As riders, we know that equitation is important, but we don’t always practice it as often as we should. We focus on the horse and not on ourselves, and forget that often how we are sitting in the saddle has more of an effect on the horse’s actions than anything else we do.
Here are a few ideas for exercises to do either by yourself or with a friend to help build some muscle and improve your riding.
The best way to start to focus on your equitation is with a friend or instructor. The friend should know how your leg should look and be able to tell you from the ground how to fix leg, seat, hand or other issues. The horse on which you choose to practice should be able to lunge, calmly and quietly, for at least 20 minutes.
Start with the horse in your usual tack, saddle, bridle, etc., and bring a lunge line and lunge whip. While you sit on your horse, have your friend or instructor lunge the horse, starting at a walk and moving through the trot and canter in both directions. Do not move to a faster gait until you have mastered it at the slower gait.
If possible, ride the horse without using the reins; your friend should have control over the horse, so reins should not be necessary. Use these exercises to focus on your body position and build strength without worrying about how the horse is moving. All of these exercises should be done for short periods of time at first, increasing the time as you become more comfortable with the exercise.
Exercises while lunging:
- Two-point at all gaits
- Two-point without stirrups at all gaits
- Sitting without stirrups
- Posting trot or canter without stirrups
- Sitting or posting with arms outstretched to the side
- Add circles with your arms, large and small
- Stretching at the walk
- Stretch to touch toes
- Stretch fingers to poll of horse
- Stretch fingers to tail of horse
- Stretch to touch toes
- Stretch legs: grab ankle and pull toward buttocks to stretch thigh
- Eyes closed
- Remove saddle and ride bareback, still keeping proper position
- Set up a small cavaletti
- Start at the walk, slowly increase speed and height of jump
- Start with stirrups, then drop stirrups
- Ride bareback after you’re comfortable without stirrups
- Add more cavaletti around circle
- Practice dropping and picking up stirrups while the horse is moving
- Start simple with trot poles, then small jumps
- Work toward bigger jumps and more complicated rhythms
- Drop reins through the exercise
- Drop stirrups though the exercise
- Ride bareback through the exercise
Exercises in the arena:
- Same exercises as on the lunge line, but keep your reins and continue to focus on your position rather than the horse
- Jump course without stirrups
- Jump course bareback
It is best to not work alone when focusing on equitation. Your instructor or friend should be helping you find the correct position so that it becomes second nature to you when you are on a horse. Without eyes watching you from the ground, you may end up learning the wrong position that you will have to eventually unlearn.
Having better equitation and riding muscles will give you more confidence and make you a better, more effective rider. Both you and your horse will be happier.