Each year, I think try to think about common rider problems that we all face at some point (or often!) during our riding lives. These are overarching problems that might not come along with quick fixes or "find the right button on the horse" ease. But they're there and so we must first identify them, and then begin to mindfully work on finding ways to reduce and eventually eliminate them in the long run, for the benefit of our horses (of course!).

Think of, or imagine, a younger you who would literally ride as play. When we are in play mode, we are fully engaged, joyfully physical, and our body reflects it. It helps to have youthful courage and invincibility that allows you to be your utmost relaxed self even while you know there might be some risk in what you're doing - but there's no chance it's going to happen to you!

I treasured the days when I'd be riding the most reliable, rolly-polly pony bareback along the trails, easily switching between walk/trot/canter, letting my body just flow along in her movement, with nothing to keep me on other than my sense of balance and an occasional handful of her long flowing mane!

And while my posture or technique might not have been ideal, one thing I can remember vividly is how I was able to just "swing" in the horse's movement. There was no heavy holding of my core, no tight joints in the shoulders or hips. Any significant tension would result in not moving with the horse, which might cause an unscheduled dismount - which would be very inconvenient as we were far into the woods with nothing more than a ragged path to walk over, all the way back to the barn. (Of course, I never thought I'd actually get hurt if I fell off...)

Now, I'm not saying you should go jump on your horse bareback to find that loosey-goosey you of yesteryear. In fact, loosey-goosey might not be ideal anyway - you want more tone through your body than that. And it helps to consider that bareback looseness might preclude "correct" riding posture, mainly because you might need your knees up in the groove behind the horse's shoulders in order to stay on. There goes that vertical line that connects the rider's ear to shoulders to hips to heels.

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But the image is a good contrast to the opposite - which is tightness.

We often ride with too much overall body tightness. It could be due to the of anticipation of a sudden loss of balance. It could be more about the fact that we've been sitting at a desk at work or school all day, and training our posture to be completely contrary to what we need for riding. It could be lack of strength and flexibility, or  (for us "adulter" adults) those creaky joints that feel each horse stride much more than in the good ol' days. In any case, it's there and we might not even be aware of it.

What To Do?

I want to say that all you have to do is...  ** insert magic formula here **.

I mean, aside from doing something like yoga off the horse that will absolutely improve your strength and flexibility and likely change everything about your riding body.

But let's stick to what you can do on the horse.

You know, and I know, that it's not that simple to go from tightness to toned. However, there is something you can bring back to your ride from that carefree you - the joyful attitude that made everything feel so simple and easy

So go along and do your ride like you usually do. Work on your transitions, straightness, laterals, and forward oomph. But while you're doing all that, see if you can mentally let go - a little in the seat, a little in the legs. Can you laugh a little and become a little more boinkie-boinkie along with your horse? I mean, literally laugh out loud. While you're riding.

Can you un-complicate things? What would happen if you let yourself think that it's all so easy? Put yourself in a simpler frame of mind. 

Feel what happens. If you feel that suddenly, you're a lump of jelly barely staying on, then tone up a bit. Obviously, we do want to carry our own body weight, in the best possible balance, with as correct posture as we can. Holding your body is key to allowing your horse the freedom to move in balance. 

But can you find a happy medium of being toned and not tight or jelly? Can you ride with more sense of humor, more let go, less hold in your joints? Being toned while you ride is completely different than being tight.

If you can "find" tone instead of tightness, you will likely know it right away. Because not only will you feel like you're riding better in the horse's movement, but your horse will let you know too! He will likely lose that same tension, feel looser (more boinkie-boinkie), soften in expression, and move with better fluidity. 

Then you will know you are truly on the right track!

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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Read more here:

10 Strategies For The Nervous Horse Rider

Why We Dressage: The Rider

10 Tips for the Average Rider

Are You Learning The “Right” Way To Ride?

“You’re STILL Taking Riding Lessons?”



  1. I’ve found over the years that in working with students who haven’t necessarily found their inner relaxation , is to bring out the humor in any way & just get laughter to bring them out of their concentration on the horse !! Once they are so. Wound up in the humor they just melt !! Great fun just watching the riders in their tears of laughter !!

  2. Dave Thind’s use of Feldenkreis Method has helped some of his students achieve this goal of “letting go” while maintaining correct position and easily following the horse’s movement. The horses love it and the riders feel so free.

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