Once you’ve started on your journey to mastering the saddle it may be time to investigate some hints and tips of how you can really step up your riding technique. Riding is a great way to exercise not just your horse but for you as well. Riding isn’t a hobby that suddenly reaches perfection and there are ways you can continue to grow and develop techniques. Here we look through a few ways to boost your confidence, horse riding and habits whilst you are out riding.
If you’re just starting out horse riding, you may have looked with envy at those mounting and dismounting their horse unassisted with ease. This comes with time and practice and is something you will be able to learn and master. For those of intermediate level and up, if you feel your mount and dismount could be improved on, here are some ways you can practise. As always, make sure the girth is secure and hold the reins on your horses’ neck with your left hand. Be aware not to put too much excess pressure on the saddle or the horses’ mouth, grab a handful of mane and rest your hand on the pommel. Take hold on the stirrup with your right hand, place your left foot into the stirrup iron, bounce your right leg, stand up in the left stirrup and swing your right leg over and lower yourself into the saddle. Once settled, put your right foot in the right stirrup and take the reins in both hands.
Make sure not to bump or kick your horses’ croup as this can startle them and throw you off balance.
Dismounting is usually easier than mounting for many people, gravity is on your side at least! To dismount successfully, you simply need to do the opposite of mounting. Gather your reins in your left hand and hold them, not too tight, above your horse’s withers. Remove your right foot from the stirrups, bend your right leg and gently swing it over to the left side of the horse, careful not to kick the croup. At the same time, balance yourself with your hands without putting too much pressure on the horse, remove your left foot from the stirrup and gently slide off to the ground without pushing yourself away from the horse. Keep control of your horse whilst you dismount and be aware of your horse and which parts of it, you’re touching or what is going on around it.
This something more experienced riders can do without looking down to find where they are and once you’ve got this down, you’ll no longer have to hear any voices telling you to ‘sit down for two counts’ ever again, as you’ll be able to correct yourself if you are on the wrong diagonal. Your horse moves on the diagonal, this means two diagonal pairs of legs are on the group, this creates the 1, 2, 1, 2 beats when rising or posting to the trot. You should be rising when the outside shoulder and inside hind leg are off the ground and sitting when your horses’ outside shoulder and inside hind leg are on the ground.
It’s not for looks that you should be making sure you are rising and down on the correct diagonal and this is due to your horses’ back legs propelling them forward as they move, if you are off or on the wrong diagonal, your horse may begin to lose suppleness through their back over time. You can glance to check which diagonal you are on, but you will need to learn how to feel this, as constantly looking or glancing for long periods can shift your weight in the saddle and unbalance your horse. To find out what diagonal you are on by feel is all to do with learning how you move within the saddle and how your horse moves. Once you’ve learnt to feel how the seat bones are moving, you’ll be able to pinpoint where your horse’s legs are. This will take practise, but once you’ve got it down you will be able to correct yourself by feel alone and save yourself constantly glancing down to check.
You may have heard this but one of the quickest ways to improve your seat is working without stirrups. This can be quite daunting for beginner riders, but you can work your way up to it. It’s not advised that you try this with a young horse as it can have knock on effects of straining their back, however if you have an older and well-schooled horse, you can practise riding without stirrups to improve your positioning – even just riding for ten minutes a week without stirrups can vastly develop your seat. If you have someone to walk beside you or lunge the horse, you can close your eyes and use this time to learn to feel the positioning, it can also help you to notice how your body weight is distributed., allowing you to alter and develop this if it is not correct.
It’s not just in the saddle work that can help you but your own fitness as well. There are many exercises you can do to help improve your core. Horse riding is a form of exercise, but you also need to maintain a degree of fitness to stay loose and supple. Stretching and loosening is just as important as strength exercises. Yoga, Pilates, swimming, running and rowing are just some of the types of exercises that riders will engage in and taking time to up your strength and cardiovascular abilities. Combining your horse riding with exercise is going to help vastly in the long run and will allow you to improve your strength and balance whilst in the saddle.
It can be frustrating when you want to improve your riding week on week, but this is something that isn’t mastered over night and many professionals will tell you there is still much to learn, even at their level. Don’t feel disheartened, pick yourself up and keep going. You will find a point where you begin to feel the harmony between both you and your horse and then you can progress and focus on developing aspects of your ride.