than one. Aside from the obvious skill development, it will also help you and your horse develop a deeper sense of focus. You'll have to communicate at a higher level because of the unfamiliarity of the pop quiz movement. The sense of togetherness (or "tuning in" to each other) will also be improved as you try something new.
Timing Is Everything
Use the pop quiz when your horse least expects it. Spread it out - do something after your first warm-up. Do something different after your main lesson part of the ride. And save one for the end as well - after you've cooled down! Maybe after you've walked for the last 5 minutes, shorten your reins and go for a quick "canter-walk-canter in the new lead - walk" transition sequence - on a straight line!
Then call it a day.
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